Saturday, December 14, 2013

This blog is for the birds

Part One: Bird Feeders

The saying “for the birds” is an old one. Etymology: based on the idea that birds eat seed, which is not worth much.  So, something that is “for the birds” is deemed to be worthless or undesirable, without value.

This television program is for the birds. Winter weather is for the birds. “What do you think of the new software?”  I think it is for the birds - it won’t work.

This year, we put up a bird feeder. Actually two, one that hangs from a tree, and one that sticks to a window in our den. I did not participate in these projects. So, when I first heard the noise at the window, I did not know what to think. And so came the conversation with my wife: “You know that once you put out the bird feeder, you have to do it all winter. Otherwise you will kill the birds.”

Excuse me?

It turns out, that if you put out a bird feeder, certain types of birds become dependent on that food for the winter. Certain breeds don’t live more than a small footprint from where they were born; they don’t migrate. So, if they find food - they become dependent on that local food source. If that local food source goes away, they are not capable of making the adjustment. They don’t know how to go find another source of food. So, putting out a bird feeder becomes a commitment. Doing it only a few times is actually more harmful than not putting out any food at all. If you are not going to feed the birds all winter long, you are better off not feeding them at all. Finish what you start, or don’t start at all.

I had to actually Google this, to see how many stories support this notion. There were many. Some birds can overcome this food / no food scenario. Others, not so much. Some breeds pass the point of no return. They stake out a source of food for the winter, and they are stuck with their decision. It is the little birdy version of crossing the rubicon. Now go Google “crossing the rubicon.”

Part Two: Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 American documentary film directed by David Gelb. The film follows Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant, on his continuing quest to perfect the art of sushi. The film also profiles Jiro's two sons, both of whom are also sushi chefs. The younger son, Takashi, left Sukiyabashi Jiro to open a mirror image of his father's restaurant in Roppongi Hills. The 50-year-old elder son, obligated to succeed his father, still works for Jiro and is faced with the prospect of one day taking over the flagship restaurant.

My youngest son Bobby turned me on to this documentary. I watched it - twice. I think it should be required viewing by every business school. The film received very positive reviews from critics. The film earned a rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 70 reviews and an average rating of 7.8/10, with the critical consensus saying, "Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don't care for the cuisine."  

While watching it, I found myself drawn into the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes in his life? Secret diversions? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough? Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has recently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour. Does he search a customer's eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was not good enough; 45 minutes was much better. Jiro notices things.

Part Three: Finish What You Start

If you start feeding the birds, you must be committed to the task. Otherwise, your initial good deed turns into tragedy. You started out trying to do a good thing, but if you are not committed to the cause, you actually do more harm than good. Starting without the commitment to finish is a bad thing. How many people will start a business this year, especially an online business? How easy is it to turn up a website, making posts on social media, and open your little business to the world. How many people will “just do it” with the feeling that if things don’t work out, it is no big deal. You asked people to come to your store, but if they don’t you can just close it down. You might start a blog, and then stop. Not enough people are reading your words. No big deal. Or you might start a class and then drop out, as it's just not for you.

Finishing what you start is always within your power. No one can force you to do anything that you truly do not want to do. And, no one can prevent you from starting - and finishing - what you start out to do in life. There is a big difference from “quitting” and modifying your plan. Being “indifferent” is never a strategy that leads to success, unless your plan was to fail. Making mistakes, and learning from these mistakes is what makes life wonderful. If you must quit doing anything, let it be this: quit starting things that you had no intention of finishing. That’s just nuts. Modifying your plan: good. Not finishing what you start: bad.


Once you start down the road of being a parent, it never ends. There is no finish line; once the parenting journey begins it wonderfully never ends. There is no quitting being a parent. As your children get older, they will have their own experiences, and their own mistakes to make. They will have their own families, the own careers, and their own successes and failures. Do not let your children go through life with a cavalier attitude. Like Jiro, I have two sons - and they are very different. No matter what they do for a career, I can only hope that they find a little of Jiro's passion in their own lives. I’ll never stop trying to give my sons advice, but as my youngest son Bobby said to me:

“Dad, you have to check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”  

Something tells me that little birdy #2 left the nest when I was not looking. And I just noticed: it is time to go refill the bird feeder.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hey, no cuts!

