Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Do You Shower?

Most of you probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about yourselves in the shower.

And most of you DEFINITELY don't spend a lot of time thinking about ME in the shower.

You probably are now though, because I just brought it up.  For that, I sincerely apologize.

But it's something I've been thinking about, not just being in the shower, but the actual act of showering.

It's not really that complicated, lather rinse repeat, but there's also another question, the question of how you stand in the actual shower itself.

I'm going to assume that the vast majority of us stand in the shower.  I think even the laziest among us wouldn't have thought to sit down in there, or build a custom waterproof recliner or something.  Such a recliner would take a bunch of work and multiple trips to the hardware store, so it seems even more unlikely after giving it more thought.

So we're a nation of shower standers, but which direction do we all face when we're in the shower?

I've asked a number of people, and everyone falls into two distinct camps.  Those that get in there and face the shower head, and those that get in and face away from the shower head. The only things these two groups agree on is that...

1) Their way, either forward or backwards, is obviously the best way,
2) Nobody stands perpendicular to the shower head, that it's a ridiculous idea potentially big in neutral countries like Switzerland that are filled with wafflers (note, I said wafflers, as in people who waffle, and not actual waffles, which are far more delicious and not indigenous to Switzerland)

So there are some percentage of the population (n) that face forwards, and there's another set (1-n) that face backwards.  The crazy weirdos that either face sideways or don't shower at all are excluded and assumed not to exist (although anyone who's taken the El in Chicago knows that's not true, but it's a simplifying assumption).

I've tried to find out what that n proportion is.  I've tried through informal questions to people I know, which just gets mostly weird looks.  I've also tried googling for the answer, which just gets weird search results including a WikiHow entry entitled 'How to Shower.'

I'm assuming the article was written for the millions of people that have completed the following...

1) Discovered their own thumbs
2) Learned to stand and walk
3) Developed a basic understanding of social conventions
4) Received a basic education
5) Obtained money through either functional responsibility or more illicit methods
6) Acquired a computer, again through either conventional purchase or more illicit methods
7) Learned to use the Internet and potentially a search engine
8) But never learned how to take a shower

But regardless, WikiHow's Guide to Taking a Shower doesn't even cover the forwards vs. backwards decision!!!

An excerpt:

3. Turn on the water to your preferred temperature. Check the position of the shower head, to be sure that the water is spraying downward rather than out of the shower. Make sure you monitor the amount of hot water you are using before it gets cold.

4. Monitor the temperature. Once you are sure that the temperature is perfect, cautiously enter your shower. Check if the temperature is comfortable before continuing.

5. Wet your entire body. Be sure that your entire head is completely wet and every inch of your body is covered in water. This is important for basic cleaning of your body.

They manage to go on for 16 total steps to taking a shower, including the task of 'Putting Clean Clothes On,' but they never mention how you're supposed to orient yourself in the shower.

How dare you WikiHow.

So there didn't seem to be any answer out there on the Internet, and if I kept searching, eventually my employer would start to ask why I spent so much of my time researching people in the shower.

So I started to think about how one's idea of the right way to shower would be informed.  I guess through seeing other people.  So I tried to think of where I'd seen others showering and if that influenced my personal shower style (for the record, I'm a backwards facing showerer)

I never remember seeing my parents shower when I was growing up, which I think we can all agree is for the best.  I remember showering at the gym in the locker room, but unique circumstances abound and standard urinal protocols apply there as well (keep your eyes on the wall, no talking).  Then I tried to think of movie examples, but those are only really excuses to show naked actresses, which I think is great, but not a reliable source of data.

Which brings me to the conclusion that no one really knows.  For most of us, the shower remains our own little fortress of solitude, where we don't really maintain an open door policy, so there's no feedback loop.

No one knows if how they shower is the right way, and there doesn't seem to be any real source of authority on the subject.  Is there an optimal way to shower?  Is there a physical health rationale for facing one way or another?  Is it influenced by personality type? Like is it correlated with Myers-Briggs?  Do extroverts face the shower head while introverts face away from it?  Do men and women shower differently?  Do people tend to shower like their parents? (I know I didn't have any traumatic shower run-ins with my parents, but I'm sure others have.  And would those people pick up the same style or switch to be contrarian?)

