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Every country has its own place-specific challenges, as last week's tragedy at a Bangladesh factory showed. Here's how to protect your company.
Last week’s factory collapse in Bangladesh was a terrible reminder of what can go wrong in life and in business. If your company needs to produce or purchase goods from a country other than your own, it is important to find out all you can about the culture, context, and craft in the country where you've decided to do business. Here's how.
Culture is king. As an American, if someone tells me something is “difficult," I take that to mean it may require a lot of elbow grease and time, but it can be done. However, “difficult” can mean something altogether to non-Americans. For them, “difficult” might mean "impossible" and they won't attempt to do it.
I learned this the hard way when I naively waited for the “difficult” thing to be worked on, only to find out the project had never been started and I'd wasted valuable time. This kind of cultural understanding goes beyond reading the sections at the front of tourist guidebooks. It is acquired, unfortunately, by trial and error, and with meaningful advance research.
To understand the culture you're working with, ask other entrepreneurs doing business in the region to tell you about their experience. Ask them to share three things they think are important to doing business successfully in their home country. But don’t stop there. Read everything--novels, non-fiction, magazine articles, whitepapers from chambers of commerce, even warnings on government websites--about the places you want to work with. Share this local intelligence with your entire team, so they know how to navigate the cultural divides.
Context is everything. We produce most of our products in South Korea because quality is our number one priority and the Korean factories we work with share a commitment to making great products. However, they have a frightening neighbor to the North, who likes to remind the international community from time to time he is a threat. This is not just a problem for the factories I work with, but a possible problem for my company, whose supply chain could get caught in the crossfire.
For this reason, I pay careful attention to the region's political context and have sought out back-up suppliers in other areas, should the need to call on them arise. This is an extreme example, but even small things like the weather can be important. Monsoon season may seem like an exotic weather woe, but if you are doing business in the Asian basin, it can significantly impact production. In Thailand, for instance, it inundated and delayed production for a good two months in one factory we work with--they lost machines and workspace to high waters. Thankfully our vendor had a well-run facility and its workers were able to remain safe during and after the floods.
Craft is crucial. Just as the definition of "factory" differs from country to country, so too does the craftsmanship of their products. Whereas in Korea a factory implies machines and automated processes as we know them in the West, in China, a factory implies a human workforce, using tools to perform the necessary tasks. The output of each type of production is different--the former is precise and exact, while the other is approximate but rapid. There are uses for both in the world of manufacturing, but you have to know which to use when.
If you have a sample of something you've already prototyped, China may be the right place to do your production run. If, on the other hand, you have a sketch or a digital illustration of a potential product, Korea should be your country of choice. Why? Because my past experiences taught me Chinese factories are generally good at executing, but not so gifted at imagining. They can break something down and work backwards, but can’t create accurately from an idea or photo. These are the kinds of nuances in construction you have to consider when you are choosing who to entrust with your production.
Asking the right questions and understanding the way things are done locally is the key to determining whether a particular country or a potential vendor is the right choice for your company’s needs--or a problem you should steer clear of.
Google Glass isn't even in the hands of mass consumers yet and already businesses are starting to ban the device. Here's why.
The Google Glass-wearing cyborgs are coming.
And if they're anything like this "Saturday Night Live" parody, you're going to see some very awkward situations in public very soon.
The glasses, which have popped up on morning talk shows and even in the shower of a well-known tech pundit, allow the user to see a display for text messages, photos, and even two-way video conversations--all right in front of her eyes.
But for businesses, Google Glass introduces a much more serious question than mere awkwardness--it could be a big privacy issue. When someone walks into your retail shop and starts recording the premises and your interactions with customers, do you have the right to ask him to stop?
Is This Thing On?
One of the most critical facts to know is that many states--including California, Nevada, and Florida--have two-party consent laws. Aaron Messing, a privacy attorney at OlenderFeldman, says these states have laws that govern how you can record in public places. If both parties have not consented, the recording could be illegal.
And, contrary to some early understandings, there isn't a red light that shines when someone is recording with Glass. That means, no one will know who is on camera and who isn't, and no one will know how the video could be used (or abused).
There's also a question about how Google Glass maintains privacy even for those who have consented to a recording. Georgia Tech contextual computing director Thad Starner, a Google Glass advocate who has advised Google, told me the product cannot automatically detect someone's face in public or track their location using GPS. But Google has not exactly elaborated on all of the features and the functionality of the device.
Bans Already in Force
Already several small businesses have decided to ban Google Glass. The 5 Point Cafe in Seattle won't tolerate the device. According to a New York Times report, Las Vegas will impose a ban (which perhaps isn't surprising, given that town's unofficial motto of "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas"). The Huffington Post cites another slew of bars, strip clubs, and casinos that will ban Glass.
"Businesses are more likely to impose Glass restrictions than municipalities," says Carl Howe, a vice president for Research and Data Sciences at Yankee Group. "For example, many secure manufacturing facilities prohibit cell phones with cameras; such facilities would likely also prohibit use of Glass devices."
Most experts with whom I spoke said that, for now, the number of people who actually have Google Glass is a small blip. But that could change in the next few years, and businesses should be ready for the onslaught of public use. (Google declined to comment specifically about privacy but did mention there are at least 20 reporters who have them now, having signed up and paid a fee for the privilege at the Google I/O conference.)
New Era for Privacy?
To be sure, Google Glass is only the latest of a number of tech developments raising increasing concerns about the erosion of privacy. Smartphone cameras, Facebook, and Twitter, among other tools, have all contributed to the idea that personal privacy has become more of a gray area.
"No one I know ever voted for or opted into living in a 24×7 surveillance state," says Howe. "I believe most people would be shocked to discover that they are constantly being watched in most large cities and buildings. It isn't any easier to accept when the people doing the surveillance are your neighbors instead of the police. The private surveillance is worse, because it can occur in private spaces that public officials don't have access to."
My view: Google Glass will indeed lead to some early awkwardness in public. You have to speak commands, which is going to seem strange to both the wearer and passers-by. As more people start using the device, we'll probably get more comfortable with recording and taking photos. But privacy issues will arise: Businesses in particular won't know how the device is being used, and I predict we'll see more of them start to cry foul.
A winning business plan is nothing if employees aren't behind it. Here's how to get them on board.
Ever craft an annual business plan only to watch it gather dust in a binder? When taking a business from zero to maturity, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind. But getting everyone on board with your mission will get you there faster. Here are six ways to get your strategic plan out of your head and into the minds of employees.
