I went to see my parents last week and my Dad and I got to talking about business as we often do. In the course of the conversation, we got into how things are different today from when I broke into the business world and not all for the better. No, today isn’t another chapter in “Keith Is A Cranky Old Man”, but please bear with me if I sound like one along the way. Like the proverbial pile of pony crap, there’s a pony in here someplace.
When I got into business and for the first 20 years I was there, things weren’t all that different from when my Dad was in the same business. The business model was the same and the processes for conducting business was pretty much the same. He was more of the “Mad Men” era than I was although I caught the very end of it in many ways. Things started to change two decades in – they got faster, more complicated and far less personal than when he was a TV guy.
One thing that didn’t change was you had to learn how to carry yourself like a pro. You had to learn how to interact with clients. You had to learn how to dress and to drink (yes, three-martini lunches were real). The older sales types would rib us younger guys mercilessly but they were training us, much as professional athletes will mess with rookies even as they’re teaching them how to dress and behave. I feel as if that’s gone today in many ways and I’m not a fan.
What’s changed now, another two decades in, is that there is so much unprofessional behavior that I’m beyond angry – I’m kind of sad. People who I barely know will ask me to make an introduction to someone they know I know. It seems as if many younger people operate in a transactional way – what can you do for me – rather than on an interpersonal way. Carrying themselves with character and decency seems a foreign notion. Showing up on time and dressed for business (not in a tie, not in a suit, but not in jeans and a T-shirt either) when you have a meeting are foreign notions.
The people who don’t need loans are the ones to whom banks want to give them. I always tried to look like I didn’t need a loan when I went in to ask for one. I carried the same thinking into my business life. Look successful. Carry yourself as if you are and understand the metrics that identify you as successful in your job. Be a pro. Don’t whine. Pitch in. Care about others and the team as much as you do yourself. Is all of that short for grow up?
A bit of a rant today. Suppose you had a friend who lied about things. Maybe they told you that they had a great way to help your business when, in fact, their plan was to use your money to build up their own business. Maybe you gave them money to invest and they lied about the returns. Maybe you tell them information about yourself that you don’t really want public and they tell people anyway. Maybe you let them use your phone or your computer for a few minutes and they installed malware that spied on your constantly. Some friend, right?
Welcome to doing business with Facebook.
Now before you accuse me of hyperbole, let me remind you of the incredible breaches of trust that Facebook has committed over the years. If you look up “Facebook apologizes,” you get over 17 million results. They, like many companies, seem to be focused on one thing: shareholders. As one person put it in speaking about the fall of Sears:
“What’s happened is that shareholders’ interests have squeezed out other stakeholders,” said Arthur C. Martinez, who ran Sears during the 1990s and was credited with a turnaround. “The mantra is shareholders above all else.”
What happens to workers doesn’t matter. Amazon gave raises with one hand and took away stock grants with the other. What happens to partners doesn’t matter. Facebook begged marketers to use their platform to distribute content and then, once the platform had grown to an unimaginable size, cut off marketers who didn’t pay them from access to their audience. What happens to users doesn’t matter. Alphabet, Google’s parent, has over 88% of mobile apps gathering data for them whether users know it or not. Ever wonder how the ads Google serves you with a search seem to tie to something you were doing on a news or productivity app that had nothing to do with Google or search or even ads? Here’s a study that will explain it.
Why is it so hard to follow a moral compass to profitability for many companies? If the bulk of non-tech people truly understood how their data is gathered and used, they’d go back to flip phones. Why not put your customers first and treat them as you’d expect to be treated as a customer? Why not reward employees so that they’re doing better as you’re doing better? Why not put partners’ interests on a level footing with your own so that deals are equitable and profitable for you both? Why not allow vendors to make an honest profit? Without those four things – customers, employees, partners, and vendors – what the shareholders have will be worthless pieces of paper and not an interest in a profitable, growing enterprise.
My friends don’t lie to me and I don’t lie to them. We’ve had our share of messy moments because of that but we’re still friends because of that honesty. We need ethical standards in business every bit as much as we need profits; probably more so. OK, rant over, but do me a favor and think about that, won’t you?
