Friday, September 7, 2012

Who Am I Anyway? A Political Identity Crisis

A waving American flag atop the United States ...
I am a registered independent. I have not decided whom I will cast my vote for in November.

I am steadfastly independent, and take pride in that position, yet I am dismayed by pundits on TV (and there have been a lot lately) who characterize independents as people who can’t make up their minds, as individuals who are uncertain of their convictions, as the “undecided.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no lack of opinions or positions. I am rarely swayed by popular opinion, non-issues, or negative campaigns.

While watching the Republican National Convention on PBS last week, mention was made of a Pew Research Center political party quiz. I decided to take it – perhaps it would help me decide where I belong politically. You may want to try it too – it’s just 12 questions.

The initial results were no surprise – my views are most closely aligned with the “average independent” – I was right smack in the middle. But I thought that odd, as I selected “strongly agree,” or “strongly disagree,” on most questions. (Again, I tend to have opinions.) So I dug further.

I clicked on the “on economic issues,” and “on social issues” buttons, and surprise, surprise, I am not in the middle at all. It turns out I am very conservative on economic issues – more so than the average republican. At the same time I am very liberal on social issues – more so than the average democrat. I am nowhere near the middle, uncertain, or undecided.

Where is the candidate that represents me?

I can’t imagine a future United States that doesn’t include same sex marriage. I can’t imagine a United States that isn’t a melting pot of varying cultures and religious beliefs (including the choice to not believe). At the same time I can’t imagine a future United States without a vibrant (debt-free) economy, where enterprise, innovation, and capitalism thrives. Call me idealistic.

Most of all, I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. When did our political parties (and their candidates) become so polarized in their views? The problem with the Pew political party poll (and perhaps with our two party political system) is that it’s missing an axis. Individual beliefs (at least mine) can’t be accurately characterized on a single left-right dimension. Where do you fall?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Art of Getting the Give

Front Door open
Front Door open (Photo credit: cottonM)
Ding-dong (the doorbell rings).

“Hi, I’m Sarah from NY PIRG, and I’d like to thank for your support.” (NY PIRG is New York Public Research Interest Group, a non-profit education and advocacy organization for environmental and health issues affecting NY state residents.)

“Now is not a good time, I’m in the middle of a big project.”

“Well this won’t take long, since you’re already familiar with us…” and the bubbly young college student at my front door continues without missing a beat.

Smart. She knows that if I close the door she won’t be able to come back. She also knows that if she keeps talking, she won’t leave without a check.

I don’t need to hear her pitch – in fact, I’m barely listening. Instead, I am focused on the fact that this articulate, bright, young adult has chosen to spend her summer as an intern, ringing doorbells, giving the same speech over and over again, sounding as excited as she can (and she is practically bouncing on my front porch), just to raise money for a cause she clearly believes in.

Having recently joined the board of directors for The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what causes people to open up their checkbooks, and how they choose one cause over another.

And as I listen to the intern, it occurs to me – if you want a donation, send a student.

I can’t say no to the college student at my door any more than I can say no to the Girl Scout selling cookies (even though none of her cookies are gluten-free and I won’t be able to eat them). Enthusiasm and passion are part of the equation, but it’s also the innate desire that many of use have to help our children be successful. I can ignore the fund-raising letter that comes from a college President, but when a student from my alma mater calls and tells me how much my gift means to them, they’ll get my commitment for a donation.

At this point, it doesn’t matter whether I support the cause that Sarah is at my door to tell me about (and she’s know her stuff inside and out), she will leave with a check.

When being asked for a donation, what triggers you to say yes?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Are Baby Boomers an Invisible Goldmine for Marketers?

dollars (Photo credit: Tddy)
According to, baby boomers are just 44% of the population, but control 70% of disposable income, spend money online, and dominate in nearly all consumer product goods categories.

And (surprise!) baby boomers care about a lot more than medications that help them feel younger and gadgets that allow them to call emergency services.

Is technology just for our kids? Data shows that 41% of those who purchase Apple computers (as I did when I left my job in Corporate America) are baby boomers. Some of us are even classified as “Techno Boomers” by Nielsen. With my bag full of cool gadgets, I count myself among those who qualify for that distinction.

According to a Forrester Report published in November 2011, boomers aged 56-66 spend the most online, followed by those aged 46-55. Only the oldest Americans spend less than Gen X (and slightly less than Gen Y) online.

Why then are these spenders seemingly invisible to marketers?

According to USA Today
, “The traditional thinking among marketers is that older folks spend less, have little interest in new products and have brand preferences set in stone.”

I admit that I like what I like. But after 30+ years as a dedicated PC user, I am now a huge fan of Apple products. After swearing that I preferred paper books, I now read e-books on my Kindle and on my iPad. My preferences for clothing and home goods brands change from year to year, but are strongly influenced by loyalty programs and customer support.

I am turned off by surveys that request age, with the highest age category being 50+. I am happy to see young people manning the booths at trade fairs, conferences, and expos, but treat me the same way you treat the younger attendees, please.

Consider that the market segment aged 50+ is expected to grow 34% between now and 2030, while the 18-49 segment will grow much more slowly at 12%.

