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!)


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


The Wonder of Fruit Cake

Greetings.  It's the holiday season and the one perfect time of year when guests commonly bring fruitcakes to parties.  Yes, during the rest of the year they bring treats that people might actually desire to consume.  But at the end of December they arrive at holiday gatherings with outstretched hands offering their hosts this incredible dessert made of dried or candied fruits, nuts, spices, flour, sugar, eggs, fruit juice, butter, possibly a bit of brandy, and who knows what else…all formed into a delightfully dense "cake."   A gift welcomed outwardly with great joy and thanks, and inwardly with a combination of laughter, amusement, and concern that this tradition seems to have outlived the logic of good taste.  Needless to say, at the end of the evening most hosts must figure out what to do with this culinary aberration.  Could it be used as a paper weight?  Or a boat anchor?  Or a weapon? Or something to ward off evil spirits?  

But maybe I shouldn't be so quick to pass judgement because some people actually enjoy fruitcakes and view them as works of art, an essential part of their holidays, and even taste sensations.  Though I have yet to meet one of these people.  In fact, there are even popular folk songs dating back to the 1800's that poke fun with this venerable six hundred year-old creation in the most poetic fashion.

Yes, I'm not a fan of fruitcake–but that doesn't mean that I lack an appreciation for a dessert that has stood the test of time.  But why has it remained so popular? Is it because of it's relatively long shelf-life?  Probably not.  Though I did read an article this week suggesting that a fruitcake baked in the 1920's was recently unwrapped and found to be edible (or as edible as one baked this December).  But more likely fruitcakes endure because they come with a six hundred year-old tradition.  Otherwise, how would a food item that often strikes fear in the hearts of recipients continue to be such a cherished offering?  

So if you're wondering what to do with the latest fruitcake, why not keep it on your desk for inspiration?  And each day, try to imagine what you and your company or organization might do to remain relevant for more than six centuries.

All by getting to the essence of this remarkable invention.


We win in business and life when we keep alive traditions that matter. And when we create a smile, albeit an awkward one, tied to a gift filled with meaning.


Groundhog Day, Again

Greetings.  Just when you're starting to get tired of the cold and snow, our friend Punxsutawny Phil comes along with his less than scientific prediction that there will be six more weeks of winter.  Just because he sees his shadow.  Actually, it's because his slightly unusual friends (affectionately known as his "handlers") see his shadow–or some other shadow–on an overcast Pennsylvania morning which always happens to fall on February 2nd.  But who am I to question this amazing 123-year tradition?  And besides, I loved the movie Groundhog Day and I'm more than slightly enamored with this furry twenty-pound rodent and his innate talent for weather forecasting.  Who cares if he's wrong 60 percent of the time?  After all, isn't that roughly the same level of accuracy as most TV weather personalities?  

And it's a lot of fun, with all the hoopla, cool hats, huge crowds, overly-contrived seriousness, and amusing marketing pizzaz!  Even if the story is always the same. But it poses a real challenge for all of us in the world of business.  Because while customers want certain things to remain the same, they increasingly expect us to bring them fresh ideas and better ways of meeting their needs.  They expect us as consultants, contractors, experts, service providers, professionals, and technology companies to step out of the shadows in order to shed new light on what's possible–based on our growing knowledge, skill, and commitment to their success.         


We win in business by understanding what should stay the same, and what demands our genius, curiosity, and passion for innovation.  And by making sure that the rituals we create for customers keep up with their needs as the world around them changes.  Maybe it's time to step out from under the shadows that keep you and your colleagues from reaching your full potential.  After all, as humans we aren't really designed to hibernate.  

Cheers and enjoy the rest of winter, no matter how long it is!

Conversations That Matter

Greetings.  It's the middle of January and in neighborhoods all across the U.S. an amazing, untrained, modestly compensated, and giant sales force is working its magic.  Carrying a smile and a box of cookies–or, more precisely, pictures of eight different types of cookies–this army of young girls wearing brown and green sashes is knocking on doors, being invited in for a cup of hot chocolate, sharing a conversation, and selling roughly $700,000,000 worth of products.  In less than a month.

Yes, it's Girl Scout cookie time!  An annual rite of winter that demonstrates the simple power of being open to a world around us filled with ideas, insights, and genius.  Because while most companies and organizations struggle to find talented salespeople, then send them to costly training programs, the Girl Scouts have figured out an enviable formula for success.  One that's right there for us to see and experience.  A formula that looks something like this:

        SALES =

1.  Adorable and honest sales reps +

2.  A respected organization with staying power +

3.  A 75-year tradition +

4.  A tasty set of offerings +

5.  Plush toy animals as compensation + 

6.  A conversation that matters!

It's a conversation that customers look forward to.  And one that comes with very few strings attached…except for the calories found in a box of semi-addictive Thin Mints.  A conversation that takes us back to a much simpler day when neighbors had time for each other, and life was filled with relationships that cut across and bridged generations.  A conversation that is about much more than the act of selling something to someone. 

Girl Scouts
We win in business and in life by building lasting relationships based on conversations that matter.  So what's the conversation you have with your customers and prospects?  And, what will you do in the year ahead to make it as meaningful as possible?


P.S. You can learn more about how to create "Conversations That Matter" in Chapter Six of Surrounded by Geniuses.