Put it on paper.
Lengthy business plans and spreadsheets will only make your mission more confusing to non-executives. Boil it down to one page with the following: Your goals, mission, core values, key aspects of your target audience, positioning, three-to five-year strategic moves, and current year priorities. Don't forget these: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and key performance indicators.
Make it visible.
Employees tend to forget how their work ties into the company's big picture, so hand out paper copies of your plan to keep at their desks. Do ask them to keep it confidential, as you don't want competitors seeing it.
Involve your new hires.
Many new hires haven't been exposed to business plans in the past and clearly don't know the fundamentals of yours. Make time to personally walk them through, explaining how their role and decisions tie in with your goals. If you do this in a group setting, everyone can engage in an active discussion.
Dust off your plan.
Strategic plans can go stale if they aren't updated continuously. Meet with your management team quarterly to revise your plan as needed based on new opportunities, threats, or weaknesses. Be sure to keep the company posted on changes during quarterly company meetings and pass out the revised one-pager.
Solicit meaningful feedback.
All too often, business plans can feel disconnected from workers who help make them happen. Hold brainstorming sessions so everyone can offer input on how to move the company forward.
Delegate goals and track progress accordingly.
Each annual strategic priority should have a clear owner who rallies the team to get it done. Hold these leaders accountable through frequent updates both to you and the workforce in monthly meetings. If you have plenty of plans with distributed teams, track your progress via a Google spreadsheet.
Getting everyone aligned with your vision requires a team effort. Start by making your business plan accessible and you'll reap major benefits.
Employees don't leave jobs; they leave bad bosses--and even mediocre ones. Don't be that kind of boss.
I remember all of my bosses. Some were bad. Most were good.
But only one was truly memorable--in the best possible way.
Memorable bosses possess qualities that may not always show up on paper but do always show up where it matters most: in the hearts and minds of the people they lead.
Here are eight qualities of truly memorable bosses:
They believe the unbelievable.
Most people try to achieve the achievable; that’s why most goals and targets are incremental rather than inconceivable.
Memorable bosses expect more--from themselves and from others. Then they show you how to get there. And they bring you along for what turns out to be an unbelievable ride.
They see opportunity in instability and uncertainty.
Unexpected problems, unforeseen roadblocks, major crises... most bosses take down the sails, batten the hatches, and hope to wait out the storm.
A few see a crisis as an opportunity. They know it’s extremely difficult to make major changes, even necessary ones, when things are going relatively smoothly.
They know reorganizing an entire sales team is accepted more easily when a major customer goes under. They know creating new sales channels is a lot easier when a major competitor enters the market. They know reorganizing manufacturing operations is a lot easier when the flow of supplies and components gets disrupted.
Memorable bosses see instability and uncertainty not as a barrier but as an enabler. They reorganize, reshape, and re-engineer to reassure, motivate, and inspire--and in the process make the organization much stronger.
They wear their emotions on their sleeves.
Good bosses are professional.
Memorable bosses are highly professional and yet also openly human. They show sincere excitement when things go well. They show sincere appreciation for hard work and extra effort. They show sincere disappointment--not in others, but in themselves. They celebrate, they empathize, they worry.
In short, they’re people. And, unlike many bosses, they act as if they know it.
Professional is admirable. Professional--with a healthy blend of humanity--is inspiring.
They protect others from the bus.
Terrible bosses throw employees under the bus.
Good bosses never throw employees under the bus.
Memorable bosses see the bus coming and pull their employees out of the way often without the employee knowing until much, much later (if ever--because memorable bosses never seek to take credit).
They’ve been there, done that, and still do that.
Dues aren't paid, past tense. Dues get paid each and every day. The only real measure of value is the tangible contribution a person makes on a daily basis.
That’s why no matter what they’ve accomplished in the past, memorable bosses are never too good to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and do the “grunt” work. No job is ever too menial, no task ever too unskilled or boring.
Memorable bosses never feel entitled, which means no one feels entitled--except to the fruits of their labor.
They lead by permission, not authority.
Every boss has a title. That title gives them the right to direct others, to make decisions, to organize and instruct and discipline.
Memorable bosses lead because their employees want them to lead. They’re motivated and inspired by the person, not the title.
Through their words and actions they cause employees feel they work with, not for, a boss. Many bosses don’t even recognize there’s a difference, but memorable bosses do.
They embrace a larger purpose.
A good boss works to achieve company goals.
A memorable boss also works to achieve company goals--and achieves more than other bosses--but also works to serve a larger purpose: to advance the careers of employees, to make a real difference in the community, to rescue struggling employees, to instill a sense of pride and self-worth in others. They aren’t just remembered for nuts and bolts achievements but for helping others on a more personal or individual level.
Memorable bosses embrace a larger purpose because they know business truly is personal.
They take real risks, not fake risks.
Many bosses--like many people--try to stand out in some superficial way. Maybe it’s their clothes, or their interests, or their public displays of support for popular initiatives. They do stand out, but for reasons of sizzle, not steak.
Memorable bosses stand out because they’re willing to take an unpopular stand, to take an unpopular step, to accept the discomfort of not following the status quo, to take the risk of sailing uncharted waters.
They take real risks not for the sake of risk but for the sake of the reward they believe is possible. And by their example they inspire others to take a risk in order to achieve what they believe is possible.
Memorable bosses inspire others to achieve their dreams: by words, by actions, and most importantly, by example.
You can make convincing points if you're logical, rational, and data-driven. The first in a seven-part series on leadership communication styles.
There are a million pieces that all work together to propel leaders forward but, ultimately, it's about how you connect with others; no matter if you're setting a vision, being creative, or pushing results, it comes down to communication. And the more people you lead, the more critical communication is.
Harvard Business School Professor Boris Groysberg says in his book Talk Inc., "The higher you go in an organization, the more you must engage other people in conversations, rather than trying to shout them into submission."
How Leaders Communicate
Through my work, I've pinpointed four thinking factors--analytical, structural, social, and conceptual--and three behavioral factors--expressiveness, assertiveness, and flexibility--that every person and every leader possesses.
The way each person uses these thinking and behavioral factors is unique. As a leader, you need to speak these seven different languages to ensure your message gets traction. Although this column and my next six will cover just one of each of these factors, keep in mind every person has them all. Also, a person's tendencies for a certain way of thinking or behaving do not dictate his or her abilities to do so.
Why You Should Communicate Analytically
Analytical thinking is logical, data-driven, and rational. It's the objective, factual part of the brain that immediately asks, "Why?"