Product marketers, if you want to grow your market you must learn what the baby boomers want and how to talk to them, or you will be missing the boat.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is There Value in the Polls?

Ron Paul taking questions in Manchester, NH
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The phone rings at 3:35 pm, right in the middle of my writing time. I consider not answering, but the piercing ring gets to me.

Me: (tentatively) Hello

The voice on the other end of the line: (a little too exuberantly) Hello!!!

Me: (silence)

The voice: (worried) Hello?

Me: Uh huh

The voice: Hi! I'm with xxxxx polls. If you had to vote today, would you vote for Romney or Obama?

Me: (hang up)

And I think (in this order):

Why did I pick up the phone?

Please don't call me back.

I should have asked them to take me off the calling list. (Can you do that for pollsters?)

I should have answered, "Ron Paul." Not that I really plan to vote for Ron Paul, but I amuse myself momentarily by thinking it would be fun to give her an answer that isn’t in the script.

And I wonder (in this order):

How did she record my answer? As undecided, perhaps? Uncooperative? Either would be an assumption on her part. The only accurate recording would be "refused to participate."

Do other people just answer honestly, unfazed by the intrusion to their day? Can their responses be believed? Is it just me that is tempted to give a snarky response?

Is there someone out there who actually wants the pollsters to call them?

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Women of Mad Men – How Far Will They Go?

Actress Christina Hendricks at Chivas Regal Pr...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Did you catch the last episode of AMC’s Mad Men? In a departure from the norm, this week the story was not about the men at all, but the women; three very different career women struggling to get ahead in the male dominated workplace of the 60’s. And, to be fair – the only three women featured in the series that aren’t housewives or secretaries.

Spoiler alert:
If you haven’t watched the episode yet but plan to, you may want to come back and read this later.

First we have Joan, who runs the office. It’s not clear that the men would be able to find a pencil without her. She has clear aspirations for more responsibility, but never given the chance to do more. But this week there’s an important deal on the line – signing an automobile account. This is what the firm has been waiting for. Joan is asked to help.

Recognizing an opportunity for financial security for herself and her son, she sleeps her way to a partnership (yes, literally). The partners, including her former lover and father of her son, vote to ask her to do so. After all, this is the break they need. Accordingly, Joan lands a 5% partnership in the firm – something she clearly deserved without the (ahem) extra effort.

Success for a price. Joan, how could you?

Next, there’s Peggy, the copywriter who broke the glass ceiling by being the first female copywriter, but keeps banging up against that glass. She’s not allowed to work on the Jaguar account – after all, they can’t put a girl on Jaguar. Peggy is told she is in charge of everything else, but is then limited on what she can do. When she saves an account on the fly, her boss tries to take the win away from her, and treats her as if she is a spoiled child.

Appropriately, it’s Peggy’s former colleague who was fired for drinking, falling asleep, and wetting his pants on the job (yes, literally), who gives her the pep talk to make the move. He was the first to recognize her talent, and still her champion.

So Peggy grabs her career by the reins and goes out and lands a better offer – better title, and more money than she asked for. Peggy makes a bold career move to work for the competition – one that I hope won’t take her out of the picture, as I want to see her career progress further.

Good for you, Peggy Olson!

And lastly there is Megan. Receptionist turned Secretary turned Boss’s Wife and Copywriter, who left the firm to pursue an acting career. In her first big audition callback, Megan is asked to twirl around so the producers can check her out physically. We aren’t privy to what happened after that, but we know that Megan didn’t get the job. Will she get the next one?

I’m rooting for Megan to make it without compromise.

What is so clear in all of these stories is that the career women of the sixties had a huge challenge. I love that the writers of the show chose to take each of these women in different directions, moral dilemmas and all. Are you a Mad Women fan? What do you think?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Setting Priorities

You may have noticed that my schedule here at When Fridays Were Fridays has changed. For nearly three years I have been publishing once a week, on Fridays. But just like a business that has to take a look at it’s market segments and make tough decisions about what to invest in and how much, I have taken a hard look at everything on my plate and decided that some changes are in order.

For the record, it’s much harder making a decision to change anything when it’s just me and my own projects, but maybe that’s because I feel like I have so much invested. Two things are driving this change:

First, I have a book coming out in June. Surely I have mentioned it here, but just in case you missed it – Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts
is being released in June. My days are now filled with recipe development, food writing, food photography, and book promotion. I have also joined the board of directors of the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, a terrific non-profit that helps families struggling with food allergies.

And, because of where I spend my time, I am feeling more and more distant from the corporate world that this blog was focused on.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things to talk about. Surely with the election coming up, businesses making bad investments, and technology continuing to evolve at a more-than-exponential rate, there will be things to write about and talk about. And I will. But not always on a Friday, and not necessarily every week.

I am giving myself a pass on the self-imposed schedule I have had for myself, and I hope you’re okay with that. This audience has been very loyal, positive, and engaging. So, please stick with me here, and I’ll continue to visit you too!

In case you’re wondering, yes! I’m having fun with my new projects. And yes, I can’t wait to hold the finished book in my hands, go to my first book signing, and yes – write another book proposal. If you had asked me three years ago, I would have never guessed that this is the direction my path would take me. Once again, there is life after Corporate America.

