A Fork In The Road

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin and his blog. He has a unique ability to condense a topic down into a succinct statement that is specific, yet written in a way that many people can apply it to their version of life. Its far from easy to do this well and regularly.

But today’s post missed a bit: The fork in the road. He is right on the premise that many folks and businesses don’t see the fork or take it.

But, as forks in the road go, they’re not optional. When you come upon it, you have to make a decision. There is no third option, unless you count running off the road.

The problem is more, that folks don’t anticipate the fork in the road until they have it right in front of them. And when they get there, they have to decide in an instant which one to take. And more than often, that means taking the default option, the one that falls within the comfort zone, the one you can take if you don’t have enough data to make an informed decision. That translates into a missed opportunity. And it’s not a lack of guts, because a gutsy move is knowingly taking a risk or stepping out of your comfort zone, not unknowingly stumbling along.

There is a saying that Luck really is when Opportunity meets Preparedness. I think that is a better way of looking at this. You want to be prepared to hit upon a fork in the road, so when you get there, you have the opportunity to take either one, and do so in an informed manner.

But as preparedness goes, it takes effort to accumulate information ahead of time, to consider and analyze possible scenarios, and to acquire skills that enable you to succeed taking either path at the fork in the road. Be prepared for either a treacherous mountain pass, or a six-lane highway in a busy metropolitan area.

In life being prepared for these forks means knowing the state of affairs of the industry you work in, the economy and the politics in the area you live in, the issues facing all the major elements of your life choices, and investing into backup plans and alternatives, whether that is having financial buffers, professional networks, or acquiring skills that enable you to do a career change if needed.

Interestingly enough, for drivers, forks in the road have become much less of an issue in the age of GPSs. Most of the time we allow a well informed GPS to tell us which side of the fork to take, because the GPS can look at the bigger picture better than we can by having real-time information and lots of data at hand. Of course that also has made us lazier drivers, because we have handed over the responsibility for being able to make a decision to someone else. As evidenced by people occasionally driving into a lake because the GPS told them so.

But the same technological advances have also given us the Internet, and more information than we ever were able to put our fingers on in real time and at minimal cost. So there really is no excuse nowadays for not being informed and doing your home work to be prepared for the next fork in the road. Now it really comes down to the choice of bobbing in the wind of life, or taking charge of our life. It’s an exciting time to live in!

Update: After reading this, Seth did point out, that most people do in fact run off the road.

Social Rank – the SEO of the Social Media Generation

Social Rank can be thought of as a key measure of trust in your personal digital brand.

A bit of background:

In 1996 the founders of Google (Larry & Sergey) developed a ground breaking concept that to this day is the foundation of how we search for things on the web: The Page Rank algorithm. Of course the Google search engine has seen many refinements since, but at the very core is the principle that while anyone can publish content on the web, where it can be found by a search engine crawler, content which is being linked to by others should be considered more useful or authoritative. Because the action of an independent 3rd party can not as easily be faked or controlled. Furthermore the more trusted that 3rd party is, the more weight should be given to that link or endorsement.

This is how Google separates relevant search results from spam that attempts to self-promote shamelessly.

Trust Supports Our Digital Footprint

In today’s Social Media Generation everyone has a digital footprint – a website, a blog, LinkedIn profile, FB friends, Twitter followers, and on and on. And we spend much of the day interacting with people in person and virtually. But how do you know that you can trust a person, that all the things they’re saying are actually true? That’s of course not a new problem. People had to decide whether to trust someone or not since the beginning of mankind. And there are many ways to go about that in the offline world. But some of them take time and effort which doesn’t keep pace with the much faster online lifestyle.

So if someone tells you about all their accomplishments, and their cool network connections, and what they could do. Can you believe them? Well, the evidence to judge this by should show up somewhere in their digital foot print. If they’ve done all this work, it should show up on a company website, a blog, be published, etc. And the more legit or curated the mention, there more weight it has. If they have a cool network, there should be evidence of it in their LinkedIn profile, in the FB friend list, in the Twitter following.

The same concept applies here, as in the Page Rank algorithm. If someone accepts a LinkedIn request, they publicly acknowledge the network connection. The same is true for Facebook and Twitter. Your digital network should be a reflection of the way your present yourself to others. Similarly if people blog about work they’ve done with you, if your name gets mentioned online, that is a endorsement of authenticity that you worked with them. And the more trustworthy the person that makes the mention or accepts the connection, the more weight can be given.