I feel like these are the things marketers for Body Wash should think about.  But if they do know, they aren't saying.  Those Old Spice jerks.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A major critique of consulting

When my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Hawaii, we were enjoying a post-dinner walk in Lahaina when we walked by a tourist booth.  The kind that sells tickets to all kinds of area attractions, with a small storefront, tiny counter, and rack with dozens and dozens of flyers (enough that they had multiple kinds of luaus advertised, because one kind of luau isn't enough)

Anyway, we were walking by when the guy who worked there stopped us.  He was an older guy, maybe in his late 50's or 60's, and immediately my first reaction was, 'Oh great, I'm going to have to figure out how to tell this guy I have zero interest in buying tickets to any of his luaus'

But it turned out he didn't really want to sell us anything, he just seemed to want to talk to us and eventually insult my occupation.

He engaged us in conversation, and while I kept waiting for the sales pitch that never came, he told us about how he moved to Hawaii, how he sold multiple businesses he ran, and how college was stupid.

He asked my wife and I what we did, and I knew he was going to have some kind of negative reaction, because we already established that he was anti-formal education, which is a foundational pillar of the MBA-based management consulting industry.

So when it was my turn, I told him I was a management consultant.

The response was not something unexpected.

"But what do you know about running a business?  Have you ever run a company?"

I get stuff like that from time to time, and I like to think I take it pretty well.  I mean, I don't whip out a Power Point deck and beat them to death with it or anything.  But still, it's pretty insulting when someone tells you that you really don't know anything and couldn't possibly be worth what your client pays you (which I inferred from his tone).

It reminded me of another time back in business school, when a bunch of prospective consultants went out to a recruiting dinner at a restaurant.  The owner asked what our group was doing there and when we told him we were recruiting for consulting jobs, he quickly told us about how some consultant tried to sell him on some help, but how he was too smart for that.  After all, who would know more about his business than him?

What I think these people fail to understand is that our business isn't based on parachuting into a company, grabbing an overwhelmed client by his/her shirt collar and telling him that we know best.  It also rests on the assumption that in order to have any credibility to help someone, you have to have experience or have previously done it before.

I think that's a ridiculous idea.

One of the only things I've figured out since I've been working, is that the best way to solve a problem is often to just talk about it with as many of the smartest people you can find.

They won't always be right, and in some cases maybe they'll be completely wrong, but they'll almost always have a view that can help inform an eventual decision.  And when you do run a business, even if you built it from the ground up, you'll always come across situations where a) you don't know what to do and b) you don't have the time or resources to deal with.

And when that happens, people like us are available to help.  It's not that complicated.

So if the tourist booth guy was having a problem, like maybe he had too many people interested in pineapple festivals and not enough people interested in surf camp (I imagine these are the problems people have in Hawaii), he can feel free to give me a call.  I might not know what to do, but I work with a bunch of really smart people, and when we put all of our heads together we usually get something good on paper.

As long as his computer has Power Point, he'll be all set.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Speeding in Arkansas

It's a Thursday afternoon in the sprawl of suburban Arkansas.

To be more precise, it's late afternoon, the gloaming of the consultant's workweek, when things are hopefully winding down and you stare longingly at the laptop clock hoping it gets to that point when no one will judge you as you leave for the airport.

You could argue that staying later than everyone who actually works at the client and sending emails at all hours of the night would earn you some capital to leave on Thursdays on your own terms. But consultants are the worrying kind, and more self-conscious than most, so we're always cautious.

But that can cause some problems if you wait too long. And that's what happened today.

With a 20+ minute drive to the airport, we didn't get out the door until 4:05.

That would be fine, only the other associate on our project had a flight at 4:45.

And it wasn't a normal flight back to the office, he was leveraging a cheaper plane ticket to go home an see his family.

And he hadn't checked in...and he was going to check a bag.

And I was rocking a Chevy Malibu courtesy of Hertz.

So we started booking it as fast as possible, knowing that it was going to be really really tight.