If you or anyone you know is concerned about food allergies, celiac disease, or food intolerances, please check out my hangouts:

Blog: Learning to Eat Allergy-Free
You Tube: Allergen-Free Baker

Thanks for your support!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Food Allergies in the Workplace – Not Always What They Seem

52 Weeks - Week 5 - Food Allergy and Intoloren...
Does your employee refuse to sit at the conference table, passing up the doughnuts at the morning status meeting?

Does the new intern always have an excuse not to go out for Friday night beers at the local hangout?

Does your office mate leave the office every time you come back to your desk with a snack?

Did you employee turn down a piece of birthday cake, even though it was his birthday?

If your teammate always declines lunch out with the team, choosing instead to eat a brown bag lunch from home, does that mean she can’t keep up with the work?

Before you label these employees as difficult, unsociable, or “not a team player,” look again. It could be food allergies.

Recent studies show that as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies. Another 2 million suffer from celiac disease, and many more suffer from food intolerances. As food allergies continue to rise, more young adults with food allergies are entering the workforce, and employers should take notice.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, the principals involved in the management of food allergies are very similar to the principals of food allergy management in schools. But while most schools have been dealing with the issue of food allergies for some time with parents actively advocating for their children, the workplace represents a new challenge. Young adults now need to advocate for themselves, and work environments can vary dramatically depending on the type of work being done.

A typical office environment may have a common area where employees snack, share refrigerators and microwaves, and even share food; a location where a little bit of spilled milk could be of concern to an employee with a milk allergy. That morning status meeting where doughnuts are being passed around the conference table could cause the start of the workday to be very stressful for an employee with allergies to wheat and eggs, or another who suffers from celiac disease.

Food allergy challenges in the workplace aren’t restricted to social events and celebrations. Plane travel, business lunches and dinners with clients, and conferences all require special planning for an employee with food allergies. Even a seemingly simple business-networking event, such as a baseball game where peanuts are thrown around the stadium, can be a challenge for an employee with food allergies.

Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 13-19, 2012) is a great time to assess your own workplace for food safety.

If you are the employee with food allergies:
  • It’s up to you to make sure your boss and colleagues understand.
  • Let your boss and co-workers know what you are allergic to, how to recognize an allergic reaction, and what they should do in a medical emergency. Make sure they know where you keep your medications, including epinephrine, if appropriate.
  • Offer to help plan events that include food, or work with those on the planning committee to make sure they include foods that are safe for you.
If you’re the boss:
  • Be an advocate for your employee. Make an effort to reach out to employees with food allergies and understand their needs. Find out what foods need to be avoided.
  • If food will be served in the workplace, engage the employee to help identify what foods are safe for them, and how they need to be handled. 
  • Accommodate food allergies the same as you would accommodate any other disability. Accommodations may include banning certain foods (such as nuts) from the office, or allowing the employee a dedicated refrigerator or microwave in their own workspace. In extreme cases it may be necessary to assign an employee their own office, rather than a desk in a shared space.
  • Work with the employee to develop an action plan for emergencies.
Most importantly, colleagues and bosses alike need to recognize that food allergies are not a choice. All employees should make an effort to ensure that no employee feels left out or isolated due to their food restrictions.

Friday, May 4, 2012

From Machine to Man (or Woman)

Automated Postal Center and new Priority Mail ...
Automated Postal Center and new Priority Mail box display (Photo credit: Aranami)
“It was a pleasure to serve you.”

That’s what the final screen read as I completed mailing a package using the self-serve postal machine at the post office.

Serve me? I didn’t feel like the machine had served me in any way. Sure, the machine used a bit of processing power and ink, but serving? Hardly.

And pleasure? Really? Was the machine actually claiming to feel that emotion?

A more appropriate closing message might have been, “Thank you for your business,” or even, “Have a nice day.”

I’m not opposed to automation. I prefer it. Even if the service window had been open, I would have bee-lined to the self-serve machine. I like technology, and use it. At the grocery store I always choose the scan-it-yourself and self-checkout options. I find it faster and more efficient.

I prefer not to have to politely decline the upgrade to priority mail from parcel post; I’ll just push the buttons. But I do so knowing that I am interacting with a machine, and there is no part of that transaction that feels human to me. I am simply not expecting a machine to be “pleased.”

But then there’s Watson, who wowed us all with his Jeopardy performance last year. We laughed at his colloquialisms and his attempts at sounding as “human” possible. Yet, as I watched, I was acutely aware that Watson was indeed a machine.

What about you? Do you expect feelings from a machine? Do you think we will ever interact emotionally with machines the same way we do with humans?

Friday, April 13, 2012

You Have 2.7 Seconds to Reach Your Audience

Descente - 9/365Descente - 9/365 (Photo credit: Groume)That’s it.

If you’re not hooked by now, you might never be.

The average attention span is 2.7 seconds, roughly 140 characters (sound familiar?) according to Peter Shankman.

According to Statistic Brain
, the average attention span in 2012 is 12 seconds (down from 10 seconds in 2000). Are you still reading?

What do you think?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Who Decided That Girls Need Pink Toys? (Or Why Gender Marketing is a Bad Idea)

Pink!Pink! (Photo credit: fabrice79)I’m seeing pink.