Of course someone may be totally legit even without all that digital footprint. But if you are in the younger generation or if you run in tech-savvy circles there is now an expectation that you keep up with your digital footprint. That you SEO your personal digital brand. If you don’t, people will have less trust in what you say or who you say you are. You undermine your credibility by failing to do so.

Similarly, all to often when you look someone up, browse their digital footprint or their website, you quick learn that they’ve stretched the story a bit here or a lot there. Probably 1/3rd of all the people or organizations I look at don’t look quite as legit or accomplished as they presented themselves. Thus moderating your presence towards your network to be inline with your digital foot print is a good personal PR move.

Measuring Social Rank

There are the beginning of tools that measure this type of data. Klout assigns someone a score based on their connections and activity, and how their network reacts to that activity. And they can weigh their measurement by the Klout Score of the others in your network that you influence.

That is an interesting first step. Now of course, there are many more nuances to what a search engine does, and it can assign Page Rank to a page based on the topic being searched for. So there can’t be just a single Social Rank, but the Klout score would have to be relative to a topic – like what is my Klout score when it comes to photography. Or my Klout Score when it comes to the quality of my professional network in the fashion industry in NYC.

The Mobile Phone & Independence

It’s fairly well-known by now that mobile communication has changed our lives dramatically – adoption that is reaching levels of 1 mobile phone per person int he world (Mobile is Taking Over The World), with developing countries out-pacing developed countries. And the smart phone and its apps along with text messaging and Facebook has changed every aspect of our lives: how we stay in touch, who we stay in touch with, how we shop, how we consume information, what information we have access to. Everything is at your finger tip in real time. Even how revolutions unravel have changed with Facebook and Twitter as has been evident in the Middle East in recent years.

But an interesting question is, has the mobile phone not just changed how we do so many things, but also how we think of ourselves. Has it added an independent spirit to our mindset. As this story in Forbes The Redefinition of the Entrepreneur highlights, the Millenials have a different mindset about careers and work environments that focuses on independence. According to the story by 2020 40% of the US workforce will be freelancers (I actually prefer the term Independent over Freelancer, as it’s more accurate and not based in mid-evil history).

In a way the mobile phone has allowed us to cut the umbilical cord to many things. The consumer and the employee now control many aspects of their lives, they are no longer constrained by environmental space / time / access constraints. And this has changed our expectations and our attitude as a society, has turned the entire society into a more independent set of people, with huge implications on many of our traditional structures from work place, consumption, communication, politics.

Sameness Vs. Happiness

As the world has become global and flat, much of our daily machine drives us towards Sameness. Yet unfortunately, it’s not the path to Happiness.

The Demand for Sameness

It’s so much easier if everyone just fits in a neat little box that stacks well. It’s predictable. It doesn’t require thought. It doesn’t require justification. It can be repeated countless times.

The companies we work for much prefer that we all fit into a nicely graphed career path. You graduate from college, you start an entry level position. Every 18 months you advance to the next level. Eventually you get senior positions and you advance every 3-4 years. You get pay raises. You stay with the company. You avoid any behavior against company policy or discrimination. They can count on you being there to ship the next release of the product as well or better than you shipped the last one. If you behave the same as every other one of the 10,000 career oriented co-workers at your company everyone makes loads of money, has low stress, and and smiles on the company bio page.

The retailers we buy from much prefer that you buy the national brands, because they know when you walk in the store you will know what to look for, you will know what the food tastes like, and you will not hesitate to buy loads and loads of things, even if they’re not the most healthy for you. And retailers who sell through huge quantities of the same product have significant negotiation power with the manufacturers since they can move huge amounts of product quantities. And the farmers that raise the GMO produce and raise the hormon treated cattle don’t have to lose sleep over the latest harvest risk.

The airlines much prefer you fly through their hub, even if it’s almost twice as far as the crow flies, because they can put more people on that plane, fly a bigger plane, with every seat full, which has more crew on the ground if something goes wrong.

The software company much prefers that you buy the n-th version of their computer operating system rather than a tablet, because they have long sunk all the R&D cost into that operating system that is now a cash cow. Who knows if a tablet will be around 2 years from now, or if it’s a different device all together. Maybe it won’t be touch, but some other gesture to manipulate input. If we all just staid with the same mouse and keyboard, we wouldn’t have to change so many applications, and retrain thousands of programmers and ui designers.

