Tag Archives: 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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Cranky About Commas

Maybe I’ve always had tendencies to be a cranky old man but as I’m turning into one I find great schadenfreude when the universe punishes those who are lax about grammar and spelling. It could just be my history as an English teacher but I find my already elevated blood pressure spiking when I see people misusing punctuation or not particularly caring if they’ve mistaken “your” for “you’re” or “to” for “too.”

It cheered me up, therefore, when I read that a lawsuit over an Oxford comma was settled. An Oxford comma, as I’m sure you recall, is an optional piece of punctuation used just before the coordinating conjunction (such as “and,” “but,” or “or”) in a list of three or more things. I think its use provides clarity and I suspect that parties to this suit – a dairy company in Maine and their delivery drivers – now realize the importance of clarity. The comma was omitted from a list of circumstances which would not qualify for overtime payments. Because of that omission, the drivers argued that they were entitled to overtime since the words “distribution of” were connected, without a comma, to “packing for shipment,” making that a single activity that wasn’t eligible for overtime. The drivers said they were only engaged in distributing the product which is NOT on the list.

I think there is an important point for any of us who provide written communication in any event. It bothers me, probably more than it should, when I read something from one of my connections that misuses language. I’m not talking about the vagueries of punctuating parenthetical statements or comma use for multiple adjectives. I mean simple things such as the examples above or “it’s” as a possessive. It’s worse when a company does it since you know multiple people looked at whatever was being produced as a piece of marketing or a social media post.

The settlement of the suit cost the dairy $5,000,000. That’s a lot of cheese. Sloppy proofreading can cost you just as much in how your customers and others feel about your brand. It’s not just the lawyers who get concerned with vague meanings and incorrect language. There are a lot of cranky old men and women out there who know the difference, and many of us are actually not so old (ask my kids who are bigger sticklers on this point than I am!). Is all that clear?

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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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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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Don’t Be Eeyore

And we’re back! Happy New Year to each of you. I hope whatever time you were able to take off was fun and, more importantly restorative.

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the time of the year when we’re inundated with ads for resolution fulfillment. You know: weight loss, smoking cessation, and products and services that will help you to achieve whatever new goals you’ve set for yourself during the upcoming year. In many cases, people make these resolutions to raise their happiness quotient. They are trying to have their reality exceed their expectations, which is one traditional measure of happiness. Improving the reality – bringing it up to or exceeding whatever expectations they have – improves happiness.

There is another way to go about this, of course, and that’s to lower expectations. Think of Eeyore, the gloomy donkey. He expects that a sunny day will become rainy and that a rainy day will result in floods. His expectations are low and so he is rarely disappointed.

Some folks think that way about their businesses. They have low expectations so that they’re not disappointed with the outcomes. The issue with that is that both in business and in real life it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expect next to nothing or to be dissatisfied with things and when we get very little or aren’t satisfied, we’re actually kind of OK with it since we didn’t expect anything otherwise.

So if you’re the resolution-making kind of person, maybe you can make one more: not to be Eeyore. I believe that our expectations affect our decision-making. If we don’t have any expectations at all we’re paralyzed. Having negative thoughts will depress you and low expectations are premised on negative thoughts. You don’t need a Debbie Downer in either your personal or professional life and you certainly don’t want to be one.

Please don’t misread this as encouragement to throw caution to the wind. Jumping off a roof, either literally or figuratively, because you have a high expectation that you can fly is just nuts. But don’t be Eeyore. Things are going to go wrong from time to time. Learn from it and keep refining those lofty goals. You might not achieve every single one but it’s also about the journey, right?

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Most Read Post Of 2017

This post was far and away the most read thing I published this past year. It is a rumination on a business I’ve worked in and loved for decades – sports. It’s a lot longer than my typical screed and several prominent folks were kind enough to link to it and encourage people to read it. I guess they did since this had roughly triple the readership of the next most read post. Written last July 12, it asks the question “Is The End Near For Sports?” I hope not!

I know you might be thinking that my headline is just some outrageous form of click bait and that I can’t seriously think that big-time professional sports are heading down the same path as traditional big media. Let me throw a few recent articles at you and maybe you’ll come to a different conclusion (which I do hope you’ll post in the comments).

The sports business is based on a few large revenue streams. One is income from the games themselves: ticket sales, concessions, merchandise, etc. What makes many of those things possible is a nice facility – an arena or stadium. We’ve seen franchises move (and piss off their fans) over the stadium issue, sometimes even before the bonds on the last stadium built for the team are paid off. I urge you to watch the John Oliver piece on the relationship between teams and towns but here is why I suddenly think there is an issue. As reported by Mondaq:

bill has been introduced that would eliminate the availability of federal tax-exempt bonds for stadium financing… The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to treat bonds used to finance a “professional sports stadium” as automatically meeting the “private security or payment” test, thus rendering any such bonds taxable irrespective of the source of payment.