It’s enough that girls must have pink clothing, pink bedrooms, and glittery pink cell phones. It’s enough that girls are taught to recite “pink” as their favorite color. It’s enough that Barbie’s 3-Story Dream Townhouse and Pop-Up Camper are pink. But Legos? Do we really need to force pink Legos on our girls?

Last week, this blog post entitled OMG! I’m Going to Be a Grandmother and I Hate Gender Marketing, caused quite a stir. The author makes the case that while she expects princesses to be pink, there is no practical reason why a corn popper push toy for a girl needs to be pink, and sold side-by-side with the blue popper for boys. There is no logic for the girl’s parking garage to be pink while the boy’s parking garage is red and yellow. Why can’t girls and boys park their cars in the same garage?

I wondered – do girls really prefer pink? Is there a case for the toy companies to market separate colors for boys and girls? According to this article in Time Science, there is indeed a difference in color preference between genders; women chose the redder shades of blue (those with reddish-purple tones) while men chose the greener shades of blue. But the study found that both genders universally prefer blue.

That’s right, men and women agree on blue.

So when Lego decided they needed to reach what they call “the other 50%” of the world’s children, they did extensive market research. And, according to this article in Jezebel, they found that girls play differently than boys. They found that while boys like to focus on the building and following directions that the girls like to take breaks and start developing story. This resulted in a line of toys for girls branded Lego Friends, with pink and purple packaging. They don’t include directions.

Now you’re probably expecting me to rant about why these toys are a bad idea. But I’ll be honest. I like pink. I like purple. I look at the new Lego Friends line and I am drawn in. The packaging is attractive, I like the colors, and I like the idea of a toy built around a story (I am, after all, a story-teller). I am completely on board with the concept of the new Lego Friends line. As a marketer, I think it’s a brilliant idea. What I don’t like is that they are only for girls. It’s the gender marketing that has me seeing pink. I reject the notion that girls can't follow directions. I reject the notion that boys can't be creative. Must we have toys that are for boys and toys that are for girls?

Gender marketing pigeonholes our children into specific roles and behaviors. Is this what we want?

If we insist that girls need pink toys while the boys play with toys that are blue, green, yellow, and red, how is it possible that we can expect them to aspire to the same jobs? If we continue to expect that girls can’t follow directions to build Legos, how can we expect women to learn the skills to debug computer software? If girls need to park their cars in the pink garage while boys park in the yellow garage, how is it possible that we can expect women to be invited to sit at the same boardroom ta

Friday, March 30, 2012

Second Acts: From Unemployed Construction Worker to Raw Foods Guru and Job Creator

Unemployed. Overweight. Late forties.

It’s a story we hear a lot lately; after 20 years as an independent construction worker laying fiber optic cable, Brad Gruno found himself struggling to find work in the over-crowded telco industry. Gruno describes himself as being depressed, forty pounds overweight, and unhealthy. He knew he needed to get healthy, and he knew he needed to find a new career. But having previously found success working for himself, this entrepreneur simply couldn’t fathom going to work every day for someone else.

Knowing that he needed to reinvent himself, Gruno took two simple steps: he moved back “home” to Buck’s County Pennsylvania, and he made the decision to get back in shape and eat healthy foods. He started researching and learning about vegan diets and raw foods. Eating only raw foods, Gruno lost 40 pounds, brought his cholesterol down, and felt better than ever.

A raw foods diet is one made up of what Gruno calls “live” foods, rather than cooked, and with no animal-based products. It is an extreme vegan diet where none of the food is processed or cooked. According to Gruno, “When you cook food you kill the enzymes and lose the nutrients.”

When Gruno wanted a food with some crunch to it – something like a chip – he started experimenting, and created a raw chip from kale. Instead of baking the kale in the oven, he dried the kale to create the chips, and flavored them with other natural ingredients. Gruno converted a garage into a small chip factory and Brad’s Raw Chips was started – the first raw chip company on the East Coast.

Two and a half years later, Gruno has fifty employees, continues to create more jobs, and he is expanding distribution. The business brought in $2 million in revenue in 2011, and Gruno expects to end 2012 at $10 million.

Brad’s Raw Foods product line includes kale chips and leafy kale, and Gruno continues to innovate and find new flavors. Most recently he introduced a nut-free version of his chips. All of the products are gluten-free, vegan, and free of many common food allergens.

Gruno describes his business as having, “happened totally organically,” and I believe the pun is intended. “I fell into something I was really passionate about.” Passion, after all, is Gruno’s fuel. When he’s not on the farm or in the factory, he likes to get out and share that passion with customers – at trade shows, expos, and in the stores.

The next phase of Gruno’s reinvention will come to life this spring when the Chip Factory and Education Center opens May 12th at his new fourteen-thousand-square-foot facility in Pipersville, Pennsylvania. It will feature a raw juice bar, coaching, and workshops.

Happy. Healthy. Inspired. Now that’s the way to start a new career!

Friday, March 23, 2012

You've Come a Long Way, Techie

The first computer I worked on had a grand total of 2MB of memory. Not gigabytes, megabytes. It was an early version of what we know today as distributed systems. On that system (which was intended to run things like inventory systems for warehouses) I wouldn't have been able to watch a video, play music, or even connect to the internet. That was 1980.