Take a look at this profile my company produced for a leader who has a huge preference for analytical thinking (shown in blue). That means, data and information will inform everything he says, and does. And he'll expect the same kind of analysis and rigor from his workforce. I heard a highly analytical thinker say the following in a workshop: "In God we trust...all others must bring data."
As part of your communication, you need to be sure you're speaking to the analytical section of your audience (those people who are highly analytical, and the analytical part of the brain of those who are not). In order to best convey your message, you must show your analytical side, by showcasing the facts and proof that will earn you trust and credibility.
My research has shown that 67 percent of the population has at least a preference for analytical thinking (usually mixed with other types of thinking). If analytical thinking drives an employee, they're typically skeptical, and have a sound and deductive thought and reasoning process.
As a leader, communication is a two-way street and intake is just as important as output. Strong analytical thinkers will latch onto information intake, so ensure that you give them the right kind of data. Analytical employees will also respond well to questions that ask them to prove a point and show evidence, so don't be afraid to be upfront and ask for it. This will help you gain respect and build trust.
Ways to Communicate Analytically
Here's how you can be sure you speak and interact analytically to draw out your analytical-thinking employees, and position yourself as someone who desires and values an analytical kind of approach:
1. Encourage open-endedness.
Push for investigation and examine all areas of a problem.
2. Ask for research.
Make sure your people are getting what they need to give you the data you need.
3. Highlight important information.
You need to show the big picture, not just the details.
4. Provide a case study.
Analyze past successes to allow your team to develop new ideas.
5. Provide an overview as well as objectives.
Clarity about your needs is critical.
6. Use analytical phrases.
- What is the cost/benefit of this project?
- I need more information. This doesn't make rational sense to me.
- Let's get to the point.
- Let's explore this in more depth.
- What's the bottom line?
- What does the research say?
- There are many layers to consider.
- I value your investigation of the facts.
- I've been analyzing the situation.
- Can we quantify this?
Now you have tools to think and communicate like an analytical leader because, whether analytical thinking is your preference or not, you've assuredly got people on staff whose brains work analytically. You need them engaged, and believing you understand them--and the way they think.
In my next column about leadership communication, I'll write about how best to communicate in a structural, detailed way.
The co-founder of Twitter and Medium, perhaps best known as @Ev, explains the power of conviction when starting a company through tales of his ups and downs with Blogger and Odeo.
Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and creator of the blogging tool Medium, spoke at the Wired Business Conference Tuesday about the most important judgment call an entrepreneur ever has to make. He also explained the role he believes his latest project plays online, and the joy of posting cat pictures.
Here are a few highlights:
"If you don't die, you win sometimes."
As an entrepreneur, how do you know when it's time to throw in the towel? What about when it's right to stay the course?
"I don't know any way to do it other than really listening to your gut," Williams said. When Odeo, a podcasting network that was something of a precursor to Twitter, hit the skids a few years ago, Williams said he realized his team was no longer passionate about the project.
But, in contrast, "Blogger was in more dire straits when I still kept going with it, but at that time I was completely convinced it needed to exist in the world," he said. So, he kept Blogger going.
There are, he went on to say, more sophisticated ways of gauging the question of course--testing the market or examining your numbers, for instance. But in the end, whether a given project sinks or swims, hanging around in the same industry might just pay off. "There's something about just hanging around when it comes to success on the Internet," Williams said.
"I just had this idea we should let people post their cat pictures."
To bet on a new idea, you have to have faith, Williams said. Don't overanalyze it.
"When we were doing Twitter, even inside of Odeo, we were excited about Twitter but realized we couldn't turn all 14 people to Twitter because it was this little spark of an idea," he said.
If you put too many people around a flickering idea, he explained, you risk blowing it out. A wiser strategy is to "let that thrive, and if that starts burning brighter, send more people over to pay attention."
"It's not a social network."
Williams said this of Medium. It's "more than 140 characters, not just for your friends." Williams said. There are numerous places to publish online. But what makes Medium unique, Williams explained, is the platform's ability to tap into the power of the Internet. "What the Internet is great at is building networks," he said.
"We didn't get that when we built Blogger," he added. "We were doing nothing to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts."
With new Internet sales tax rules on the horizon, it's clear that tax laws are so complex that you may be unknowingly breaking all sorts of them.
So you heard the news: Congress is considering letting states charge sales tax on Internet purchases for the first time. Right? Well, not exactly. The fact is, most states already charge tax; it's just that they don't have any effective way to collect it.
So, the bill in Congress, which has passed the Senate but is more controversial in the House, would shift the burden for collecting and paying state sales tax from Internet buyers to Internet sellers. Thus, it could easily become a huge headache for your business. (That's in part why eBay has been pushing its sellers to lobby against the proposed law.)
Right now, for example, someone in California who buys something from a private seller in Connecticut--say, a 1:720-scale model of the U.S.S. Roosevelt aircraft carrier on eBay--is supposed to pay sales tax on it. You heard that right: The buyer is technically supposed to keep track and pay those sales taxes with their state tax return. But almost nobody complies, and a lot of people probably aren't even aware of the law.
When state tax authorities catch up, however, the ramifications can be enormous. Just ask former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who went to prison after an investigation that began with his failure to pay New York State sales tax on expensive artwork.
That got me thinking: laws can be complex. Sometimes the government even changes the rules in the middle of the game. And even when the laws stay static, it's easy for even well-meaning entrepreneurs to break them without even meaning to. (Case in point: As I was writing this column, former Fugees singer Lauryn Hill was sentenced to three months in prison for failing to pay taxes on time, although she ultimately paid every dime.
Here are a few other examples of where it's easy to go wrong.
Failing to turn over payroll taxes.
If you have employees, you have an obligation to withhold their federal income taxes and turn those taxes over to the federal government. Unfortunately, sloppy bookkeeping, bad luck, or other circumstances often lead small business owners to fail to do so, even with good intentions.
Every year, thousands of business owners hold back the taxes they owe in favor of paying other expenses. Facing what they hope will be temporary crises, they use the cash thy owe the governmetn to pay rent, or vendors, or other critical expenses. They hope that this way, they'll at least have a fighting chance to stay in business--and they'll make things right with the tax authorities later.
It's a dangerous game, though. If a company that failed to pay taxes goes under, the the IRS can and does go after principals and others it deems "responsible persons" individually. In other words, the tax debt doesn't necessarily die with the company.
Deducting personal expenses as business expenses.