Driving through the winding back roads through the woods and past the trailers, we were actually making pretty good time.

Until about 4:15, when I came over a hill to see a white police cruiser on the other side of the road.


We zipped past the police cruiser and both looked in the rearview to see if he'd let us go.

At first we didn't see any reaction...but optimism was quickly dashed as his car lurched from its comfortable place in the shade.

He pulled us over a little ways down the road, and both of our hearts sank. Our hearts sank, and our temperatures rose, because it was 104 degrees at the time and we had to turn off the engine to pull over.

God, the South is freaking hot. Even hotter as you wait on the side of the road, clock ticking on your chance to get out of town, while the local police decide your fate.

Fortunately for us, the cop didn't take too long to write me up for speeding. I'm guessing he didn't want to spend any more time out in the sun than we did. I couldn't even make out how much it was for, but I grabbed it and quickly got us back on the road (I was officially written up for 52 in a 30 mph zone, just a hundred feet or so from a turn where the new speed limit would've been 55. Doh.)

I'll try and be careful with my word choice here, but let's just say I drove fairly aggressively for the remainder of the trip, pulling up to the tiny regional airport just a few minutes before the flight.

I told him to get to the counter, beg to get checked-in, and wave my speeding ticket in front of them to show them how crazy this has been.

I let him out and went to return the car. By the time I got to my gate, he was long gone on the way home.

It may have been the most productive thing I did all day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NFL Reporters on Twitter

It might seem outrageous to say so, but I think this Twitter thing has legs.

Like, this thing could actually get kinda big.

The thing that struck me throughout the day, as I continually checked for updates on the latest NFL signings (and the Eagles stubborn insistence on waiting for everyone else to move before they do anything), was how the way in which I gather and react to breaking sports news is so different from even last year.

Now, last year was a normal year in the NFL, so there wasn't as much compression of all the NFL news into one short period of time. But with that said, last year I'm sure I was sitting at a desk somewhere, every now and then hitting refresh on ProFootballTalk or or an Eagles Message Board.

Sitting, locked into a computer, waiting for a writer or blogger to create some 'content' and blast it out for everyone to their site.

Now, I'm just yanking feverishly on my Twitter app, from my phone, with the only limit to instantaneous news releases is whether or not Adam Schefter's thumbs finally snapped off.

The information travels faster, that's certainly a given. But I don't think that's what I like best about it.

The information is also pretty diverse, in that at this point (now that John Clayton from ESPN joined), pretty much every reporter is on the darned thing. And since they all follow each other through some dizzying interconnected spiderweb, a notable piece of information is immediately re-tweeted until everyone even remotely interested is also reporting it. So every source can be a source to all. The publication you write is now far outweighed by how many followers you have and the coolness of your avatar (hint: pick something hip and ironic, but not so hip and ironic that it's actually lame, although I can rarely tell the difference)

And yet, I don't think that diverse array of sources coming together quickly and seamlessly is my favorite part either.

I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the 140.

140 characters. That's all you get. That is the sole physical limitation of a tweet. Laden or unladen. African or European.

What that means for reporters, is that there's no such thing as burying the lede. You have to say what the news is, and there is no room for any filler.

For someone who's read enough AP sports game and news recaps to write one in its exact style from memory (which is why I always had an easy time writing Sports at the PSU newspaper), it's great not to have to cull through that for the important stuff.

It's all just right there, in 140 characters.

Now, that's not to say there aren't downsides.

The emphasis on speed leads to more rumors and half-truths being thrown out there, and the democratization of information flow certainly facilitates that. A nobody can start a Twitter rumor that escalates into a full-blown 'Oh Shit Brett Favre's Coming Back Again' nightmare. Editor's Note: No sooner did I post this than I saw an article talking about exactly this scenario - Article

I'm also still not sold on Twitter's interface, because I have a terrible time deciding who to follow and who not to follow. I want to get news and funny stuff, but sometimes I'll think about adding someone and see their entire stream is just a series of conversations with other people. That just seems like a waste in the feed.

And then of course there's also the fact that it pushes us further to the point where we all just demand a constant data feed wired into our brains.