If you could travel back in time, and bring today's laptop with you, what could you accomplish? That was the question posed by Alan McMahon recently on the Dell blogs.

Let's travel back in the time machine to see:

Click below to see the image larger at its original site:
Laptops and Humans: Modern technology in the pastHumans and laptops: What could you do with a single laptop in the past?

If you could bring your laptop into the past, what would you like to do with it?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Social Media Finds (and the Challenges of Facebook)

PinterestPinterest (Photo credit: stevegarfield)Just a year ago I was talking about Facebook versus Twitter, and concluded that there was a place in our online lives for both of them. Shortly after that I learned about Google+ and did absolutely nothing about it for quite a while. I didn’t (and still don’t) see the value that it provides.

In the past few months I have created a Facebook fan page to connect with food allergy fans and promote my new book, I have joined Goodreads, and I have started my own pin boards at Pinterest. Whew! It’s a lot.

And even more recently, Facebook forced me to the timeline layout, and my only beef is that it appears I never had a life before 2008. According to Facebook, there’s no proof I was born, went to college, or did anything for the first four decades of my life. Facebook very kindly prompts me to add photos for those periods, but conveniently forgets that we not only didn’t have digital cameras in 1970’s, we didn’t even have compact cameras. At least I can prove (with photos) that I had my children, but not until 2011, and only due to a nifty little photo scanner.

But let me spend a little bit of time on Goodreads and Pinterest, which share the concept of being for a more targeted audience. Goodreads, while not new (just new to me) allows you to create bookshelves with books you’ve read and books you want to read. It also allows you to review books, and see what your friends are reading and saying about books. It’s a reader’s dream for finding great goodies (not just the same top bestselling authors). Goodreads is focused for a very specific purpose.

I was leery about Pinterest at first, and completely unsure what to do with it, until I realized that people were pinning my photos and recipes. Pinterest allows you to create photos boards (or vision boards) and pin pictures from all over the web. (One exception I’ve found is Facebook – you can’t pin from Facebook – despite the fact that Facebook users like to post photos).

Having played with if for a bit, I have concluded that Pinterest is a dream site for a food writer/recipe developer/food photographer, like myself. I can create boards of recipes I’ve developed, recipes I want to try to make, photos I love, photos from my new book – anything that suits me. I can follow other people or their boards, and I can re-pin! The best part is that anything pinned from my website gets pinned with a link back – so there’s a great deal of linky love going on there!

While my blogs continue to be the hub for my online life, for me, Twitter is where it all comes together. I can tweet my blog feed, and I can tweet what I post on Facebook.

What’s your favorite social media tool or find in the past year? What do you like best, and why?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Eeeny Meeny Miny Moe…

MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 10:  Republican presi...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeI hated playing that game when I was a kid. It went on forever, no one ever really won, and it was too darn boring. And that is precisely how I feel about the Republican presidential primary. I was hopeful that Super Tuesday would finally end the game and land us an actual Republican candidate who could go about the business of becoming (ahem) presidential, but alas, that does not seem to be the case.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a registered Independent, and (for me at least) that means that I will vote for the best candidate, I rarely make up my mind until the last minute, and I have no loyalty to any party. What I say here in no way means that my vote is pre-destined for Obama. However, there are a number of reasons why I think this prolonged game is hurting the Republican chances of winning in November.

Even high school athletes know that when you’re on the practice field with your own team that you challenge but you don’t injure your fellow team players. The longer the candidates keep duking it out on their own turf, the less likely it is that any one of them will be able to be cleaned up, patched up, and made presentable for the real battle. They will go into the race wounded and worn down.

What’s said in Kansas no longer stays in Kansas. It is no longer possible to play to an ultra-conservative Bible belt town one day, and sound like a libertarian the next. The era of “that’s so 20 seconds ago,” is here. Everyone is a journalist, everyone is a videographer, and we are as likely to hear the news on Facebook or Twitter as we are through traditional media. That gives a candidate with an unwavering position on all things an advantage… sort of. But the idea that all political ideals fit into one of the two cookie cutter molds is simply not realistic. So that same unwavering position may play well in one state and bomb in another.

The Republicans are creating a deep hole with women voters. A very deep hole. I cannot remember when so much of the discussion from our political candidates centered on issues that matter to women. At times it seems that they’d like to see us all barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Don’t we have more important issues to tackle than reproductive rights? (And didn’t we settle that already?) It just may be too late for any of the Republican candidates to dig their way out of that hole and earn back a respectable amount of the women voters.

What do you think?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Does the Difficult Boss Always Deserve to Be Fired?

English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone...I have been fascinated by the media coverage about Steve Jobs, since he passed away late last year. It is virtually impossible to watch a show about his life without hearing that a) he was a brilliant visionary and b) he was extremely difficult to work for.

Anyone who has spent time in the working world has run into difficult people. It’s inevitable. (The same applies to families and just about any group you can imagine.) When the difficult person is your boss, the complexities of dealing with that person rise tremendously. After all, he or she is your boss – holds the cards, has influence over your career, and can make your daily life miserable.