I went to a startup conference yesterday and something that I saw going on made me feel…well…old. But it also got me thinking.
I don’t know about you, but I like to take notes at these sorts of things. I’ve always done it, even before my brain stopped remembering what is was I had wanted when I’d walked into the kitchen to get something. When you’re getting hit up with a lot of interesting stuff on various topics all at once, I find that notes read later after the heat of battle had subsided help with context and perspective.
So there I sat, pen in hand, paper on lap. I didn’t bring a laptop although, in retrospect, that should probably be my habit in the future since my handwriting gets so little use that it’s deteriorated. It’s now less legible than most physicians’. Maybe that’s because I do use my laptop for notes when I’m in the office.
On came the keynote speaker. Several folks in the crowd looked as I did – pen, paper, and open ears. Other had their laptops fired up. In general, they were younger and geekier than the pen/paper crowd. But then came the phone folks.
As I surveyed the room, each time a slide changed, up went dozens of phones. They were taking pictures of the slides, not of the speaker. In fact, note-taking via photograph seemed to be more the mode than the way I was doing things. Combine those photos with some notes (there are apps that let you annotate the photos with notes!) and you’re all set.
So here are a few random thoughts:
- How many speakers are optimizing their slides for photo note taking? Very few, I’ll bet, yet that was by far the preferred method of note taking in the room yesterday.
- Has anyone studied the differences in remembering and/or understanding when you don’t actually write the notes? To this day, if I want to remember something I write it down. Not because I want to refer to the note but because the act of writing it down makes me remember it.
- Not one speaker offered to email their deck to the room. Obviously, that’s not a big deal if it’s a panel discussion, but there were several presentations. That’s a great way to gather a lot of data – who was there, for example – that might help you sell, hire, or find new connections. Maybe a missed opportunity.
- Kids in schools use computers almost exclusively in some places. I know the schools will sometimes teach Word and Excel (or their non-MS counterparts) but are they teaching One Note/Evernote/etc.? Learning how to learn is awfully important, right?
- Our brains are wired differently here in the digital age than they were 30 years ago. Like everything else, notetaking has evolved, and maybe not for the better. What do you think? How do you take notes?
I wrote last week about the new area in which I’ve begun consulting. Thank you, by the way, to all of you who both read the announcement and sent along your support.
The bulk of the people to whom I speak about investing in a franchise come to me via a system of ads. Some of the ads promote a specific brand and others just speak to the great opportunity buying into a franchise affords someone who is looking to work for themselves. Both types of ads generate leads. These are people who fill out a form and ask to be contacted. With me so far?
What’s struck me after contacting nearly 100 of these respondents is how few of them actually respond. I realize not everyone is going to answer the phone, but if they don’t, I leave a polite voicemail and send them an email as well. Obviously, they’ve provided the information. Most don’t respond to either, even to say “hey, I was bored late one night and I filled this out but I’m not really interested.”
You should know that I’m not selling them anything. My services are free. Like a realtor, I’m paid by the seller; in this case, the franchisor. Once I get them on the telephone, it takes only about 10 minutes for me to assess their needs and to figure out how we should proceed, so this process is neither time-consuming nor costly. They’ve taken the time to start the process yet they hit the brakes before it even gets going.
What’s the point for your business? Sometimes customers know they have a need but they’re afraid of solving the problem. For any of us, change is hard. For people who are unhappy with their lives, it can be crippling to believe that there is a better way on the other end of the phone or through the door to your business. In my case, most of these people want to change their lives somehow and I think they were channeling that when they filled out the form. When change came knocking at their door (or calling their phones), the fear kicked in. Any business faces that to a certain extent. Why don’t people go for physicals? Putting aside the cost, I think in part it’s because they don’t feel bad and they don’t want to know if something is wrong. If the states didn’t mandate auto inspections, how many people would routinely have a mechanic give it the once over as preventative maintenance?
Part of what we need to do as good businesspeople is to guide our customers. They may be fearful or reluctant. Remember that they wouldn’t be at your door if they didn’t have a problem big or small that they need to be solved. Your job (and mine) is to help them with that solution and a better life. Make sense?
