The Tastes of Sweden

Greetings. For many of us, food is an important part of travel and a great way to get a deeper understanding of different cultures. And it is safe to say that Swedish cuisine has had a real renaissance in the last ten or fifteen years as innovative chefs have taken remarkable local ingredients and turned them into novel and award-winning creations. Gone are the days when Swedish cuisine could be summed up by Swedish meatballs, boiled potatoes, herring, gravlax or anything to do with a salmon, fresh strawberries and ice cream, lutfisk…a weird Nordic recipe of gelatinous fish soaked in  lye and surstromming…a fermented herring that was once described by a Japanese researcher as the worst-smelling (i.e., “putrid”) food on the planet. And that is saying a lot! In concert with the new Swedish cuisine, the Swedish spice cabinet has also expanded beyond salt, pepper, and dill, to include a vibrant mix of the world’s most engaging flavors.

Lax Tallrik

But let me take a few moments to scratch beneath the surface of Swedish cuisine to give you a sense of some of the country’s more interesting offerings.

Let me begin with sauce. Swedes love sauce. And it is safe to say that most meals would not be complete without the appropriate sauce. There are sauces for different types of fish dishes, sauces for different types of meat and game dishes, sauces for different types of potato dishes, and even a wide array of sauces for many of the most popular desserts including vanilla sauce, chocolate sauce, and even salt licorice sauce that can be used to top off your favorite treats. As someone who is not particularly keen on licorice I find this to be amazing at best and scary at worst.

Licorice Sauce

And Swedes are also crazy about aioli, which is kind of a sauce too.

Swedes also love food that comes in tubes. The most popular of these staples of the Swedish kitchen table is something called Kalles Caviar, a bright blue tube filled with creamy fish roe that Swedes put on sandwiches of eggs, cheese, or simply butter. It is kind of like peanut butter for Swedish children. And this delicacy has morphed into an ever growing collection of taste sensations that include caviar and cream cheese. Now Swedish engineers just have to figure out how to get a decent bagel in a tube. But that’s not all, you can buy mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, soft cheese and shrimp, and even herring and mackerel (yes, that’s right, herring and mackerel) in a tube. And, of course, you can also buy sauce in a tube.

Kalles

Swedes also adore candy (or “godis”) and the typical Swedish grocery store devotes a disproportionately large amount of space (by American standards at least) to a wide assortment of loose candy to be filled into handy little bags, packages of chewy candies like the especially popular Bilar (“Cars”), and candy bars. And even the world-renowned “Swedish Fish” which are made in both Sweden and Canada. I must admit that Swedish chocolate is delicious. And you can even mail candy bars to friends through the Swedish postal service (or “Posten”) simply by putting their address and a stamp on the bar itself.

Candy by Mail

Now I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about Swedes based on their food, because as French lawyer and politician Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is credited with saying:

“You are what you eat.”

Though I think he said it a bit more cleverly.

Cheers! Or should I say “Skol!”

Getting “Out of the Box”

Greetings. While I am keen on the importance of strangers in our work and lives, I have a bit of an aversion to the popular notion of thinking “out-of-the-box” as the key to greater creativity and innovation. Yet it is still a widely-used phrase in companies and organizations that are trying to figure out how to think and act in new ways. My biggest concern is that too many businesses believe that simply calling for “out-of-the-box” ideas, often accompanied by a “suggestion box,” will create a veritable landslide of brilliance as employees suddenly feel liberated to suggest amazing possibilities for new products, services, solutions, customer experiences, and new ways of doing the things that matter most.

If only it were that simple.

As we all know, coming up with (and implementing) the right new ideas takes strategic focus, real discipline and commitment, curiosity, humility, a willingness to take calculated risks and make some mistakes, a sense of urgency, and a culture that is truly open to learning, fresh thinking, new perspectives, and the insights of people and places that are very different.

Having said this, and in the spirit of trying to be as open-minded as possible given that some things are just plain weird, I must admit that a recent feature in the New York Times challenged me to be a bit less critical of “out-of-the-box” thinking…or at least one particular example. The article in question was about a remarkable innovation in the world of funerals in which the star of the show (a.k.a., the “deceased”) is able to attend their own service in a favorite setting or pose. Settings that include sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by favorite possessions or important life symbols like a bottle of Jack Daniels, being dressed like Che Guevara with a cigar hand, sitting behind the steering wheel of an ambulance, sitting atop a favorite motorcycle, or standing up dressed as a boxer in the corner of a boxing ring.

Yes, even I must admit that this seems to represent a new and graphic way of getting “out of the box” (or out of a specific type of box).

According to the Times, this new approach to funerals first appeared in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has now become increasingly popular in places like New Orleans…which doesn’t seem like a big surprise. And its growing popularity might even suggest a world of untapped creativity aimed at making us look as fantastic as possible until closing time. It even brought back memories of the passing of my favorite great uncle who had just returned to Boston after spending the winter in Florida. Upon seeing his tan self, one of his closest friends remarked: “The winter by the beach did him a world of good!” Not exactly. But as Billy Crystal use to say on Saturday Night Live, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

NYT FUNERAL-articleLarge

Which begs the question of how all of us might conspire to reinvent our industries in ways that get us out of the traditional context in which we offer value to our customers. And how we might do an even better job of customizing our offerings to the unique needs, desires, and personalities of those we have the privilege to serve so they can look as good as possible.

We win in business and in life when we seek to create greater meaning in our most important moments. And when we always try to look our very best.

Cheers!