But that's something I've been advocating for years anyway.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The New NFL CBA and Revaluation of NFL Draft picks

While the leaders of the free world continue to bicker back and forth about a few measly trillion dollars, the leaders of the American sports world proved a bit more capable in their negotiations over a few measly billion dollars.

The NFL players and owners recently came to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is great news for football fans.  For a while there, it looked like we'd be forced to spend time with our wives and families on Sunday.  Fortunately, we've been saved, as cooler heads prevailed, and the NFL players and owners found it in their hearts to take tons of our money and split it on agreeable terms.

From what I've read, it seems like a pretty fair deal all around.  The owners get to keep more money, but the players get a firm salary floor for each team, a raised minimum salary, and even extra health benefits (which seemingly were pretty disgraceful).

But, there was one group of players that got completely jobbed.  Well, they aren't exactly players yet.  They're the NFL rookies, pre-rookies, pre-pre-rookies, and even some kids who are probably tearing it up at 5th grade recess right about now.

As part of the CBA, the NFL Players Association agreed to much tighter limits on how much early first round draft picks can receive in compensation for their first contracts.  Reports indicate that the guys at the top could lose more than 50% of what they would've earned before the new agreement.

I agree that rookie salaries were completely out of hand, with tons of guaranteed money going to players who could develop into All-Pros but could just as easily crawl into a bottle of cough syrup never to be heard from again (Ahem, JaMarcus Russell)

But it had to have been easy for the players to give that up in the negotiations.  After all, rookies aren't members of the NFLPA before they sign their first contracts.  I sincerely doubt all the veterans sat around the table depressed that the high-end rookies would have to deal with $25M instead of $50.

So maybe they turned some rookies into anti-union Republicans.  We'll have to see if Packers rookie Derek Sherrod starts stumping for Scott Walker (my guess would be no).

But thinking about the impact on rookies got me wondering what impact the new CBA might have on future drafts.  Specifically, I started wondering if a new wage scale would increase the likelihood of trades, particularly in the beginning of the first round.

Conventional wisdom, ok, my own opinion of what conventional wisdom should be, told me that trading up for a high first round pick was always a terrible idea.  NFL talent evaluators should be sure of only one thing...that they make tons of mistakes.  In my view, trading multiple picks and chances to get them right for one single shot at a 'top 10' player, is like punching Jesus in the face and then seeing if he hits you with a lightning bolt (or whatever Jesus' superpowers give him, I don't know a ton about the Bible).

Those trade ups were even more risky because of the huge financial investment involved, e.g., the aforementioned Mr. Russell.

But now, these guys are so much cheaper!  50% mark downs on all top first round draft picks!  Let the bargains begin!

But wait.  As I thought about it, I quickly realized that idea didn't make any sense.

NFL teams place a certain value on each draft pick.  They probably don't lay it all out on paper, but they probably have some idea in some combination of their heads.  That value, because we don't have a better way to quantify it, would be most easily translated into money.  Let's call it X.

Now let's think about it even further.  If you're a team sitting at pick 27, and you want to go get pick 10, because you ignored my advice and think you're an excellent talent evaluator.  Well, you've got to go call up the team at number 10 and offer them some stuff.

But you don't offer them X.  Because X is actually made up of a couple different components

A - The Maximum amount of NFL goods (players and picks) you'll give up for pick #10
B - The financial cost of signing player 10 to a contract (which is fairly predictable based on draft slot)
C - The remainder, X-(A+B), which is some barely tangible estimate of future performance value

So great, in the new world of new CBAs, the cost of component B just shrunk by half.  Yay for us.

Unfortunately, in this new world of new CBAs, there's also ESPN, NFL Network, and 10,000 Twitter reporters who haven't stopped talking about the new CBA (I suppose there are bloggers too, but no one reads them anymore.  Blogging is so 2005.)

So all the other teams are just going to start asking for more A.  Maybe even lots more A.  Now, you may be able to negotiate a better deal, because they'll be more information asymmetry with component A than component B (especially if you're trading them your own players), but that also could work against you.