In other words, it will make public spending on a private facility way more difficult. That will lead to fewer new facilities and a much harder path to growing that revenue stream. Strike 1.

Then there is the largest revenue stream for most big leagues: TV. Kagen recently reported that the U.S.pay-TV industry will lose 10.8 million subscribers through 2021, according to their latest forecast. You might already know that ESPN has been losing subscribers – May 2017 estimates were 3.3% lower than the year before. For every million subs lost, ESPN takes in roughly $7.75 million less PER MONTH – or $93 million a year, and they have already lost multiple millions of subscribers. Yes, some are being replaced via the sale of OTT services, but that requires spending to sign customers, something ESPN hasn’t had to do before. The same subscriber loss issue is true of every other sports network albeit to a lesser degree since their monthly fees are less than ESPN’s. Smaller subscriber fees mean a diminished ability to pay those large rights fees. Sure, other channels (some would say suckers) will step up – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. But my guess is that the outrageous increases many entities have secured over the last few rights cycles are gone for good. Strike 2.

Finally, costs are not going to go down, at least not without major disruptions such as the two recent NHL lockouts. Players aren’t going to make less (the downside of the salary cap), team personnel probably won’t, at least not without a lot of turnover, and many of the other costs are either already low (minimum wages) or difficult to cut (food costs in the concessions, etc.).  In an effort to mitigate some of the lower revenue and growing costs, some of the entities involved in sports are beginning to do what the airlines have done and make what was once part of the deal (in-flight meals, free bag check) part of an a la carte menu to grow revenue. Specifically, look, for example, at what NBC has done with their Premier League package. They are doing away in part with their NBC Sports Live streaming coverage in favor of a new premium streaming service called “Premier League Pass” that will be in addition to the matches that are already broadcast on live TV. The stand-alone streaming service will cost $50 in addition to whatever you’re paying for your cable subscription. That will bring in more dough but it will also anger fans. Strike 3?

Don’t misunderstand me. I think interest in sports generally has never been higher, and I think any sports entity that doesn’t rely on a big TV contract and employs athletes as independent contractors (I’m looking at you, LPGA) will be in good shape. I just think there is a major disruption coming in the next few years as we’ve seen in the TV and music businesses. Watch out as the next cycle of TV deals begins and if this bill is passed. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, don’t you think?

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Most Read Of 2017 – #2

Here is not actually the second most read post that was written in 2017. Why not, you ask? Because the second most read was actually published last week. Called  “You’re On Your Own,” I didn’t think I should run it again so soon. You can read it again (or for the first time) here. This next post, actually the third most read, was published on May 24, the day after we sold our family home of the prior 32 years. It provided me with a chance to reflect on both the mixed feelings I had as well as something any of us in business can take away.  Originally called “A Little Bit Better,” I hope it makes your business life just that.

We closed on the sale of Rancho Deluxe yesterday. I lived in that house for 32 years (almost to the day) and it holds a lot of happy memories. The pictures you see are the view from the yard when we moved in and the day we moved out. As you can see, quite a bit changed. While the core of the house is pretty much how we found it, we added on a few times and changed the old kitchen into office space when we built the new kitchen/family room.

The core of the house itself is over 100 years old and, as with most older homes, wasn’t without issues. Over the years we replaced the furnace (twice!), the roof, fixed sills, removed asbestos, and landscaped. There were also hundreds of little fixes and improvements. We did all that without tearing down the original structure as so many in our town have done. We like to think we left it better than we found it.

That’s really the business point. We often get pulled into situations or projects where there is a lot of history that predates you. One approach that many people take is to just blow everything up and to start over. That ignores the good in what’s been done already. It can also cause a backlash from the people who invested their efforts to get things to where they are when you walk in. The challenge, both with old houses and old business situations, is to leave things at least a little bit better than you found them.

That’s not to say that some things are beyond saving. Sometimes a situation is in such disrepair that gutting it and starting over is the prudent and less expensive course of action. I think, however, that we often get more focused on a solution that may be more expedient and different as opposed to better.

Think about the things on which you’re working. Are you making them better or just patching things up so you can cross them off the list? Is the team happy with what’s being built or are you painting things a color that everyone hates but which was on sale at the store?

I’ll miss the old place while at the same time not missing the almost non-stop series of items on the “to-do” list. It protected us from hurricanes, blizzards, countless minor storms, withering heat, and freezing cold. I always felt that we had to protect it a little. I’m walking away knowing it’s better than I found it and hopefully in good hands for the next 32 years. Can you say the same about what you’re doing?

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