The manufacturers that sell their wares through the retailers, much prefer that you buy the same product they’ve already sold to millions of others just like you. That means they can amortize their R&D investment over many more units improving margins. And large production runs yield economies of scale as things are easier to automate and off-shore to cheaper labor markets.

McDonald’s banks on putting a restaurant on every highway stop and into every strip mall, because they know if they can provide the same reliable customer experience, you’re more likely to eat there then the local diner you know nothing about. McDonald’s has perfected the sameness of food. As Starbucks has perfected the sameness of coffee drinking.

The politicians that shape our daily lives much prefer that we think like everyone else in their district, because that means they can attract more votes with the same message, and more votes means getting elected. Politicians prefer to sell no-child-left-behind testing rather than reforming the people who we put in charge of our education system accountable for doing their job.

Homebuyers think the market will only go up, and they fear being left out from buying a McMansion and earning loads of equity if they just bought at the same time everyone else is buying. And the big builders can turn a much bigger profit if they build entire sub divisions with just 2-3 floor plans rather than letting everyone figure out their personalized home. Yet, 2-3 floor plan sub divisions look like the ‘projects’ of the post-war generation, just with more manicured lawns, and all houses being painted in ‘earth tones’ to meet HOA standards.

The school super-intended prefers to operate under a zero-tolerance policy against anything other than the perfect student. Because zero tolerance allows them to apply the same punishment to anyone who strays from the centerline without having to think critically, apply common sense, or defend their decision against someone who disagrees. They can blame it on the wisdom of the crowd rather than the benefit of the individual.

Sameness makes it easy to target us for people that want to advertise to us. Advertising thrives on scale, which means it has to target the masses, which means there have to be common threads among the mass members, which means they have to be the same on some dimension. The more same we are, the easier it is to advertise to us, the easier it is to sell to us.

If someone steps out of line, changes the way we do things, they way you pay for your software, discontinues your favorite flavor or app, people get angry. They demand sameness forever, because now their routine has been disrupted, they are required to make decisions, they may have to re-evaluate decisions they’ve made in the past. Sameness avoids change, and most people don’t do well with change.

People have fairy tale weddings, because they think if they get married the same way they saw everyone on TV and in the magazine getting married, surely they will live happily ever after. But if someone strays from the path, they speed dial the divorce lawyer, because now someone strayed from the path they were supposed to be on, dared to throw a wrench in the plan whether it was justified, ignorant, or in betrayal of the sameness they pretended to embrace during courtship. Aren’t all marriages to be the same happy storyline until death do us part?

As teenagers and even young adults, we are surrounded with things we want and haven’t had yet. We want to fit in, and want what others have. We think the best way of getting it, is by being like we think they were as that surely means we would get it too.

The Happiness of Different

Sadly though, none of this sameness really leads to happiness. Yes, it means we can afford more things, because they are cheaper. And we’re less risky to get sick from a poor restaurant experience, or end up getting laid off because we didn’t strive for the next promotion in the same old job.

But with all that sameness, we never feel like we accomplished anything, there’s anything about us as an individual. Looking at history, the people we admire are the ones who had courage, who had the audacity to try something nobody had thought of before, who created a captivating piece of music or art, who dared to be different. Meaning we admire the people who opposed sameness.

People talk about you because you did something they didn’t do (good or bad), they don’t talk about you because you did the same thing they did 10min earlier.

Creative consultants tell you to find your unique voice. Magazines publish editorials that are edgy and fresh, not the same story they’ve seen last month. Luxury designers and retailers still understand that luxury identifies with scarcity, with something that not everyone has. They go to great lengths to control access either directly, or indirectly through economic filters. Inventors chase ideas that solve problems that haven’t been cracked yet. Successful investors chase promising stocks and opportunities before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.

Technology innovation of the recent past has made everyone a photographer, author, publisher, journalist, film maker, you name it. Now the challenge is what you do with it? The same as what the select few did before it became broadly available? Or the same what the other 1 billion people that now can do it too? That wouldn’t be remarkable. But doing something fresh and unique can be very cool.