Anyway, that's just a theory.  If we wanted to test and see if that's actually the case, we'll have to compare trades of high first round picks and see how much component A, the value of NFL goods, are required to trade for these picks.  Stands to reason it would go up as the teams looking to trade down try to extract more value.

I tried to look into it by comparing the 2010 NFL draft trades to the 2011 NFL draft trades in the first round, under the rationale that in the 2011 draft NFL executives knew a new CBA was coming, and new the players would sacrifice the rookie contracts as part of the deal, so any team trading out of the top end of the first round would definitely ask for more component A.

And if the biggest trade of the draft is any indication, we may start seeing just that.

Cleveland owned pick number 6 in the first round, and Atlanta wanted to move up.

So in return, Atlanta gave Cleveland the 26th pick in the first round, pick 59 in round two, pick 124 in round four, and their first and fourth round picks in 2012.

Sounds like a lot to me (although to be technical, I think it also determines on your personal discount rate on NFL draft picks.  I'm not quite sure what this should be...maybe index it to LIBOR or something)

But obviously, we'll have to wait and see how this might change future draft-day wheeling and dealing.  I think it's safe to assume teams at the top will demand even more, which may lead to bigger deals, more punditry and more exaggerated preliminary conclusions on winners and losers without any kind of objective performance to measure.

And I will be there watching it all, hoping my wife doesn't yell at me to stop watching the draft because it's not even actual football.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lessons in Feedback

One of the most important assets for any consultant is the ability to give (and receive) constructive feedback.  In an industry where most are expected to develop and build new skills rapidly, its critical to, well, be critical.

But today, I had an epic fail of a feedback session.

I'll let the recipient of that feedback explain:


Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to complete our Guest Survey.  I apologize that you felt our gym "sucked".   Our goal is to not only meet the needs of each and every guest we serve, but to exceed your expectations to make your stay as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

We did add free weights recently, however the room does not allow for anymore equipment than what we have provided.  There are 3 gyms within walking distance to our hotel where they provide a discount to our guest.  If you decide to ever come visit us again, please let us know and we can provide you with one of these coupons and a free shuttle to the area gyms. 

Again, I apologize for the inconveniences during your stay and hope to see you during your next visit.

If I can provide any assistance, don't hesitate to contact me directly at XXX-XXX-XXXX. 


Hyatt Place Rogers/Bentonville

I got that email today in response to a guest survey I filled out for the Hyatt Place in Arkansas.

I read the note, and immediately felt bad.  It can't be fun to be the manager of a hotel and receive feedback that your place of business 'sucked'

I had written that at the end of the survey.  The survey itself was a long list of questions rating several attributes of the Hyatt Place in Bentonville.  It asked the respondent to rate those attributes along a series of radio buttons from 1 to 10.

(Incidentally, when I see customer surveys asking for a 1 to 10 score, I immediately assume they're going to evaluate themselves on the 'Net Promoter Score', which is a framework that Bain & Co. invented to identify the people who will actively recommend your business [Promoters who score it a 9 or a 10], versus the detractors [I believe those who score it a 1 or 2].  The rest of the people in the middle are just the squishy middlers,  I think they get ignored)

Anyway, because I have that bias against surveys that ask for a 1 to 10 rating, I'm careful to only give extremely high or extremely low scores to stuff I really love or really hate.

The only thing I gave a bad score for was the hotel gym, everything else was pretty good for a Hyatt Place in the middle of Arkansas.

But honestly, the gym was pretty crappy.  The door was busted, so someone had to wedge it open with a towel.  The aforementioned free weights, which were the only weight training equipment in the room, were five pairs of dumbbells ranging from 5 pounds to 25 pounds.  That's fine if I'm a 65 year old woman suffering from osteoporosis, but not if I'm looking to actually work out.  They also had a rack of towels, which would have been great, except they were pool towels that you had a hard time balancing on the treadmills.  It was also about half the size of my hotel room, which does kind of explain the lack of equipment but in my mind, doesn't absolve them.  It's freaking Arkansas, they've got more space everywhere.

There, in a nutshell, is my complete critique.  A bit harsh maybe, but it's at least specific and to the point (it may also be colored by my own personal biases, which is a bad thing, but whatever).  That could be construed as reasonable feedback.