This one is pretty obvious, but it's an easy pitfall, especially for entrepreneurs and "solopreneurs." A lot of expenses are useful for both business and personal purposes, and that can become awfully tricky to report correctly.
Of course, there are a lot of excellent, creative, and perfectly legal business expenses you can legitimately deduct. The most important rule seems to be, keep good records!
Collecting Internet sales taxes.
Wait, you might say--I thought we established at the start of this article that the law currently doesn't require you to collect sales tax for Internet purchases, and that instead it's the buyer's responsibility to file and pay.
Like just about everything in this field, there are exceptions and then exceptions to the exceptions.
The most relevant exception here is that if you have a physical presence in the state where your buyer is located, generally you're going to be expected to collect and pay sales taxes. Thus, a seller in San Diego who ships an Internet-purchased product to a buyer in Sacramento is likely to be on the line for state sales taxes. Again, though--there are often complex "exceptions to the exceptions."
All of which leads to two points: First, our tax system is complex, confusing, and often counterproductive, and second, if you want to be an entrepreneur, I hope you've got a good accountant you can trust!
All great leaders use this tool. You should too.
One thing consistently sets great leaders apart from the merely good: They have a pervasive sense of groundedness.
Discussions with truly great leaders are rarely unhinged forays into the unknown, and their day-to-day activities are seldom isolated events, unmoored from everything else. Quite the contrary. With great leaders, there is a palpable underlying sense of linkage, a connectedness in their thoughts, words and actions that, taken together, weaves whole cloth.
Listen to and watch a great leader over time, and you'll see that each individual move builds on the others, like a well-played chess game, ultimately delivering a focused, planned outcome.
At the heart of this sense of groundedness--this ability to connect the dots in each discussion and in every action--is something I've come to recognize repeatedly in great leaders. I call it the Single Pre-eminent Goal (SPG).
Great leaders know what their SPG is. It sits front and foremost in their minds. They focus on it when they start their day; it provides the glue that links together everything they do and say during the day; and at the end of the day, they reflect on how much closer they are to achieving it.
Of course, for some great leaders this all happens at a subliminal level. They may not use this (or any) vocabulary to describe the process, and they may not even be overtly conscious of its workings. But it still happens.
For the rest of us, it helps to make the process conscious and planned. Here's how to set your very own Single Pre-eminent Goal:
1. You can only have one at a time. By the nature of a Single Pre-eminent Goal, you can only have one at a time. While it will certainly change over time (usually over months or perhaps years, but not weeks), two SPG's cannot co-exist.
2. The SPG sits below your overall mission, vision and values, but above individual strategies. Your SPG should be the single largest transformational challenge you currently face in achieving your overall mission.
My current Single Pre-eminent Goal, for example, is to switch my business model away from the one-man-band I've operated as for the last 15 years to develop a company that someone else can eventually own and manage. That SPG sits below my overall mission (to generate lifestyle-supporting income while maintaining a high degree of freedom and autonomy), but above the individual strategies and tactics I'm implementing (speaking, coaching, even writing this article).
Leaders I've worked with recently have had SPG's as varied as changing their entire product line from wood to aluminum, finding a business partner or competitor to merge with, switching funding sources from grant support to supporter donations, and designing and launching an e-commerce arm to their bricks-and-mortar retail business. All these SPG's are subservient to their respective leader's overall mission, and all dictate major strategy and tactical shifts.
3. Your daily activities flow from it. Unlike an overall mission, your Single Pre-eminent Goal should be specific and concrete enough to enable the prioritization of your daily activities.
Ask yourself: In what way is this meeting (or other activity) helping you get closer to your SPG? If it isn't, then should you really be here? How does your SPG color the data you read, the people you speak with, the conversations you're having, the decisions you're making?
That's not to say there won't be other, non-SPG related activities you'll have to engage in each day--leadership involves a fair amount of maintenance as well as forward motion. But with a Single Pre-eminent Goal now clearly defined, you'll be more acutely aware of the opportunity cost of those activities, and you may well begin to find creative ways to reduce their impact on your limited resources.
4. By default, it should be shared. Unless there are acute diplomatic reasons not to do so (if your SPG is to move your entire production overseas, for example), it's best to share your Single Pre-eminent Goal with others, for two reasons: (1) Transparency is always good, and builds your character and reputation as a leader; and (2) SPG's are (usually) motivational in nature, so why lose that juice with your team?
Take a little time to reflect on what your Single Pre-eminent Goal is right now, then take it out for a spin. You may be surprised at the impact it has.
Download a free chapter from the author's book, "The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success" which provides a comprehensive model for developing yourself or others as an exceptional, world class leader.
You can't avoid people whining in the office, but you can deal with it in positive ways. Here are four tips.
Ugh!!! Would you please stop your incessant whining already?!?
If you ever had to use this phrase or wished you could, you are definitely not alone. An isolated complaint here or there is manageable, but some people in the office just aren't content unless they're complaining and whining constantly. Whether or not they have legitimate grievances, this outwardly annoying expression is their way of coping with whatever discontent they're experiencing.
Still, intentional or not, constant complaining takes its toll on office morale, and according to my Inc. colleague Minda Zetlin's insightful column, it may even cause brain damage to everyone within reach. Whining, which the dictionary defines as "complaining in a feeble or petulant way" takes the annoyance to a whole new level. To save your sanity, here are four proven ways to stop the whining and bring back office happiness (Note: none include drugs or physical violence).1. Confront Them
It's very possible the whiners are unaware of the impact they have on the office environment. Take them to lunch and calmly explain the challenge. Show them empathy and even use a little humor about times you've been a whiner in your life so they are open to the feedback. Forego the niceties and tell them the truth about the mood they create in the office (it helps if you don't go alone). If you don't have the nerve to confront them face-to-face, then place a printout of this column or Zetlin's on their desk while they are away, with an anonymous sticky note asking, "Is this you?"2. Resolve Them
Perhaps the whiners truly aren't being heard and their complaints are real. Support them and offer to help. You can suggest they figure out how to solve the issues themselves--and they just might--but most likely, emotional obstacles are making them feel powerless, leading to outbursts of frustration. Use camaraderie to empower them so they don't feel like they are trying to make change alone. Help them develop a plan to solve the problems and execute it together. In the best case, they'll feel resolved and the whining may stop. In the worst case, maybe they'll take their whining to someone else out of deference to your generosity.3. Remove Them
If they are truly as unhappy as they purport to be, they probably are not a culture fit (unless of course your company has a core value of Be a Whiner). Help them seek career development elsewhere. Be a smart boss and use performance reviews to give them direct feedback with limited time to change behavior. Then you'll have legitimate reasons to fire those who don't reform. Plus, you will be a hero to the rest of your staff. No one should be subjected to a miserable work environment.
