Tag Archives: life

Engineers And Lawyers

Techcrunch published a piece yesterday that caught my attention because I think it hits a proverbial nail right on the head. It dealt with the topic of fake news but I think it has important things to say to any of us in business as well. To quote the piece, “The real problem isn’t fake news; it’s that people have given up on that search for truth.” It’s a topic we’ve touched on here many times but I really like how the author – Jon Evans – explains to two different mentalities under which many of us operate these days.

I still tend to come at the world with what he calls an engineer’s mentality. I look at the information in front of me, seek out as much new information as I can, and adjust my thinking even if what I find contradicts what I believed previously. Whether you think of that as an engineer or a scientist or just being an adult, it seemed as if most of the people I knew operated under a similar paradigm.

He goes on to make the point that most people today operate instead with a lawyer’s mentality. You pick a side (generally based upon who is your client!), and then sort through all the available information, picking and choosing that which supports your side while discarding (at best) or belittling (at worst) that which doesn’t. In other words, many of us approach the world with what can be a fatal case of confirmation bias.

Many of my closest friends in the world are lawyers. In their personal lives, most of them actually tend not to bring their professional mentality to their personal thinking. That said, what’s wrong with the lawyer’s point of view? Simple. That one-sided analysis of the “facts” will be offset in front of a decision-maker – a judge and/or jury – by the other, equally biased set of facts presented by the opposing counsel. In business (and life), we generally have to weigh ALL the information ourselves and do the best we can with respect to sorting out the truth or the best course of action. We need to be our own opposing counsel if you will.

We need to think like scientists. It’s fine to have a point of view or an initial hypothesis, but we really need to apply the scientific method in our business laboratories and validate our thinking. Not all data are meaningful or even truthful. Neither are all the things we hear from coworkers. Do your research, form your own opinions. Given where we are as a country, it might not hurt each of us to think about our thinking and how we go about forming our non-business opinions too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Mything The Mark

Our Foodie Friday topic this week is myths. Specifically, I want us to consider a conversation I had with someone about one of my favorite topics: barbecue. There are many misconceptions about barbecue and one of them revolves around the topic of my conversation: the smoke ring. If you’ve ever had great ‘cue you’ve encountered the pink ring that lives on the edge of the meat.

Photo by Aziz Acharki

To the uninitiated, there is a concern that the meat is still somehow raw (why would the outside be raw when the inside is cooked?) but of course it’s actually a chemical reaction caused by some of the components in the smoke interacting with the meat (the myoglobin for you scientists out there). The person with whom I was speaking said it’s a great way to judge quality as well as if it’s “true ‘cue” – smoked over wood since you don’t get a ring when the meat is “smoked” over a propane unit. This, of course, is a myth. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve actually cooked some barbecue that looked beautiful – great bark, fabulous smoke ring – that was dry as a bone. Great Instagram material but lousy supper.

In fact, it’s possible to fake the smoke ring. All you need is some curing salt that contains sodium nitrite. Sprinkle it on the meat, cook it in an oven and there is a “smoke ring”. You can read all about it in this lengthy piece. My point is that it’s a food myth that a smoke ring is an indicator of quality in barbecue.

That’s not the only food myth, obviously. Eggs don’t contribute to high cholesterol, MSG doesn’t cause headaches in most of us, you don’t really sleep better after a nightcap before retiring, spicy foods don’t cause ulcers and drinking milk doesn’t increase mucus production when you have a cold. I’ll bet you’ve heard every one of those myths though. You’ve probably heard a bunch of business myths too.

You don’t have to be first to be successful – look at Amazon or eBay, neither of which was the first of their type. You don’t have to be the cheapest option in a category. Ask Lexus, Apple, Nordstroms or many others. Profit isn’t the most important thing (cash flow is!). And of course, my favorite: failing is bad. I’d argue the opposite – failing is almost mandatory on the path to success and is generally a good thing.

Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Sometimes it’s just one of those myths rearing its ugly head. Do your homework – find the facts. After all, we’re lucky to be living in a time when fact-finding has never been easier. Of course, there’s never been so much fake garbage to cull either!

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Filed under food, Reality checks

Gurus And Ninjas

Happy Valentine’s Day! I know it’s supposed to be a day for love but I want to focus on something I don’t love: gurus. OK, it’s not just gurus. It’s ninjas, wizards, mavens, and other self-proclaimed experts. I’m sick of them and, more importantly, I’m wary of the damage they cause. Let me explain and maybe I can bring you over to the dark side.

First, let me be clear about whom I speak. Generally, these are people who seem to spend a hell of a lot more time explaining how great they are at something rather than actually doing anything worth noting. Their professional profiles use words like ninja. I did a quick search and came up with over 60,000 results for that word on LinkedIn. Do any of them know what a ninja actually is? According to Wikipedia, it’s a

mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionagesabotageinfiltrationassassination and guerrilla warfare.[1] Their covert methods of waging irregular warfare were deemed dishonorable and beneath the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat.

I’m not sure any businessperson wants to hire a dishonorable assassin but I could be wrong. Yes, I get that the meaning of words changes over time but if you mean to say you’re an expert, say it. Maybe they can’t because they’re not really experts at anything other than self-promotion.

Speaking of misused, overused job titles, let’s move on to “maven.” A maven is an expert, actually a “trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass timely and relevant knowledge on to others in the respective field.” The key words here are “trust” and “expert.” I’ve checked out a few “mavens” and when well over 75% of their social followers are fake and they’ve been in their field of practice for under 5 years, I think they’re neither trustworthy nor experts.

We all have personal brands. Some of us work very diligently at getting that brand out there and others of us do great work and hope that work speaks for itself. I’ll admit that I probably should have done more self-promotion over the years although in my defense there weren’t the opportunities to do it on one’s own as there are now. I still rely on clients to bring me other clients and on readers of the screed to do the same. I try to connect with people I know and respect, focusing on quality.

Does any of this make me a guru? A maven? A freakin’ ninja? Nope. I’m just a guy who’s been at this for longer than most of the self-promoters have been alive and who has already made most of the mistakes they’re going to make, probably using someone else’s business to do so. Is it self-promotion to say I’ve already learned from the mistakes they’re going to make so they won’t happen in the first place?

If you’re a guru, act like one. Be the one who dispels the darkness and takes towards the light. Be a counselor and an inspiration. A ninja? Not so much.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

My Uncle’s Poetry

My uncle passed away last week. He was married to my mother’s sister and, obviously, wasn’t a young man. Still, a loved one’s death is never easy and due to a lengthy illness, this one was especially hard. I flew to Florida to attend his funeral and to offer love and support to my aunt and cousins. If you’ve ever sat with folks who’ve experienced a loss, maybe you’ve had a similar experience to what went on. There was much talking and reminiscing about my uncle and many old family memories were shared with a mixture of laughter and sadness.

My uncle was a man I’d known my entire life and yet during the time spent chatting I learned something I’d never known. There was a book on my aunt’s table. In it were poems that my uncle had written over the years, mostly to her. It turned out he had also written a play. I was very surprised by this since my uncle was a rather vocal prognosticator on whatever topic happened to be at hand. Sports, in particular, was something about which he was never at a loss for an opinion. He was in an odd way a less knowledgeable Howard Cosell and although he was frequently wrong he was never deterred from speaking his mind. The fact that he had written love poetry to his wife was not exactly something that I thought he’d be doing.

The point of this is to remind each of us that no matter how well we think we know a topic or a person we need to keep an open mind and a readiness to be surprised. If someone had told me that my uncle was a playwright I’d have thought they were joking. That fact that I saw his poetry reminded me how little I really knew or understood about him.