Finding Insight in a Box of Matzah

Greetings. For most of us in business today, selling our products and services is one of the greatest challenges we face…even when we have pretty darn remarkable offerings. After all, most customers have lots of choices, plenty of information, and only so much money to spend. Yet, in our wildest dreams, we fantasize about our ability to create products and services that will literally sell themselves. Products and services that are so unique, so intrinsically valuable, so totally cool, so compelling, and so essential to life on the planet that our customers simply can’t live without them. Products and services that seem, up to a point, to defy the laws of cost, competition, and even nature.

Yes these products and services do exist, but they are few and far between. Still we marvel at the brilliance of companies like Apple, Tesla, Airbnb, Under Armour, and even Lululemon before we could see through their clothing. Companies that inspire us to think that we, too, might also reinvent our industries in ways that really matter.

So imagine the challenge of trying to sell a product that is not only very old but hasn’t really changed much since the time it was invented. And when I say old, I mean really old. Like 3,500 years old. And as for innovation, which most of us assume to be a vital ingredient of business success, the only major change has been its production methods which were initially quite crude and crafted more out of necessity rather than a carefully developed plan.

Then let’s add to the equation the simple market reality that most customers only buy this product for seven or eight days a year. And that the folks who buy it represent one of the smallest market segments on earth. Now add to the mix the fact that there are plenty of competitors fighting for this modest market and using the same exact ingredients to make products that few customers would ever suggest was awesome.

Okay, so I’m talking about matzah. A product that is somewhat popular during this spring holiday season. The “bread of affliction.” An edible tribute to the exodus from Egypt in roughly the year 1,500 B.C. (or B.C.E.). A staple of the Jewish holiday of Passover that only a limited number of people have been chosen to eat. Sure anyone could buy it, and you could certainly eat it the rest of year. But let’s be serious. In a world filled with freshly-baked bagels, pumpernickel, croissants, brioche, baguettes, and even English muffins or Martin’s potato rolls, who (in their right mind) would opt for matzah?

And yet, the folks at Yehuda Matzos have somehow managed to be voted Numero Uno in the world of whole wheat matzah. And one taste of their crisp, beautiful, and rather ancient-looking treat confirms that they have magically figured out how to turn whole wheat flour and water into a veritable taste sensation. In fact, their matzah is different and each year compels me to imagine what it must have been like wandering through the desert with Moses hoping only to find a bit of advice from God and an oasis where they sold premium quality peanut butter.

Which leads to one simple idea. No matter what you do, commit to being the best you can be! Because every company, product, service, or even individual has the potential to be remarkable in ways that really matter. Even if the heart of your “offerings” is all about authenticity or a certain biblical requirement. The most enduring businesses, offerings, and people are the ones that consistently figure this out.

Yehuda Matzos

We win in business and in life when we commit to being #1 in something worth doing. And when we understand what is truly possible for our products, services, and customers, more deeply than anyone else.

Cheers!

Everything Old Made New Again

Greetings. During a week of work and wandering around London I marveled at the ever-changing face of British cuisine in a country best known for fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, bangers and mash, traditional English breakfasts…complete with lard-fried toast and a cardiologist’s warning, and high tea served with the finest scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, and cakes. Around many corners of the city there were great and innovative chefs using bountiful local ingredients to create a fresher, lighter, healthier, and tastier new cuisine that can even be found in some of the best city pubs. And the range of delicious international choices continues to grow well beyond the most reliable Indian restaurants.

I was also struck by the excitement of the city’s food markets, with my favorite this trip being the Borough Market at London Bridge where an awesome array of delicious cheeses, noodles, meats, samosas, falafels, paellas, ciders, baked goods, candies, and beet-filled veggie burgers awaited. If only I’d had more time and a few extra stomachs.

And one of my favorite stops was a booth called PieMinister which has taken an English tradition and made it new and interesting again…creating brilliant pies that go far beyond beef and organs to include organic vegetables and chicken, goat cheese, smoked fish, and a world of old and exotic flavors. In this process of paying tribute to (and reinventing) a special part of local food history, this business is winning awards and building a very loyal following.

And here’s a picture of my favorite pie named “Heidi” filled with smoked goat cheese, sweet potatoes, spinach, and red onions, sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes and covered with mushy peas, toasted shallots, and gravy…

Simply delicious and a cultural and culinary landslide! (Kind of looks a bit like Mt. Vesuvius at its height!)

Pie

We win in business and in life when we honor the past as the starting point for an even more remarkable future.

Cheers!

Real Innovation or Clever Marketing?

Greetings. The recent ad campaign for the new Adidas “Spring Blade” running shoe made it seem remarkable. In fact, I started to imagine that this might be the greatest innovation in the history and science of running since the actual invention of the shoe or the development of smooth pavement. A marvel of modern technology that could instantly transform me into an Olympic-caliber athlete the moment I laced them up. Be still my pounding heart!

And all because the folks at this leading athletic apparel company decided to rethink the way that running shoes might work by forming a sole with sixteen super high tech polymer blades (or springs) designed to create explosive energy that would literally launch runners (or in my case joggers) forward while requiring less effort. Blades “tuned” to provide perfect support in each phase of a runner’s stride.

The only real question is whether this is brilliant innovation or simply brilliant marketing. And if you have $180 to spend you can see for yourself on August 1st when they arrive at your favorite running store or online retailer. And please let me know what you think…because in the mind of this middle-aged athlete and technology enthusiast hope springs eternal!

Springblade 1

We win in business and in life when we capture the imagination of those we have the privilege to serve. And when we enable them to reach new heights of performance and success.

Cheers!