4. Isolate Them
If the whiners are a necessary evil in your company due to their rare skills or exceptional production, then you may have to find a way to separate them from the crowd. Telecommuting, a private office, or satellite office may be an option if their position warrants the expense. In a cubicle environment you can strongly encourage them to take the most isolated desk. But collaborative teams will still suffer. If the team just disassociates from the whiner, the offender may take the hint. Even so, you may as well follow tip No.1 and make the point boldly.
If none of the above options are viable, you can try and tune them out. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for your own experience, so you really should quit whining about them yourself, and just creatively resolve the issue head on. One company I know does this with humor. They require all public complaints to be delivered either in verse, in song, or with the use of sock puppets kept on the wall. It sounds ridiculous, but it sure lightens the mood, which is the whole idea.
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What happens when a would-be customer knows all about your product, but isn't using it?
I’m standing at my neighborhood deli, and the two guys in front of me are staring at the Belly customer loyalty tablet. It’s brand-new, freshly-installed, right there next to the box of beef jerky.
The first guy asks the clerk what Belly is. The clerk has no idea.
Right there, we’ve learned something about how hard it is to implement a new device and train people on it, especially when you’re a fast-growing company. Belly has gone from one full-time employee to close to 100 in less than two years. Belly CEO Logan LaHive says I visited that particular location less than 48 hours after the Belly terminal had been installed, and that the merchant had not yet been trained on it.
When the clerk struck out, the next guy in line chimed in. He said he knew what Belly was, and proceeded to give a short explanation. He described Belly as a customer loyalty reward system that worked across multiple businesses so that customers didn’t need a bunch of different reward and frequent flyer cards.
Pretty good, I thought. Although I was still mainly interested in paying for my drink and getting out of there.
But that wasn’t what I thought was really significant about the exchange.
What was really important was what happened next. The first guy turned to the second guy and asked him the only question that really mattered at all. It was exactly the right question.
He asked him: “Do you use it?”
The second guy said, “Nope.”
Belly is doing a lot of things right. We see the Belly CEO, Logan LaHive, everywhere we look. He and his launch team are doing an impressive job of signing up users--about one million so far--and getting their tablet devices into the market.
And yet. If your prospective customers know all about you and your business, but they aren’t using your service, you’ve got a lot more work to do.
Doing the work
One caveat, for any entrepreneur, is that you have to make sure that the businesses you are targeting are the right kind of businesses for your service, in terms of the profiles of each business’s customers and the frequency with which each customer visits the business. While I realize that loyalty programs are specifically intended to increase customer connections and grow usage, if a customer typically visits a business twice a year, that business probably is not a prime target for Belly or any of its competitors.
For too many young and rapidly growing businesses, it can be attractive to sit back and start believing your own press rather than continuing to press your bets and roll out your business. If you focus purely on awareness and the accompanying adulation, it’s easy to lose sight of the much more critical measures of engagement, adoption, repeat use, and advocacy (Belly says 70% of its users have used Belly two or more times, and that the likelihood of someone returning to Belly again rises each time they use it). Those are really the make-or-break determinants of the business.
If you let the noise and the notoriety knock you off-course, you can find pretty quickly that your connection to your “customers” can evaporate overnight. And frankly, it’s not even enough that your users are using your service. They need to be talking about it and promoting it if you want to ride the virality curve. They need to care enough to share, and they need to do it quickly and with large numbers of their peers.
The only thing faster than the adoption curve of new technologies is the rate at which they are summarily abandoned by the same eager and early adopters. Before you start shooting for the stars, you need to make sure that your product or service matters to your users and that it makes a difference in terms of something they value. (Time, money, productivity, and status are good criteria to start with.) If you aren’t securing real attachment and engagement, and if your attrition numbers are comparable to your acquisition numbers, you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.
Here's some steps to determine if a meeting will be a waste of everyone's time.
"Sometimes deciding not to hold a meeting may be the best use of everyone's valuable time."
Few managers would disagree with that statement, which we found on the website of PPD Consultants. The engineering-services organization asks four questions to address the perpetual "to meet or not to meet" dilemma:1. Is there a clear purpose for the meeting?
Strong examples: (a) to reach a decision; (b) to brainstorm for solutions to a problem; and (c) to promote a sense of accountability (by creating a public forum where one's work is on display for all to see, so people push harder to deliver).
Weak example: to gather status-only reports for areas of little activity.
It may be logical to postpone the meeting if required information is missing or a critical team member is unavailable. Don't be too quick on this trigger, however; you don't want to cancel necessary meetings.3. Is there a better alternative?
Information-only debriefs, such as status updates, can be done through e-mail or other means. If the topics only involve two or three members, then an informal subgroup session may be wiser than an all-hands-on-deck meeting.4. What if the meeting is not held?
Before postponing a meeting, consider: What would not be accomplished? How would team members react? How would senior managers react? If people are telling you that nothing would be missed (or implying as much by their absence or lack of interest), then you have your answer, which should lead you to either cancel the meeting or find ways to improve it.
Entering an emerging market can be a big growth driver--but you need to minimize the risks. Try this three-step approach for capturing new opportunities.
Emerging marketplaces are tempting opportunities for growth businesses, but they are also risky propositions. New, unproven customer segments, enabled by technology innovation or other disruptive trends, can be a volatile mix of opportunity and uncertainty.
How can you capture the benefits presented by emerging marketplaces while minimizing the risk? We worked with a client in the rapidly changing digital media sector to form a three-step attack plan.1. Prioritize
Just like any other investment, it's important to rank the opportunities you're considering. For emerging markets, we suggest using the following criteria:
- Market size: How big is the existing space and what are the prospects for future growth?
- Cost structure: What's the revenue potential of this space?
- Adjacency: How much unique value will you be able to transfer from your existing markets?
- Competitive intensity: Is the market already saturated or is it wide open? Focus on the wide-open spaces--as long as they meet your other criteria.
For each prioritized market, map out a plan to gain a foothold in the new market by landing one or two "keystone" customers that provide credibility to your offering. You may have to offer a cut-rate price to attract them, but successful "colonization" will attract other customers that don't want to miss out.3. Saturate
After securing one or two key customers, work quickly to expand your relationships, with a goal of securing 60 to 80 percent share of wallet in that market. It's better to go deep in a few markets than to spread yourself too thinly across a broad range of markets. Be aggressive in targeting the most attractive customers with a unique value position.