As I get older, and after having chased many things others have done, I find that sameness is very bland and does not lead to happiness. But doing what is important to me, getting off the train of sameness has been a good source of positive energy. Ignoring the drum roll of advertising, news, and sales pitches, and often purposefully buying down, buying anti-trend, doing something different. I’m happy to stand out of the crowd nowadays. Purple shoes? Why not as long as they fit my style sensibility.

Happiness is inversely proportional to scale and ability to automate. Happiness is your unique path through life.

How Not To Become The Next McDonalds

Starbucks has gotten a lot of business from me over the years, drinking coffee flavored milk. They still do.

Startbucks once said that they’re not in the coffee business, they’re in the customer experience business. It was all about a premium experience that would make you seek out their coffee shop and pay the premium price for their beverage, because it had become an important part of your daily routine. That is the sign of a brand that wants to be cool – it’s not just a product, a consumable, it’s actually more than that.

But in my early years traveling the US, I always appreciated McDonalds (it’s been probably 5+ years since my last time setting foot into one of their restaurants). Not for the food, though a the Big Mac sauce had a magic touch, but because for their omnipresence and their consistency in experience. If you’re a multi-day cross-country drive, the last thing you want to do when you’re tired and hungry at the end of the day, is take a chance on a dive of a diner at the truck stop. You don’t know the area, no recommendations, and you just need food and not get sick.

It could be the best diner food you’ve ever eaten. But it could also be a totally disgusting greasy spoon. So what’s the solution. The reliable ever consistent average: McDonald’s. To be found at every major Highway exit, in every town around the US. Cheap. Mostly clean. Predictable. Not particularly memorable.

I’m currently traveling in Arizona. And I’m looking for a place to have my morning coffee. What’s the solution? Starbucks. With the app on the phone I can always find one. There are not as many Startbucks as there are McDonald’s but it’s probably not far behind.

But for the brand of Starbucks that’s not a good thing. Because now I no longer seek them out for the premium experience. Now they have become the ever consistent average, the fall-back plan if all else fails. When I’m in Manhattan, if I’m in a rush, I’ll get my Starbucks. If I have time, I try out a local coffee shop and see if I can get a more unique experience.

In my home-town, I go to the Black Cow. I know they roast their beans on Friday’s, and they don’t always have the same beans. But I like the role they play in the community. I could drive 5 miles to the next Starbucks. But it’s not that special anymore.

Companies always chase growth. But often along the way they become the next McDonalds. Don’t fall into that trap.

The Social Computer

I just read a pretty good summary and data recap of the Windows 8 adoption (or lack thereof): CNet – Asus & Win 8 Adoption.

It’s well written and not surprising given general trends in the tech industry. It doesn’t boat well for the Windows franchise. As an ex-tech guy but still geek at heart I should be a prime target audience for the Windows 8 marketing machine. Yet, other than some non-descript decals on NYC subways the message has more or less entirely missed me. If you asked me why I should be upgrading to Windows 8 and what it would get me, I would draw a total blank. Yes, I could repeat the thing the sales person at B&H told me yesterday when I asked him about the difference between a Mamiya AFD1 and Mamiya AFD2 – his take: “It’s newer, so it must be better”. Yeah, that really convinces me to spend more money.

But the CNet article has one fascinating number in it: 95% of Asus’s tablets are running Android. That is the one device category to most benefit from Windows 8 and it’s new touch interface. It should be the one device category doing strongest. Of course with statistics and Windows not really having a horse in that race before, we would have to know the baselines to validate the conclusions. But there isn’t enough time to organically grow share, it’s do or die.

I think there are two fundamental shifts going on that undermine the future of the PC market and Windows:

First there is the maturity of the PC. PCs we all have sitting on our desk can do everything we need them for and then some, unless you are a gamer or a video editor or some other niche power user. So unless our old PC dies (and with the onset of SSD hard drives there are fewer mechanical components that have built-in expirations), there really is no reason to upgrade anytime soon. The cost and disruption of an upgrade isn’t justified by the minimal gains from going from a Win 7 computer to a Win 8 computer. Or at least none of the marketing machines that should convince me otherwise have done their job, because I haven’t heard anything.