This Foodie Friday, I want us to think about the thing that really makes food worth eating: our sense of taste. I was at a tequila tasting the other night (don’t judge – you’d be fine if I had said wine tasting) and the fellow conducting the tasting had the participants do something interesting. He asked us to dip our fingers into the tequila we were sampling and to place a dab UNDER our tongues. When we did so, a moment later we had a completely different taste experience than when we placed a drop directly on our tongues. The subtle sweetness of the tequila became evident while many of the more dominant notes for which tequila is often known didn’t immediately appear.
This got me thinking. You probably know that the old myths about our tongues having different “regions” of taste have been disproven (and it’s easy to do that yourself). You might not know, however, that without saliva you can’t taste anything. That’s easy to prove yourself as well. Just dry off your tongue and put some food directly on it. You probably won’t taste anything at all. Have a sip of water and try again. There’s the taste! I’m sure you’ve also had the experience of not being able to taste when you have a cold. 80% of taste is related to smell – the flavor of something happens when the tongue and the nose combine their work in your brain.
What does this have to do with business? Quite a lot, actually, My thinking is that when I put that dab of tequila under my tongue, it merged with my saliva, which comes from under the tongue. It then traveled to my taste buds, diluted by amylase, an enzyme that acts on sugars and other carbohydrates, which is found in saliva. That’s why the sweetness came out without a lot of “heat”. Approaching the tequila from a different place resulted in my understanding of its true nature. It’s actually made from a sugary liquid (you’ve heard of agave nectar, I’m sure). That’s the business point.
What if we approached an old problem from a different place? That’s a far more difficult thing than just placing it under your tongue instead of on top, but it does point out how we often have different experiences and better understanding if we can find a way to do so. Wherever that “under the tongue” place is, we can use it to remove factors that might be blinding us to a problem’s solution or to understanding something.
I left the tasting with a much deeper understanding of tequila. I don’t even have a headache today despite having quite a few tequila tastes over the course of the tasting. Learning doesn’t give me headaches, I guess. You?
This Foodie Friday, it’s all about the humble burrito and what it can teach us about business and life. I’m sure you’re familiar with the burrito. As we know it here in the USA, it’s a rather large tortilla filled with meat, beans (usually refried), cheese, sometimes rice, sour cream, guacamole and often more. You need to be a “little burro” to carry all of that!
Here’s the thing though. Burritos in Mexico are a totally different matter. They generally contain one thing, usually a protein. Maybe it’s shredded pork that’s been cooked for hours in a mojo. Then a sauce of some sort is added and the meat is placed, with or without refried beans, into a tortilla, usually flour (corn tortillas are generally smaller and better for tacos or flautas). It’s much simpler but this simplicity does a few things.
Each ingredient must be perfect because the flavors of each is a point of focus as you’re eating. You can’t hide bad meat behind a lot of cheese and sour cream. Your seasoning must be aggressive or the dish will be bland. After all, it’s wrapped in a bland tortilla that can tend to deaden its contents. In short, the Mexican burrito mirrors some of the world’s great dishes – simple ingredients but complex flavors. Think cacio e pepe – pasta with cheese and pepper. Like the burrito, it’s not about difficult techniques or hard to find ingredients or even complex timing like a souffle. Instead, it’s about having the patience and skill to bring out the best in your materials and the confidence to present them to stand on their own.
That’s a great lesson for those of us in business. Too often we hide behind buzzwords or present materials in a way that hides the basic thoughts we’re trying to convey. How many powerpoints have you seen with 50 words saying what 5 could have said? We try to make what we’re doing exceptionally complex instead of trying to simplify it. We add the unnecessary toppings – not guac and cheese and sour cream but hard to read contracts and user agreements or black-box systems that add nothing but cost and marginal improvements.
The next time you’re in a meeting, think of the humble Mexican burrito. Keep it simple but make each piece spectacular. The ingredients of your business – the people, the business model, the systems – must all be the best and you’ve got to combine and season them to make them better. Not more complicated and not hidden behind unnecessary glop. Make sense?