By following these three steps, you may be able to achieve early-mover advantage in an untapped and potentially lucrative market. Gaining a foothold with a few key customers in a high-potential segment is a proven way to manage your growth smartly while remaining aggressive with your growth strategy.
How have you approached emerging customer segments? Please let us know your thoughts at email@example.com.
Don't stop at 140 characters and thumb-ups. Your online relationships should impact your real-world business--for the better.
I've had a digital business for 15 years--a long time in online history. During that time, I've seen the Internet change our lives in so many ways, particularly how we communicate with one another. While I'm a huge proponent of virtual relationships, I believe there's a benefit in taking these relationships off-line...or as we say in Twitterese, "IRL" (in real life).
This might feel like contrary advice coming from someone who writes a lot about and participates often in social media, but it's a natural sequence of events. We cannot survive on the Internet alone. Humans, by nature, are tribal. We not only tend to band together, most of us seek out the physical presence of others. This survivalist behavior dates back to caveman days; it's in our DNA.
When it comes to conducting business, the evolution of an online to offline relationship happens through a number of stages.
The Intimidated Avoider - For those born before the Millennials, immersing oneself digitally was probably a daunting proposition at first. Old-timers might even have had other people print out and respond to their emails at first, so the notion of participating in social media was beyond daunting. The Intimidated Avoider still expects you to conduct business "the old-fashioned way," through sales appointments, lunch meetings and printed catalogs or proposals.
The Hatchling -The Hatchling, spurred on by curiosity or corporate requirements, becomes more open to online relationships. Early on, this may just take the form of email, but at some point The Hatchling decides to register her first social media account or two. This doesn't mean that she completes her social media profile or conducts any kind of activity on the social media platform.
The Lurker--The Lurker still suffers from a bit of intimidation and may have issues about doing something wrong, so instead he logs on and just watches and listens to the activity going on around him. He's trying to get his social media "sea legs."
The Joiner--Some Hatchlings leap quickly into Joiners, while other Joiners evolve from confident Lurkers. The Joiner is someone finally ready to contribute to the conversation, albeit some Joiners don't yet get that the conversation shouldn't be all about them.
The Engager--An Engager fully embraces all forms of digital communications, especially social media and its two-way conversations. An Engager might actually prefer digital over other forms of communication, but certainly an Engager takes full advantage of the online relationship-building opportunities that digital and social media channels offer.
The Connector--The Connector sees beyond the sphere of merely building her own online relationships. By getting to know nuances, attributes or needs of the people in her online network, The Connector starts to introduce members of her network to each other, bridging and building even deeper relationships.
The Graham Beller--An odd thing happens to Engagers and Connectors: They want to actually talk to each other, as in by phone, Skype or at least by one-on-one chat or text. The voice exchange is the highest form of the relationship, validating to one that the other is "real," and truly taking the notion of "real time communications" to another whole level.
The Extra Terrestrial--Talk about other-worldly: The Extra Terrestrial feels compelled to take a relationship the "extra mile" and actually meet his online friend, follower or connection "IRL."
Is it ironic that so many people--I among them--get past the Joiner stage and thrive in social media but ultimately enjoy taking their online relationships off-line? Not really. That's part of what makes social media so valuable, as a conduit to flesh-and-blood interaction. Because, as we all know, in the business world relationships matter. And they're built on things like trust, emotional instinct and common values, which manifest faster and more easily through face-to-face interaction.
While it's not possible for social media juggernauts with thousands of "friends" to personally meet all of their connections, if that face-to-face interaction happens, it tends to solidify that relationship in different, more meaningful ways. Perhaps it's because in this time constrained, fast-paced world we live in, when someone takes time out to meet in-person, they demonstrate a greater degree of interest in you and what you do. This, in turn, deserves and earns your respect, trust and likely a sense of reciprocity to act likewise. And to me, this is the highest form of a relationship, digital or otherwise.
These management strategies sound smart in theory--but tend to backfire in practice.
It's amusing to watch employees straight out of college (or from particularly large corporations) come to work at my company. They've had these "how to act at the office" lessons drilled into their brains, which may make great sense in theory, but they often backfire in practice.
Here are a few things that I've seen many managers do with the best intentions that can lead to unintended, damaging consequences:
1. Taking ownership
It's great to be responsible and conscientious. But no leader is going to be truly effective if she is stuck doing all the grunt work. Let go, let go, let go. Delegate and give yourself the time you need to focus on the big picture stuff, like growing your employees and building important relationships.
2. Answering questions
As a leader, it's important to be available for ongoing guidance. But many bosses do more harm than good by not encouraging a culture where employees self-evaluate and think for themselves. When employees need help, rather than just give them the answer, it's better to ask them to propose solutions. Then try to understand how they came up with those proposals. You'll learn how they think. Pretty soon, with some tweaks along the way, they automatically begin to ask themselves the right questions without feeling the need to come to my office for validation or simply to communicate they're "busy." Train your employees do their own thinking (and give them some leeway).
3. Awarding employees for doing what they're told
It's all too easy to condition your employees to stick to what's asked of them instead of rewarding them for keeping their eyes open to new opportunities and improvements. Reward them for initiative.
4. Striving for harmony
You might think a meeting without debate, where everyone gets along, is better. But let's face it: "yes" men and women are a hindrance to business success. And you know, some CEOs fall in this category too--trying all-too-hard not to rock the boat in the name of employee and board happiness. Teach your team how to connect over tension and how to grow from healthy and vigorous debate; harmony is not necessarily your company's best friend.
5. Using tried and true ROI analysis to judge success
No doubt you have very solid metrics you use to predict and evaluate your business success. But there are many situations that require entirely different ways of thinking. You must learn as you go--also known in business parlance as "discovery-driven growth."
For example, when you grow incrementally and organically, standard ROI and net present value calculations work well. But when you tackle new markets in which information is limited and execution risk is high, it is impossible to have enough data to do those calculations. So instead you must spend frugally, test, and investigate new opportunities, discovering new questions along the way. As these initiatives become more established, you can use more traditional metrics.
6. Providing constructive criticism
I'm adamantly against the "sandwich method" of feedback, where you layer criticisms with praise. I prefer candid feedback sessions focused on what was done well. Why? Picking apart an employee's performance isn't always helpful, no matter how constructive you're trying to be. I'll bet if you ask your employee what she thinks she could have done better, she'll know. Then you can coach.