Interviews with team members and employees that worked with (and for) Steve Jobs inevitably mention that he was difficult. They mention impossible schedules, impossible requirements, and (of course) yelling and ranting.

By all accounts, Jobs was maniacally focused on his vision to change the world. But even as these employees discuss how difficult Jobs was to work for, they say it with reverence – as if they would have had it no other way. That was the man, and the way you worked with the man.

Many of you reading this will have a story about a difficult (or even impossible) boss. I have my own stories. Many of us would argue (as Robert Sutton does in The No Asshole Rule) that these bosses should be fired.

But is that always true? Is it possible that there is a place in the business world for difficult bosses? Is it possible that the best bosses need a little bit of crazy to be successful? Is it maybe even necessary to break (almost) all the rules when you are striving to create something entirely new? Is there some quality (perhaps it’s the visionary brilliance) that tempers the difficult behaviors, making an otherwise unacceptable boss okay?

Or, is it possible that Jobs could have been just as effective a boss, without employing the tactics that have branded him as difficult to work for? What do you think?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The NAFE 50 Report Signals a Stall for Female Executives

JP Morgan Chase towerImage via Wikipedia

My copy of Working Mother magazine arrived this month, with a report on the NAFE 50 – the National Association for Female Executives Top 50 companies. The list, which includes technology giants HP, Cisco, Intel, and IBM, also includes financial services firms (20%) such as Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

Companies are selected based on female representation at key levels – and especially roles with profit and loss responsibility. Key programs for advancement of women and company culture are also considered.

It’s important to note that this list is meant to represent the top companies for females pursuing executive roles – and does not necessarily represent the top companies pursuing technical careers.

Earlier this year, I posed the question – was 2011 a good year for female leaders? Because I’m a data junkie, I always like to look at the numbers, so let’s take a look at the data in the NAFE 50 report, to see if it can help us answer that question:

53% of the employees across these companies are women. 33% of senior managers are women.

22% of the corporate executives in these companies are women (compared to 14% of Fortune 500 companies), but 37% of the profit and loss executives are women.

The boards are comprised of 23% female directors (compared to 16.1% at Fortune 500 companies).

10% of the NAFE 50 companies have a female CEO (compared to 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies). That is a drop from 14% in 2011.

When I look at the data presented, I am able to see a clear connection between focus on the advancement of women, and the impact that programs like mentoring, leadership training, and coaching have on the company gender profile. That’s good news.
And yet, I still feel like it’s not enough. While 10% of women as CEO sounds great – more than double the Fortune 500 – keep in mind that the numbers we are looking at here are for the top companies – the ones who do the very best in identifying and promoting women leaders.

If we look bottom to top, 53% of the employees at the NAFE 50 companies are women, 44% of the managers are women, 33% of the senior managers are women, 22% of the executives are women, and 10% of the CEOs are women.

Lest you think I only care about the women, let’s take a look at the men in these same companies. 47% of the employees are men, 56% of the managers are men, 67% of the senior managers are men, 78% of the executives are men, and 90% of the top executives are men.

Now, how do you feel about that? You can find the entire report here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Nuggets of Intelligence From a Cookbook Conference

English: Gwyneth Paltrow at the 2011 Venice Fi...
This post is a bit different for me. Usually I pick an issue or a work related topic to dive into. But since most of the readers here are writers, pursuing second careers, or thinking about pursuing second careers, I thought you might be interested in what I learned at a cookbook conference last weekend.

In case you are wondering what the heck I was doing at a cookbook conference, I will remind you that my first book (a cookbook) will be coming out shortly. I love to take advantage of conferences in New York City because it's just a short train ride for me to attend.

The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference was very unusual in that a truly diverse set of people came together to talk about cookbooks. Of course, there were authors in attendance. But there were also publishers, agents, bloggers, editors, public relations reps, educators, historians, and independent bookstore owners. (Yes, there are still independent bookstore owners.)

And there was a great deal to talk about – far more than I could have imagined. The speakers had fascinating information to share. Here is just a little bit of what I learned:

Celebrity Sells.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that six out of ten of the top selling cookbooks in 2011 were written by celebrities (Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman), and Lisa Lillien (Hungry Girl).

Big collections sell.
Of the remaining top sellers in 2011, three were what I would call big collections by trusted sources, including Weight Watchers, Cook’s Illustrated, and America’s Test Kitchen.

What was the number one selling cookbook of 2011? drumroll please…

Cake Pops! Looking back over the top sellers for the past three years, cupcakes (and now cake pops) do seem to rule.

Cookbooks still sell.
And by that I mean physical books, books you can touch and put on a shelf. While all books provide an experience, cookbooks seem to provide a lasting experience. There were 500 cookbooks published in 2011.

People still want and buy cookbooks.
Cookbooks are the #1 genre of books checked out from libraries. Cookbooks are the #1 genre of books stolen from libraries. Cookbooks are the only genre of book unaffected by the recession.

What about electronic cookbooks? People want cookbook apps – and they want them to be full of recipes, but they aren’t willing to pay for them. I saw some examples of fabulous cookbook/recipe apps. None of them are making money.

If you are promoting a book, readers want a personal touch. Readers still love book signings. But, even the authors with the most extensive out-reach said that book signings do not sell enough books to justify the expense.