Be willing to be wrong. Accept that there are things you don’t know and seek them out. Get as many facts as you can. Oddly, my uncle would often opine without having some key facts at hand. Even so, it’s his last message to me as expressed through the existence of his poetry that was probably the best thing he ever said to me. Does it resonate with you too?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Snowing Our Ignorance

It’s snowing here in Central North Carolina. Again. Is that unusual? Well, the area usually gets less than 6 inches of snow a year and we’re about to get 4 or so. We also got a few inches several weeks ago. When we got a dusting (and to my Yankee friends I know that 6 inches are pretty much just a dusting) of snow last year – maybe half an inch – the area came to a complete halt and schools were shut for 4 days. You can imagine what 4 inches will do. Fortunately, by the weekend it will be near 70 degrees so the accumulation shouldn’t be around very long.

Photo by Catherine Zaidova

Other than venting about the golf courses being covered in white, why do I bring this up? Because it’s symptomatic of something which has business implications. Increased snowfall, extreme temperature changes, and other weather phenomena are indicative of something going on. It’s pretty clear that something has changed and yet there are those who turn a scientific and factual issue into a political one. Folks, you can call it climate change or you can call it Fred but no matter what you call it, it is real.

You know, of course, that we don’t do politics here on the screed and my point isn’t that we need to acknowledge that the weird weather everywhere is the result of climate change. The point is that any businessperson can give their own interpretation about what they see going on in the market and in their own enterprise. The problem is that sometimes their interpretation conflicts with the empirical evidence – the facts. A single data point isn’t a reason to change your entire strategy, but when you have enough data points to produce a reliable trend, attention must be paid.

There are some very famous studies that were conducted by Stanford in 1975. They showed how people’s opinions are often unmoved by facts. One need not go a heck of a lot further than your own Facebook feed to see one person trying to change another’s mind using some fact-based evidence and failing miserably. The cold weather and snow here remind me that you can deny the facts but that denial won’t keep the snow from falling. Question the sources of information, question the interpretation of information, but once those questions are answered, don’t deny the facts. You still will have to shovel up the aftermath regardless. Make sense?

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Filed under Reality checks, What's Going On, Thinking Aloud

50 Years On

As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized that they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.

With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?

Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday.  I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality.  That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision.  Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real.  I think it’s applicable to business.  No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book).  Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.

To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people.  For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them.  For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses.  In a word – listen.

Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.

I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King.  If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself.  As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.

Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.

What are you listening to today?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Growing up, What's Going On

Snow In The South

It snowed here in North Carolina last night. I awoke to find maybe two inches of the white stuff. Having lived almost my entire life in New York and Connecticut, my immediate thoughts were “how pretty” and “no big deal.” Then I remembered where I was. We got what I would call an overnight accumulation here last February (under an inch, seriously), and it closed the schools for four days.

In my mind, there is about a foot/inch ratio which applies to the level of hysteria and inconvenience here. An inch of snow here is the equivalent to a foot up north. The local TV stations have been nothing but the weather for the last day and the excitement in the reporters’ voices as they stand by some highway pointing to a dusting is palpable.

There is, of course, a business thought or two in all of this. One is that of perspective. My perspective on snow is very different from that of my neighbors, most of whom rarely have ever had to deal with it. Don’t let your own perspective corrupt your ability to get inside that of your partners, vendors, and customers.

Next is emergency planning. Despite the rarity of snow here, many of the roads were pre-treated with brine before the snowfall to help keep the roads clear. That means the authorities have both the equipment and the knowledge (brine actually works better than rock salt and is way more cost effective than clearing the snow later) to be proactive. They had a plan. Can you say that you have a plan, the tools you’ll need, and the knowledge required to handle most emergencies that happen in your business?

I’ll probably just hunker down today and let nature take its course. It’s a sunny day with the temperature back above freezing so the snow won’t be here long. Nevertheless, it’s been here long enough to remind me of a couple of business truisms. You?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On