7. Putting the brakes on a project
Stopping projects in mid-stream is sometimes the best decision you can make when things go off the rails. But so many times leaders make these decisions without telling others involved why or how the organization learned from their efforts and how that knowledge will be used in other ways or in future projects. Help your employees realize their work's value, even when a project must be scrapped. If not, you're certain to demoralize and adversely affect their future efforts.
8. Keeping strong employees in their sweet spots
Not allowing employees to move to another department within your company is one of the most destructive things you can do for employee morale and longevity. Just because an employee is an asset where they currently work doesn't mean it's the best seat on the bus for them. You may be strengthening a single department by pigeon-holing strong employees, but why not strengthen your entire company by letting these strong employees flex their skills? If you don't, they're apt to leave anyway.
What behaviors do you witness in your own company that are done with the best intentions but have negative consequences? Do you have any lessons we can learn from you?
We're one step closer to mandatory online sales tax collection. Next, the bill moves to the House.
In a vote of 69 to 27 Monday evening, the Senate approved the Marketplace Fairness Act, a bill that would allow states to compel online retailers to collect sales tax.
The bill's success in the Senate follows a nonbinding vote in March in favor of including the online sales tax legislation in the 2014 budget resolution. The new legislation would allow states and local governments to require large Internet retailers and other “remote sellers” with sales over $1 million annually to collect sales taxes and send the revenue to the appropriate location.
“After 20 years, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for our brick-and-mortar businesses,” Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas, and the bill’s House sponsor, told the New York Times. “Saving local retail business depends on it, and it’s now up to the House to act.”
The legislation, a repackaged version of a proposal introduced in February, now moves to the House, where doubts linger about its passage. While supporters say the legislation would level the playing field for online versus brick-and-mortar retailers, opponents say the $1 million threshold makes the move unfairly burdensome to small and medium-sized retailers who may not have the resources to comply.
If passed, the legislation would overturn a 1992 Supreme Court decision that forbade companies from collecting sales tax in states where they don’t have a physical presence.
A serial entrepreneur whose newest company is in Ireland makes the case for launching overseas--and explains the best way to do it.
Are you thinking of starting a technically innovative company that needs highly skilled workers? Consider launching in Europe. That advice comes from serial entrepreneur and Boston University professor Art Rosenthal, who recently launched his newest company, gEyeCue, in Galway, Ireland. gEyeCue makes a device for gastrointestinal biopsies. Rosenthal says Ireland and other European countries offer a welcoming environment for innovative companies, even those headed by Americans.
And--despite the current economic crisis in Europe--he says finding funding there may be easier than it is in the United States. Both governments and local VCs are eager to help launch companies that will create jobs in their communities. "In some countries with financial difficulties, one thing they're doing is investing in entrepreneurial companies," Rosenthal says. "My experience with Ireland is there are no constraints. My guess would be that other countries have earmarked money for this purpose and want to spend it."
The idea of starting a company in a foreign country that's at least a six-hour flight away might be daunting. But Rosenthal says it's easier than it might seem, and the process is similar to what it would be if you were researching a company and raising money at home.
Here's his step-by-step guide to getting started:
1. Look for universities in your specialty area.
"Start by considering the resources you need to create your product," Rosenthal says. "Look for the centers of expertise." Where there's a university known for its programs in your discipline, you'll find employees with the expertise you need.
2. Find out where the big players in your field have outposts.
If you're starting a Web-based software company and you need programmers, check and see where Google or other big software players have their development centers. "Once you have an anchor company, everybody realizes the local economy is built around that expertise," Rosenthal explains. Other companies start opening offices there too, and start-ups pop up to serve the larger companies. Pretty soon, you have a region or city focused on skill set.
3. Look for government agencies that fund start-ups.
In Ireland, it's Enterprise Ireland, for which Rosenthal has become a volunteer spokesman. Other European companies have similar programs. "The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Ireland are particularly known for supporting innovation," he says. A simple Internet search should lead you to your target country's funding agency website, with detailed information on the funding offered and how to go about applying for it.
4. Check out local VCs.
These may be a bit harder to find than government funding programs, (or "programmes" as it's spelled in Ireland) but they're out there. Rosenthal suggests that you start by finding start-up companies in your industry within your target country. Explore these companies' websites. They will likely say who their investors are, or you may be able to deduce it by seeing who's on their boards of directors. Then go to the VCs' websites to see what they're investing in. Eventually, Rosenthal says, "You'll have a short list of VCs that might invest in your company."
5. Network with existing start-ups.
Now that you've found the start-ups similar to yours in your target country, get in touch with them as well, Rosenthal advises. Most will be open to sharing their experiences and giving you advice.
"Reach out to other entrepreneurs in your sector," he says. "Getting the wisdom of someone who's been there, done that is a great way to start out."
It's not right for every business, but here's what you can gain by banning the 9 to 5 notion and being more flexible.
Flexible work has had some notable setbacks lately. Yahoo unleashed a flood of commentary by banning telecommuting while CEO Marissa Mayer attempts to turning around the ailing company, while Best Buy killed off its "Results Only" policy for non-store employees.
The forces of old school regimented, in-office work appear to be on the march, but not every fan of flexible work is retreating in the face of all this bad news. On LinkedIn recently, Ciplex founder, 30 Under 30 entrepreneur and occasional Inc. columnist Ilya Pozen took a stand not only for some flexibility but for extreme flexibility-- set hours should be eliminated entirely for knowledge workers, he argues.
Of course, there are many businesses for which this doesn't apply. A restaurant can't have servers wandering in halfway through dinner, stores won't sell much stuff if no one bothers to show up to work the cash register and home health aids need to coordinate so grandmothers aren't left alone. But if your employees are knowledge workers, it's time to put an end to clock watching, clams Pozin, who offers four reasons:
They’re productivity killers. Setting specific time parameters for your employees ties their success to when they come and leave the office--not what goals have been met. Productivity isn’t tied to the presence of an employee. Simply being seated at a desk or attending a meeting doesn’t truly mean work is being completed. Let's face it: filling the requirement of being in an office is far from motivating.
It doesn't build trust. Employees should passionately want to meet their goals. Let them do it in the ways they see fit. That way, they’re more likely to own their work and desire to be the best they can be.
It's distracting. It’s highly unlikely that your employees’ tasks fit within a 9-to-5 schedule. So why do you want them to be stuck thinking about how many hours they clock, rather than meeting their goals?