But the other more important shift is the move towards the mobile and device space. Really what the majority of the people outside of a corporate office do, is browse the internet, access web based services, shop online, and check facebook. As a person sitting next to me on the train told his friend yesterday – he had a ‘Facebook Machine’, meaning a PC that was used for nothing else other than accessing Facebook. Yes, today between your iPhone, iPad, Kindle (or Android counterparts), you really have 95% of all use models of modern computing covered. There is the update of the resume every 5-10 years. The same person on the train said, that the only time he had to boot up his ancient Windows computer was when he had to update his resume, since he never got a copy of Office for his current computing environment, and thus his old PC was the only way to update his resume. Go figure. Well, if LinkedIn has its way, the resume may be a thing of the past, and your LinkedIn profile will become the resume. So one less reason to keep that old Windows PC around or updated. And with the increasing trend towards people leaving corporate careers voluntarily to go independent (see HBR blog post on that trend), fewer people may need any kind of resume before too long.

So where does that leave us? In the 60s we started the computing revolution, and the state of the art device back then was the Mainframe in the back office. Then the 80s and 90s were defined by the Personal Computer. Everyone had one, then everyone in the family had one. Then came the iPhone, and the smart phone, and then the tablet. Now everything revolves around social media and mobile. So as the age of the Personal Computer draws to a close, the decade of the ‘Social Computer‘ starts. And the only big computing power running traditional operating systems are the server farms that power the cloud, which is what all our social computers connect to all the time to offer us the latest in information and services. And most of those servers run Linux, not Windows.

So Windows 8 may be remembered more or less like Windows Vista. As an unremarkable entry in the history of operating systems, best to be skipped over. Will Windows 9 be different? Well, that may depend whether people will still talk about Windows in a few years when that release should be ready based on typical Microsoft OS cycles.

Start Leading, Stop Executing

Marrisa Mayer’s recent edict that all Yahoo’s report to the office unleashed a fast and furious debate on the web. Clearly the story struck a chord on a number of levels to get everyone to jump in so quickly. It’s clear that the argument can be made for both sides, as plenty of people have done.

By all accounts Yahoo, the company, is desperately trying to re-engineer itself to remain relevant and viable in the tech space. Such re-engineering takes sometimes drastic changes in order to cut through the inertia of corporate culture. It’s well understood that the biggest risk to companies are smaller disruptive competitors who can be different than way things have been done at the incumbent. I have experienced one such period myself when I worked at Hewlett-Packard during the merger of HP and Compaq. I started there during the final years of Lew Platt, and I left just prior to Carly Fiorina’s firing.

But the story has all the markings of a well intentioned, poorly conceived, and equally poorly executed management decision. Many senior managers hang on to an old mental model of corporate hierarchy where they know better, they decide among themselves, and everyone below them in the org chart dutifully follows along. Along the way they assume they know exactly what is best for everyone, and they assume they know what everyone will do. They make decisions, they execute them.

But the problem is that in this social media age, the individual has become empowered to think, to exchange information. It’s no mistake that we are the generation of knowledge workers, rather than just a labor force. There is a reason that the Arab Spring and other popular uprisings happened in this time, when it is easier than ever to have an opinion and to communicate. It is a fatal mistake to assume that employees will do exactly what they are expected to do, or will follow along with the ideal models of human resources management, or that every employee will neatly fit into the different boxes drawn on the whiteboard.

Katrina did a nice blog post on how to think about this from an employee’s perspective – it is a personal choice. Corporations have taught us that we live in a time of employment at will – the company’s and the employee’s. However, the best performers, the most proactive employees also have the best opportunities to act on these choices, and make decisions accordingly. Forcing the hand of employees like this, usually forces the opposite change of the intended outcome of Yahoo’s decision.

Going back to the Yahoo decision, I see three short comings of leadership, and that would make me concerned about the outlook of this turn-around if I were an investor into the company:

A failure of people leadership

By all accounts, Yahoo has a lot of employees who have become poor performers during the prior years of decline. They’ve become disengaged, pay lip service to the day job and do something else (by accounts in some cases even starting their own company while on the clock). Some of them work in remote work environments, and some of them in the office. Of course working remotely makes it easier to hide such attitudes, and there is a correlation, but it’s only an overlap, not a full match.