So there you have it – the ins and outs, ups and downs, good and bad of cookbooks in 2012! What’s your take on cookbooks?

Friday, February 10, 2012

What’s In a Name – Is Big Better?

New York Giants logoImage via WikipediaThe Poughkeepsie Journal landed at my door on Saturday, February 4th – the day before the super bowl – with a front page article titled The Big Blues: How the Giants and IBM Got Their Nicknames. Of course, such a story could only be considered news in New York’s Hudson Valley, where it would be flirting with danger to admit that you prefer the Patriots to the Giants, and where if someone in your family doesn’t work for IBM, one of your neighbors surely does.

It’s interesting to note that the writer of the article could not determine how either the 2012 Super Bowl champs or the tech giant actually did get tagged with the “Big Blue” moniker, although many theories were floated. What I found even more interesting is not the color blue (which is arguably a favorite among many) but pairing it with the adjective “big.” It’s almost as if the New York Giants weren’t able to communicate their massive power with the word “giants” alone, and IBM weren’t able to communicate their world presence with the “international” in their official name. Instead, each of them also needed a nickname to communicate their size, scope, and power – a nickname that included the word “big.”

Big. It’s a tiny word, but it communicates so much, especially in the world of sports. Consider Big Ten, Big East, Big West. If a conference has big in its name, then it must be powerful, right? And individual teams that append "big" to their team names seem to indeed strike it big. Consider Big Orange (Syracuse).

But big isn’t reserved for sports. There’s London’s Big Ben, the Big Island in Hawaii, and The Big Apple (New York City). There are the Big Four accounting firms, the Big Four consulting firms, and the Big Four banks. (If you are going to attach to a number to further modify the adjective “big,” four seems to be quite a popular choice.)

We even seem to like our food names big; anyone for a Big Mac or a Big Gulp?

If you were to choose a name for a book, “The Big Book of Anything,” would surely be preferable to, “The Little Book of Anything,” and if you are going to a choose a nickname for a product, I strongly suggest you think big!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Politics In (and Out of) the Boardroom

politicsImage by Asoka G M via FlickrPolitics. The word is commonly used to describe posturing, maneuvering, and lobbying, in addition to the traditional meaning of “activities associated with government.” The dictionary also adds, “power relationships in a specific field,” and, “calculated advancement,” to that classic definition.

We’ve all seen politicking on the national stage at it’s best worst lately – candidates who previously were on the same team pulling out all the stops to make the other guy look bad. But it’s impossible to drag someone else through the mud without jumping into the mud bath yourself. Yes, everyone looks bad. Everyone gets hurt. And the mud slinging can’t be taken back.

It happens in the boardroom too. A big job has opened up and (especially when it’s a top job) there are many qualified candidates who have been waiting for the job for years. But, regardless of readiness, ability, and desire, only one person can fill the job. And yes, the posturing, lobbying, and even backstabbing begins. It’s not just about why Sam should have the job, but why Sally shouldn’t. Any and all dirty laundry is aired.

The difference between politics in the boardroom and politics for government office is that the blood, dirt, and grime stays behind closed doors. Clients and the rest of the world usually don’t know what’s being said. The most visible damage is contained.

But the underlying damage – the scarred working relationships, trust, and even loss of interest in the work, linger. It’s quite impossible to stab someone in the back and expect him or her to be a supporter after the battle is over.

I’d say the world would be a better place if we could all put politics and personal agendas aside, but perhaps there is an element of survival of the fittest here. After all, someone has to be in charge. Someone needs to make decisions. Someone has to rise to the top, and it’s rarely clear-cut whom that role should go to.

What do you think? Is it possible for our political and business leaders to work their way to the top without stepping on others along the way?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Women in Business: Are They Holding the Line?

English: Meg WhitmanImage via Wikipedia

After reading Jenna Goudreau’s recent post on Power Women 2011: The Year’s Winners and Losers, I felt (in one word) – sad.

I could add a few more adjectives to the list – deflated, overpowered, and worried. For years I have been watching and waiting for strong women to break through the line – and many have. There is no question that there more women are taking on leadership roles than they did when I joined Corporate America more than thirty years ago (and all of the managers in my area were male). There is no question that more women are working their way up to middle management and senior management roles. There is no question that there are more women in the room (and it’s no longer normal to be the only woman in the room).

And yes, there were some big wins for women leaders in 2011, including IBM’s Ginni Rometty, the first female leader of the tech giant, and HP’s Meg Whitman, her second CEO role.

So why, then, am I concerned?

Just like women at all stages of their careers have done over and over again for decades, 2011 saw strong women dropping out of the game. For some the decision was their own, including Avon’s Andrea Jung, yet others, including Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, were reportedly forced out. Meredith Viera left the Today Show saying she wanted to spend more time with her family – an echo we hear far more frequently from women than their male colleagues.

Nearly thirty years ago when I was seeking my first management appointment, I interviewed with a woman – the only female second line manager I had visibility to at that time, and one of very few across the company. She shared with me that she felt – as a woman – that she had a responsibility to go as far as she could in the company, to pave the way for all of the women who will come after her.