It works against teamwork. Having individual team members bound by set hours often produces issues regarding who's pulling their weight. Instead, let your employees focus on meeting team goals and collaborating to make it happen. This can mean a team effort in the office during the same hours or working individually in divided chunks of time.
His argument, in essence, rests on two pillars: the best motivation is intrinsic and creativity and energy are lumpy, rather than steady. If you buy these principles then eliminating hours should follow on naturally from there.
If you haven't eliminated set working hours for your team of knowledge workers, why not?
Surprisingly, the best price and best value is at the bottom of the customer's priority list. See what's at the top.
Why does a customer buy from one vendor rather than another? According to research recently conducted by The Rain Group (detailed report here), customers tend to buy from sellers who are superlative at the following tasks:1. Bring New Perspectives and Ideas
If customers could diagnose their own problems and come up with workable solutions on their own, they would do so. The reason that they're turning to you and your firm is that they're stuck and need your help. Therefore, you must be able to bring something new to the table.2. Be Willing to Collaborate
Customers absolutely do NOT want you to sell them something, even something that's wonderful. They want you to work with them to achieve a mutual goal, by being responsive to the customer's concerns and ways of doing business. Ideally, customers want you to become integral to their success.3. Have Confidence In Your Ability to Achieve Results
Customers will not buy from you if you can't persuade them that you, your firm, and your firms offerings will truly achieve the promised results. It is nearly impossible to persuade a customer to believe in these things unless you yourself believe in them. You must make your confidence contagious.4. Listen, Really Listen, to the Customer
When they're describing themselves and their needs, customers sense immediately when somebody is just waiting for a break in the conversation in order to launch into a sales pitch. In order to really listen, you must suppress your own inner-voice and forget your goals. It's about the customer, not about you.5. Understand ALL the Customer's Needs
It's not enough to "connect the dots" between customer needs and your company's offering. You must also connect with the individuals who will be affected by your offering, and understand how buying from you will satisfy their personal needs, like career advancement and job security.6. Help the Customer Avoid Potential Pitfalls
Here's where many sellers fall flat. Customers know that every business decision entails risk but they also want your help to minimize that risk. They want to know what could go wrong and what has gone wrong in similar situations, and what steps you're taking to make sure these problems won't recur.7. Craft a Compelling Solution
Solution selling is definitely not dead. Customers want and expect you to have the basic selling skill of defining and proposing a workable solution. What's different now though is that the ability to do this is the "price of entry" and not enough, by itself, to win in a competitive sales situation.8. Communicate the Purchasing Process
Customers hate it when sellers dance around issues like price, discounts, availability, total cost, add-on options, and so forth. They want you to be able to tell them, in plain and simple language, what's involved in a purchase and how that purchase will take place. No surprises. No last minute upsells.9. Connect Personally With the Customer
Ultimately, every selling situation involves making a connection between two individuals who like and trust each other. As a great sales guru once said: "All things being equal, most people would rather buy from somebody they like... and that's true even when all things aren't equal."10. Provide Value That's Superior to Other Options
And here, finally, at the No. 10 spot (below everything else) comes the price and how that price compares to similar offerings. Unless you can prove that buying from you is the right business decision for the customer, the customer can and should buy elsewhere.
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Behind the scenes of Instagram's wild ride, the coming age of Google Glass, and how IBM is turning Watson into an executive chef.
A round-up of stories to read this week:
Seeing the story of how a hit came to be is always interesting, and few were bigger or faster than the birth of Instagram and its acquisition by Facebook. Now you can read an expanded version by Kara Swisher, including how VC firm Andreessen Horowitz initially invested and then backed away, with Instagram's founders only learning of it through a New York Times story. (And how Andreessen Horowitz still made a 31,000 percent return on its early investment.) Then click over to see three things the Vanity Fair story missed.
Google has released the first units of Google Glass, the glasses that provide augmented reality functions and record what you're seeing or hearing. Some people are absolutely wowed such as Robert Scoble, professional technophile, who has proclaimed that, after wearing Google Glass for two weeks, he would "never live a day of my life from now on without it (or a competitor)." From informal polls of audiences at talks he was giving, lots of the attendees would buy a pair at $200.
Market analyst firm IHS has already estimated that 10 million pairs of so-called smart glasses, whether from Google or someone else (Apple, perhaps?), will ship by 2016. According to IHS, 50,000 pairs made by somebody actually shipped last year. (Then again, remember that tablets were selling for industrial applications for many years before the iPad.) Already people are compiling etiquette tips and some businesses--like casinos in Las Vegas, movie theaters, and possibly many others concerned with regulatory mandates for customer privacy--already banning them. Why count cards if you can get a computer looking at a video stream to do it for you? Especially when the current version is a little sneaky to start.
So, there is likely to be a market, but plenty of complications for entrepreneurs to consider. At least there's a new "It" product, as smartphones now outsell feature phones.
Hot Industry: Hummus?
The Middle Eastern dip made of ground chickpeas, garlic, and sesame paste has gained a following in the U.S. The market has heated so much that some major producers want to find new sources of chickpeas outside of the Pacific Northwest. Demand has also caused an increase in the amount of chickpeas being grown and the price they get. One brand, Sabra, has grown sales to a conservatively estimated $315 million last year, not including what moves through some big retailers like Costco. Of course, hummus has been available for decades in the U.S. Sometimes success takes a little while. Even kiwi fruit was considered exotic not so long ago.
Of course, there are some food trends that aren't so pleasant. Like packages of ground turkey containing traces of fecal matter. Between that and horse meat showing up in ground beef in Europe, food operations might have to hire their own DNA and analytical labs to be sure they're not serving something that could get them served with a subpoena for a customer lawsuit.
In other food news... artificial intelligence has come to the kitchen. Can algorithms top humans with even the most refined of palates? IBM's Watson supercomputer is taking a break from chess to find out. Watson is now being programmed to create new recipes. (Its first is Indian Tumeric Paella.)
The big deal? Instead of sorting through bajillions of combinations of chess moves or Jeopardy answers, the computer will weigh basic recipe forms and flavor compatibilities on the molecular level and then find recipes high in novelty that might still appeal to the human palette. Just spare us the bacon milkshake. Oh, wait, that already exists.
Creativity won't be limited to the dining table, however, as 3-D printing becomes a common reality. How common? The office supply chain Staples is starting to sell 3-D printers. The Cube 3-D Printer will run just under $1,300.
Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success, a growth-strategy consultancy, says ultimately you're the biggest obstacle to your company's growth.