What Yahoo needs to do is to manage poor performance employees, not eliminate remote workers. They need employees that believe in the company, that are excited to come to work in the morning, and go the extra mile. People believe in a company if they see and understand a vision, and if they trust the company’s leadership. Decisions like this one, though don’t speak of vision, they don’t speak of senior executives trusting employees. Instead it speaks of heavy-handed, uncaring decision making. Most likely it will not solve the problem, but will lead people to look elsewhere, only making the problem bigger.

Eliminating poor performance and trusting employees to do their job regardless of where their desk is, or if you have daily face time with them, is one of the bigger challenges of people management. It takes leadership and personal maturity to do it. Thus this decision is a failure of people leadership.

A failure of brand perception management

Yahoo is (or was) a big name in tech history. Companies in tech live by being leaders, forward thinking, ground breaking, non-traditional, new frontier places. More than ever can we actually work in non-office environments and communicate with everyone instantly both in writing, via audio connections, or visually via web cam.

Requiring everyone to report to the office is very much a pattern of the past, is saying all these modern technologies don’t mean anything. As a company who created, and still runs one of the email services that enables many small companies and entrepreneurs to communicate, Yahoo is in a unique position to be a provider of tools and infrastructure of a remote and distributed modern-day workforce. We need more and better tools to keep working in the modern workplace. Yahoo could be a leader on this front. But the best leaders eat their own dog food, they lead by example – or as managers like to say ‘walk the talk’.

Yahoo started out as a portal and a search engine. Both are mature products in the online age, some even say we’ve passed the prime years of the search engine, and clearly portals have been replaced by social networks like Facebook. So if Yahoo wants to remain a powerhouse in the tech world but serving the broad population, it needs new leading edge products. Communication and productivity tools for an ever growing remote workforce would be a logical place for Yahoo to place itself based on their history.

But anything a company does also impact it’s brand perception. And this latest move, does not speak of company that wants to be leading edge, on the frontier. And with this having become a major news story online, it leaves a big mark on brand perception. Thus, not only did this decision negatively impact the trust of employees in the senior management, but it also negatively impacted the broader perception of Yahoo as a brand and with that the possibility of turning the ship around. It was a failure in perception management.

A management failure

Sometimes you think you make the right decision, you have vetted the plan, you have gotten the data that re-affirmed you are doing the right thing, you have run it by your trusted advisors and they all nodded. But as soon as you push the button you realize you got it wrong. People misunderstood your intention, you overlooked a crucial fact, you couldn’t reach that one advisor that would have made you look at this another way.

Now you have a choice – you can dig in, take cover, and power through. You check your savings account balance and consider whether you can afford the colateral damage. Or you can take can show your vulnerability, admit that maybe you didn’t think about a different way of looking at this, start a conversation, look at alternatives, and if justified make adjustments.

The first choice is a gut reaction, the easy thing to do. Being vulnerable takes guts, takes self-confidence. It should be what leaders have lots of. Unfortunately few show it.

When the story broke, Yahoo dug in, said they didn’t comment on internal matters and stayed silent. Of course we don’t know if there was more conversation internally, but it’s not likely. There would have been an opportunity to engage with the employees and with the opinion makers online to talk about the challenges and opportunities of large remote workforces. There would have been an opportunity to show that they value their employee’s opinions and are willing to listen and make changes.

PR stories like this, if handled correctly, can be huge opportunities for brands to get remembered and noticed again, for a lot less than a major brand awareness campaign would cost. But it takes vision and on-point management to execute these opportunities. They can become great recruiting tools for people that would like to work at a company like that, or they can poison your recruiting efforts making to so much harder to turn the company around.

Not doing so, is a management failure. It fails to inspire employees to do their best, and make the company they work for a premier player in the tech world again.

Cooking Outsourced

An interesting conversation over morning coffee…

The gold standard for good eating is a nutrious, exciting, home cooked meal consumed over a good conversation with the rest of the family at the end of the day, and without being rushed.

Or so says popular lore. But the reality is quite different – eating out, eating fast food, take-out food, frozen food, microwaved food, easy to prepare but boring food, over processed food. End result, not particularly enjoyable, not particularly healthy, portions that haven gotten too big. Possibly quite unhealthy in many ways.

What is driving this reality? Well, for one many people don’t really know how to cook well because we didn’t grow up around our moms preparing everyday dinners, and had no other opportunities to learn for a variety of reasons. I’m not putting judgment on that moms (or dads) should be home cooking dinner, but that is where one learns the tricks of the trade. Reading a recipe is one thing, but there are many little tricks and techniques in how to carry out a recipe that are not mentioned in the cookbook. Those are not cookbooks for dummies, those are basic algorithms for trained line chefs.

