Let’s consider, this Foodie Friday, the so-called savory cookie. I don’t know about you but when I think of cookies I think about sweet or maybe even salty/sweet. Savory is not an adjective that comes to mind and yet savory cookies are, apparently, a thing.
There’s a temptation here to revert to the “is a hot dog a sandwich” question we pondered in this space not long ago. When you look at what’s in many of them – flour, sugar, butter – they read like most cookies. It’s the addition of the savory items – herbs, cheese, more salt – that transforms them. Of course, biscuits (in the Southern sense) and crackers have the same butter/sugar/flour components as well, so why are these cookies and not crackers or biscuits?
I’m not here to debate if these cookies are, well, cookies. Instead, I’d like us to think for a minute about our need to label them. Notice how when you affix a label – in this case, cookie – you also affix a stereotype (cookies are sweet!). That’s our business point today.
I’ve found that people tend to label other people. The marketing guy. The accounting gal. The reality is that placing labels on people, or stereotyping them, results from making general assumptions about an individual with little or no personal knowledge about them. I’m an older guy. What could someone my age possibly know about social media marketing or technology? Bad assumption, by the way. Phrases like “OK, Boomer” are manifestations of a stereotype. So is thinking that a woman with children is less devoted to her work and career than a single man. While some blondes may, in fact, be dumb, so are quite a few folks with dark hair.
Labeling people is counterproductive. It may cause you to make assumptions about assigning work, partnering in projects, or buying from someone. I once had a boss who gave me a raise that was lower than my older peers because “what does a kid (I was 26, my peers were in their 40s) need with that kind of money?” I was the savory cookie and he had no clue what exactly to call me so he called me a kid, a kid who obviously shouldn’t be paid like his adult peers.
I’m keeping an open mind about savory cookies. You should too, just like you should keep an open mind about the people you meet in business. Very few of us fit into stereotypical pigeonholes. I don’t. Do you?
I’m sure we’re all happy to have arrived at Foodie Friday. What a week! In my local paper this week was a story about the local food critic retiring. He’s 65 and has been writing his reviews for 25 years. There were a number of things in his farewell column that I think are relevant no matter what business you’re in and I’d like to share them with you.
“When I sit down for a meal, I’ve always wanted them to succeed,” Cox said. “If you’re not excited about it, I don’t know why you’d be a restaurant critic.”
Some folks might think that the word “critic” implies someone who is negative. In fact, a critic is a professional who communicates an assessment and an opinion of various forms of creative works, according to Wikipedia. Managers are critics too. We evaluate our team members’ work and job performance as part of our responsibilities. Unfortunately, many of us seem to forget what the above quote says. We need to want them to succeed and to be excited about that success. I’ve worked with managers who hardly ever had a good word to say about their staff, and when they did have something nice to say it was usually a reflection on their excellent management skills and not on their team’s talent.
It’s been fun reading this guy’s reviews. Like many of my North Carolina neighbors, he’s very plain-spoken and without pretense, not exactly the vibe I used to get from the food critics in NYC. He’d invest as much energy in a review of a local mom and pop place as he did in the reviews of James Beard-nominated chefs (yes, we have quite a few here in the Triangle). That’s an important thing too. Not every project is fascinating. In fact, most of the time, we’re doing rather mundane, repetitive work. Was working in TV fascinating? Yes. Was pulling together sales packages and ratings data? Not after the first 10 times it wasn’t. To be successful, we have to treat our pet projects and the drudge work as equals. And lose the attitude, folks. You’re not your job so don’t confuse who you are with what you do. As many folks have found out the hard way of late, the title, salary, perks, and status can be gone in a hurry.
Think about what being a food or other kind of critic entails. It’s not enough to be a subject matter expert. You can know everything there is to know about food or wine or film or art. That’s not enough. You have to be able to formulate coherent opinions based on that knowledge and express them in written form. That’s where I think many business people fail. They’re smart, they have great ideas, but they can’t express them to others clearly and cogently in writing.
I suppose all critics are critical – it’s their job, right? But critical thinking – analyzing facts to form an opinion – doesn’t mean negative thinking. A good thing to keep in mind!
We lost power last night. There is a curve in the road near our neighborhood that apparently is difficult to negotiate although I’ve never found it to be so. At the apex of the curve, there is a utility pole that the folks who can’t manage to keep their rubber on the road hit with some regularity. That, in turn, kills power to several neighborhoods, mine being among them.
The real darkness and quiet (no ambient light, no fan) woke me up. After spending a minute worrying that the power would be out long enough to defrost all the contents of the freezer, I heard the unmistakable chirp of a smoke alarm. Not the shriek of a problem, but the chirp of an alarm whose battery had died. Our system is hard-wired into the house’s electrical system so the battery’s life is rarely an issue. It was last night.
I tried to ignore it. It wasn’t the unit in my room but the one about as far from me as could be. The chirp that came each minute disturbed the dogs, who are terrified by the alarms. You’ve never seen three “fearless” beasts shake like Jello when a little smoke from the oven sets off the system (all the alarms go off when one goes off). Still, I tried to go back to sleep despite the chirping from the alarm and the whining from the dogs. I figured if I ignored the problem, the power would come back on shortly and all would be well.
Eventually, I was right. The power did come back on. Not before I got out of bed and found that one alarm was glowing red (they normally glow green) and reset it which didn’t solve the problem. Not before I got out of bed a second time and found a step stool to reset the chirping alarm in the hope that the chirping would cease. Not before I removed the battery from the singing siren despite the fact that I didn’t have a fresh battery to put in. But several hours later, the power came back on.
Did that solve the problem? Nope. The alarm kept on letting me know that the battery I’d reinserted was no good. It wasn’t until I remembered that one of my tools had a 9-volt battery I could swap in that the chirping ended. In other words, it wasn’t until I addressed the problem head-on and with a solution I know was required but was reluctant or unable to provide.
It was a good reminder. We often ignore potential problems until they happen. We’ve lived in this house for 18 months but haven’t changed the smoke alarm batteries since the system doesn’t run on batteries. We often attempt to minimize the problems (but the power DIDN’T come right back on). A small problem can lead to bigger problems. No battery leads to frightened dogs which leads to no sleep. We try to force solutions that we know won’t work but are easier for us instead of doing what we know is required.
Take the time to do routine maintenance. Look for potential problems and anticipate the solutions. Don’t wait for the alarm to chirp about anything in your business. Make sense?