But that's not what I wrote on the survey.  I just wrote that the gym sucked.

And that's why I felt bad.  Not because I used hurtful language, but because I did that and didn't even tell them how I thought they could fix the problem.  I regret the decision.

Although not the word choice, because it really did kind of suck.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Social-Based E-Commerce (or how I bought a ton of new underwear and saved a crap load)

There comes a time in every piece of workout gear's life when it starts to ask itself whether it's time to hang it up.

A pair of running shoes, a beat up T shirt, countless sets of athletic sock identical twins.  With each successive workout, each spin cycle through the washing machine, and each tumble through the ridiculously hot dryer, they debate whether or not their calling is worth all the crap they have to go through to come back fresh for the gym drawer.

For most, the work doesn't really change, it just gets a little tougher.  The elastic doesn't snap back as easily, the colors begin to fade, and the moisture wickinginess gets a little less wicky.

But they typically persevere, hanging in just long enough for a seam to burst during a ab crunch set or a yoga class.  It's then that they are exposed, wardrobe malfunction style, and revealed to be past their prime.  Mandatory retirement, and if they're lucky, a comfortable spot in a rag pile.  The type of place that's well maintained and not far enough away from the gym drawer that they're workout clothes grandchildren can come visit (but they never do, those ingrates).

All those thoughts are what persuaded me to launch a workout clothes refresher campaign, or as I have also thought of it, 'Operation Keep the Boys in the House'.  It's part of my isolationist platform.

It's a long-winded  way of saying I needed some new workout undershorts.

I was debating the best way to buy up a new bunch of shorts, when Amex and Facebook came out with their 'Like, Link, Love', campaign.

Without going into too much detail (and skipping past all those thorny privacy concerns), if you link your American Express card to your Facebook account, the campaign allows you to sign-up for promotions at multiple retail partners.

The offerings range from the really crappy ($5 off online orders at Target), to the pretty darn interesting ($40 back from spending $100 at a Sheraton or Westin hotel).

The best part of the campaign, apart from the security of knowing Amex and Facebook can now get together and talk about you behind your back ('OMG, he spent how much at Chick-Fil-A last month?!?'), is the fact that these opt-in deals are automatically posted to your Amex credit statement.

The value in this cannot be overstated.  The biggest problem with so many deals are the hoops the company forces you to jump through to collect on the reward.  I'm still waiting for $40 worth of Staples rebates that I'm convinced were just a joke by the company to sell toner cartridges.  With this campaign, the value of the deal is automatically credited onto your card.  Sounded fantastic.

So as I perused the deals on this Facebook offering hoping for some kind of corporate marketing error I could take advantage of (100 Chick-Fil-A nuggets for 100 pennies or something), I came across one for the Sports Authority.

A $20 credit with any $50 purchase.

Awesome, I thought.  Because Under Armor has managed to convince us we should pay $20 for a pair of oil-based undershorts, I'm always looking for a way to save on them.  This would give me some much needed financial assistance.

But then, I remembered, Sports Authority also has a foursquare campaign running.  If you check-in at a Sports Authority, you can get other deals.

So when I went to the store, I dutifully checked in on my phone.  What benefit this is to Sports Authority, I'm not really sure, considering I only have one friend on foursquare and he lives in New Jersey.  I doubt he would rush out to the Midwest if he found out I was buying new underwear (I mean, he might, but that seems extreme).

But with the check-in, I would get a $25 Sports Authority gift card for purchasing $100 worth of stuff.  Again, remember that sports undershorts are absurdly expensive.

Suddenly, because I told the store that I was in it with my phone, and because I told my facebook account that I liked this deal, I got $45 off or in additional value to my purchase.  It seemed like a totally kickass deal, and underscores the way we as consumers can make social marketing work for us.

Now I have a whole new gym drawer of Under Armor products, we won't have any problems at the gym, and I got a great value on the purchase. 

All I had to do was give them a bunch of personal information.  But then, I just wrote a huge long blog about the possibility of my testicles popping out of my gym shorts.  Not my primary concern.