Then there is the time crunch. Our lives are busier than ever. Work and life has merged into just one ‘Wo-fe’. A good, well cooked meal takes planning, takes shopping and preparation, and takes time to cook. Not to speak of the clean-up afterwards so that there is space for the step-repeat the next day.

So is it time to outsource the cooking? Maybe the times of the home cooked meal are a thing of the past, just like rotary dial phones, and we should let it go. Build smaller houses, skip the kitchen and replace it with a small fridge, sink, coffee maker, and maybe a micro wave for the in-between meals, and a quick breakfast to start the day. Our society has moved from an industrial society to a service based society, where everything is outsourced.

But it’s not just a matter of convenience. It makes both economic and nutrious sense to do so. Cooking exciting meals you see on FoodTV at home on a regular basis may sound exciting if you have the patience and the skills to do so. But economically it doesn’t make sense. A good recipe doesn’t just need the basic ingredients like meat and potatoes (metaphorically), but a lot of little details. There are herbs, garnishes, and sauces that make all the difference. An iron chef plate is small in terms of total food and calories, but exciting to eat because of the explosive flavors and attention to detail. But you cannot buy or make herbs, garnishes, or sauces in the small portions that are needed to prepare a meal for 2 or 4. So you either buy bigger amounts and throw the rest out (poor economics), you cook a lot more and have left-overs (unhealthy eating habits), or you skip them and cook more basic recipes (poor nutrition, heavy food, boring flavors).

Restaurants can afford these things on better economics because they prepare the same dish many times in the same day, so there is much more leverage in the sourcing and preparation of the dish. Now eating out every day in a sit-down restaurant can be costly, because any economic benefit from leverage is offset by higher service cost for eating area and staff. But not so for the little deli or take-out services.

Many years ago after my first marriage ended, I spent the better part of a year eating out. I did the math and knew that if I ate at a local restaurant, kept it to an entree and a glass of ice tee, or an occasional glass of wine, I would eat better and cheaper than if I attempted to cook at home for one person. Now with a full household again we have a mix of home cooked meals and eating out. I enjoy a well cooked dinner, and can take any recipe from the French Laundry to Rachel Rae or Emeril and cook it and enjoy it. I love Bobby Flay’s flavor profile, but his recipes are not practical for home cooking because of the many sauces that are the basis for those flavors.

Recently I finally got a handle on my own weight. I was fairly stable weight wise, but quite a few pounds over my target weight based on physique. I’m not a gym person (been there, tried that), and not really into diets (been there, tried that too). In search of a more permanent solution, I read up on all the diets on WebMD. What I found was interesting – it wasn’t about this or that diet, they were just yet more marketing ploys for someone needing to say make a buck or create a personal brand. At the end of the day, if you just need to lose weight, it comes down to a simple formula. For an adult with average activity levels, to lose weight simply eat about 10 calories for every pound of current body weight. Once you arrive at your target weight (or intermediary milestones as your body resets only slowly), eat 12 calories for every pound of current body weight to maintain the status quo. And that’s exactly what I did, and lost 25 pounds in a reasonably short period of time. But in watching what I eat, it was amazing to see how big our normal portions are, and how heavy our normal foods are. Eating 10 calories per pound is an interesting mind game, but also a challenge in the context of our regular food supply.

It does make sense if we transition as a society to outsourcing cooking. The evolution in dinner preparation. But it should be a good mix of social eating out, take-out food, and healthy food. Less factory prepared meals, less fast food.

Yet Another Blog

Blogs should have a purpose and a defined audience. I have been blogging for many years, first about learning photography, and then being a photographer. I still do.

But I also have many interesting conversations with people about life as a creative entrepreneur, debating news stories, exploring trends, musing about the what ifs. I enjoy having these conversations 1:1 or in small groups with people. But every so often it’s nice to share these with a broader audience. They have no place in the blog I write for work, so here is Yet Another Blog, which will be about the random things I ponder. If you enjoy reading them, keep coming back. Feel free to engage in the conversation through comments. If I bore you to tears, just forget that you ever read this and enjoy life.

~Jan

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