It is certainly progress that women in business today can step back and make the decision that feels right for them. Yet, without the women at the top layers continuing to charge forward, will future generations be stalled? What do you think?

Friday, January 20, 2012

What To Do When You’ve Got Nothing To Say

Meetings are sometimes held around conference ...Image via WikipediaYou’re in a meeting. Your boss turns to you to ask for your opinion on a topic you should know something about, and you have absolutely nothing to say.

After a long day of meetings the host goes around the room asking for final thoughts, and you’re coming up blank.

Or maybe it’s an e-mail you need to respond to, and you are expected to have something to contribute.

It happens. Sometimes you’ve just got nothing.

That’s how I felt this week about my weekly blog post. It was Wednesday afternoon and I still had no idea what to write about. I had nothing. And then I realized – having nothing is something we should talk about. After all, we’re expected to have an opinion. We’re expected to contribute. I’ve never seen anyone get ahead by not having anything to say.

So what should you do when you are coming up blank?

1. Start talking. Now, I will caution you, this doesn’t work for everyone (and you know who you are). I’m not talking about babbling, or meaningless chatter. But there are those who rise to the occasion once they start talking (and you know who you are).

2. Agree (or disagree) with what someone else said.
This is also an opener to start talking. Once you put it out there, the idea will form.

3. If appropriate, ask if you can take time to think about it
– but don’t take too long. Respond later the same day, if you can.

4. Start writing. If it’s an e-mail you need to respond, just start writing. There is no penalty for having a lousy opinion on paper until it’s sent. Once you start writing, chances are the answer will come. Just be sure to edit before you hit send.

5. Start with the conclusion.
If you know how to end your point – start there, then back into the why, how, and other supporting points.

6. Prepare in advance. You’ve seen people employ this strategy. There is always someone in the room that has a question to ask or a point to make – no matter what. It’s not necessary to do this all the time, but you don’t want to come up short when you’re the subject matter expert.

7. Compliment the team.
This works extremely well in a group meeting or work session. If you’re asked for a thought or opinion, and you are happy with what’s been done and said so far, play the teamwork card, and thank the group or specific individuals. Everyone likes a team player.

What are your suggestions for what to do when you’ve got nothing?
What has worked for you?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Nobody Likes to Fire People

DES MOINES, IA - NOVEMBER 23:   Republican pre...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeRecently, Mitt Romney has been quoted as saying, “I like being able to fire people.” Left out of context that statement sure sounds like Romney wants to cut jobs, hurt the workers, and keep the economy stalled. But the statement is taken out of context.

Romney actually said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.” Specifically, he was talking about insurance companies that aren’t providing enough value. In essence, he was making a statement about free enterprise. Romney was making a statement about merits, quality, value, and every individual’s right to choose the insurance that is right for them. It was a statement against bureaucracy and large government (and yes, despite having been accused of flip-flopping on issues, consistent with what appears to be his emerging platform).

I think most of us would agree that if we hire someone to mow the lawn and they do a lousy job that we would find a new lawn service. If we go to a doctor that we’re not happy with, we move on.

As much as Romney can appear cool at times, I don’t believe he likes to fire people. Nobody likes to fire people. What he, and nearly every manager who has worked at a large corporation will tell you is that sometimes people need to be fired. Whether that’s to address an unaffordable business model or a performance issue, sometimes it simply needs to be done.

Does that mean that Romney is against job creation or that he wants to hurt the middle class worker? If he is truly an entrepreneur (as he describes himself) – then at his core, creating jobs is what he does.

Will Romney downsize the government? And will jobs be lost as he does so? If he sticks to his current message, then yes, that will surely happen. But he also says that he is planning to reduce the tax on corporations, keep private sector jobs from moving overseas, and encourage those companies to create more jobs. And if he does so, that will be good for the economy and for jobs. That’s a message I want to hear.

Will Romney stick to that message and follow through once he’s in office? What do you think?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Google+, Plus or Minus?

English: This is one of the huge welcoming sig...I think it’s fair to say that in the past three years we have seen a social media explosion:
  • You must be on Facebook to connect with family and friends, share photos, and stay in touch with classmates.
  • If you’re in business, a Facebook fan page is a must.
  • Blogs and micro-blogs (including Twitter) are the place to find and share information about topics you care about.
  • Anybody who is serious about a career is on Linked In.
And lately it seems that just about every group is building some kind of online community hub with forums, video, and even more information.

Whew! That’s a lot of information to absorb and respond to. Our online lives are already fragmented and time-constrained. And in 2011 there was a new kid in town, Google+.

Google used the same approach to launch it’s “plus” as it did with gmail, allowing only those who were invited to participate in the first round.
When I received my invitation, I was excited to join Google+. I set up my profile and found a few people to add to circles. Now, a few short months later, the thrill is gone. I don’t pay attention to +1’s. I have some people following me (a pure mystery, as I am not active there).

So why have I lost interest? I am simply out of bandwidth. For me, plus has become a minus.

There’s not an unlimited amount of online currency. We can each only absorb so much. And wooing users away from their existing online social structures is a much different game than switching a use from aol mail to gmail. Whether you have just 9 twitter followers or 900, or 9000, the group you have today is established where you are today.

What about you? Are you active on Google Plus?