I can predict the future, and I can prove it. Millions of people will purchase 12 month health club memberships on 01/02/2014. These savvy shoppers will go to their new health club a few times in January, never to return. And these same people will do it AGAIN every so many years (purchasing health club memberships - never using said health club memberships). Brilliant.
People will go to work on 12/02/2013 (tomorrow) and no matter what their company policy - these loyal employees will spend many hours online, shopping. Not working from their cubical, but shopping from their cubical. Heck, we have faster Internet at work, right?
If you want to predict future behavior, just look at past behavior. We all know this is true, it is common sense. But never in recorded history has it been easier to track human behavior, with “big data” and the power of the Internet. It is so easy to see the future. And even when you can clearly see the future (good or bad) we are powerless to change it.
Or are we?
Why will someone leave their warm cozy home to stand in line (in the cold) to get a “door buster” bargain on something that is going to be a gift for someone else? Why do corporations risk public ridicule opening their stores on what was previously a national holiday? If I sold fuel oil for your home at 25% off would you stand in line at midnight (in the cold) to grab that bargain?
As of this blog, the website has the following message:
The Health Insurance Marketplace online application isn't available from approximately 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. EST daily while we make improvements. Additional down times may be possible as we work to make things better. The rest of the site and the Marketplace call center remain available during these hours.
Now please, put your love / hate of the Affordable Care Act to the side for just a minute. Let’s just focus on the technology.
In the past 90 days, no website in the world has had more news coverage than  This website has become the top news story. Because it did not work, it became news. It could not handle the traffic. The online store for health care was broken, and the best minds in the most technologically advanced country in the world could not make it work. One day, the eCommerce site for Obamacare will be the topic of discussion in major business schools, but for today, this eCommerce showcase site is still not ready for prime time. USA! USA! < sigh >
Because could not handle the traffic, the quick fix was to ask people to please log in during low traffic hours - please use the site in the early morning, or late at night. Please don’t use the site during typical high traffic hours. We simply cannot handle the demand, please work with us. Thank you.
< Insert hysterical laughter here >
Has no one heard of Cyber Monday? Black Friday? And now Brown Thursday? Humans are the most predictable of creatures. We will stand outside in the cold to get a Smartphone on sale. We will risk losing our jobs, shopping online while at work, challenging our bosses to try to stop us. What did you think would happen, when you asked people to come back and shop for health care during low peak hours? I am still laughing, are you?
I have seen people sleep overnight on sidewalks to get a new iPhone. I have seen people leave their warm, safe homes - leave their families and relatives that they only see once a year, to shop on Black Friday / Brown Thursday. These are the same people that you are asking to log in during low traffic hours. What were you thinking?
People want what they want -and they want it NOW!
Everything below this line is from 2012. If you want it to be current and accurate for 2013, just add around 5% to these numbers. Maybe even 10%. Happy Shopping!
  • Big sales increase (again) – According to an IBM report, Cyber Monday sales increased by 30.3% compared to last year. The number of consumers shopping online peaked at approximately 11:25 AM EST with another strong peak later in the evening at approximately 9:10 PM EST. These peaks are likely due to the commuting patterns throughout the U.S. during traditional work hours as people shop once they get to work and when they arrive home.
  • Total sales may vary – According to Adobe, total sales reached $1.98 billion on Cyber Monday, a 17% increase from 2011. Analytics firm comScore also reported a 17% increase but a lower fiscal value at $1.46 billion in sales.
  • Mobile shopping soars – According to IBM, more than 18% of online shoppers used a mobile device to shop online on Cyber Monday 2012, an increase of over 70% from the previous year. Mobile sales accounted for approximately 13% of all sales for online retailers, almost double the amount of mobile sales on Cyber Monday 2011. The iPad dominated mobile traffic, surprisingly ahead of smartphone models, and accounted for over 90% of all tablet traffic to retail sites.
  • At-home shopping increases – Cyber Monday, since its inception in 2005, has been known as an online holiday for consumers to shop as they return to work on Monday after the long Thanksgiving weekend. According to comScore, for the first time ever, purchases made from at-home devices (up 4% in 2012 to 47.2%) surpassed purchases made from work devices (down 3.1% to 47.1%). This shift in shopping location is likely tied to the increased usage in mobile devices, especially at home during the early and late hours of Cyber Monday.
  • Consumers shop smarter – As online shoppers continue to spend more on Cyber Monday, they are also becoming smarter in regards to where their dollars are spent in order to take advantage of promotions such as free shipping. According to IBM, the average order value on Cyber Monday dropped 6.6% to $185.12, but the average number of items per order increased 14.1% to 8.34 items.
  • Pinterest leads social sales growth – According to Adobe, sales generated via Facebook and Twitter accounted for 77% for all social referral sales on Cyber Monday 2012, a percentage which is almost identical to Cyber Monday 2011. However, Pinterest was the big winner in the social media space this Cyber Monday with approximately 15% of social referral sales, a 105% increase from last year. Social referral sales from other social media sites (such as MySpace) fell to only 8%.
  • Cyber Monday is getting competition – In our preview post related to Cyber Monday 2012, we mentioned that Black Friday saw exceptional growth in online sales last year and could challenge Cyber Monday in the future as the biggest online shopping day of the year. According to comScore, Black Friday online sales surpassed $1 billion for the first time ever ($1.04 billion) with approximately 57.3 million Americans visiting at least one online retail site on Black Friday (an 18% increase from last year).  As more retailers develop multi-channel solutions it will likely become more common for these retailers to offer the same in-store promotions to their online audience.

Cyber Monday 2012 was yet another historic day for the online retail industry. With double digit sales growth and initial sales reports roughly in the $1.5 to $2 billion range it’s no surprise more records were once again broken this year. The major difference between Cyber Monday 2012 and previous years is primarily the exponential growth of mobile shopping, likely a key catalyst behind at-home sales overtaking workplace sales for the very first time. As the online retail industry continues to evolve, days such as Thanksgiving and Black Friday will likely continue to see strong online sales growth as multi-channel retailers continue to unify their online and offline promotions.