Giving people options is one of those seemingly straightforward ideas that is fraught with an inordinate amount of traps that would rival an Indiana Jones movie. You see, when the world of online shopping was just in its infancy, a real-world study on choice was released. The findings, summarized here, essentially show that while a huge selection can draw more attention, the actual sales of a smaller selection can be higher (due to a higher conversion rate).
That experiment, and the hypothesis it created – that more choice isn’t good – has had a meaningful impact in the retail world around us. For example, how many times have you heard that companies are simplifying their menu? This can mean everything from reduced items on the menu – something McDonalds has talked a lot about – to ingredients customers “can understand“, to simplified pricing like Subway. All of these companies want to close the sale, and do it as quickly as possible.
I can see the logic of their actions. Sure, it’s pretty annoying when your favorite item is no longer on the menu even if all the ingredients are still behind the counter. And when you ask people if they want optionality, of course they say yes.
But, for me, I have to say that I think certain companies are missing the boat on this. Specifically, I’m thinking about the entertainment space. And even more specifically about online rentals. You see, from my experience, the online selection of movies included in Netflix or Prime can be pretty terrible. No wonder Netflix started making their own content. When I am browsing their online catalogs it feels like I have to search through some pretty terrible stuff to find the few good movies. If only their were data-oriented companies who could help me programmatically figure out what I might like to watch…
Oh, right, that’s basically what those companies are built on. I’m sure they do a great job with it. They know how to limit the selection the the categories that I might find most relevant. I get that Netflix doesn’t want me to see all the crazy categories they have (however you can search for them). What irritates me is that in these buckets of recommended movies (or apps, etc.) the companies put a finite amount of options.
When I see a section called “Recommended for you” I want to be able to scroll for days and days. Instead, it seems like they have some sort of random cap and I can reach the end of the list. Same thing for “Top rated movies”. The list comes to an end. Sorry guys, but there is absolutely no reason to do this. Or, if there is, could you make some sort of link so I can keep on scrolling. By definition you’ve scored (or viewers have rated) all the movies considered. There is, in fact, a next best fit or next highest rated movie beyond the end of that list.
My ask to these companies is basic. Allow limits to be removed on what is, at it’s core, a browsing activity. It should feel like the selection is limitless. Instead, if feels like it only serves to highlight the terrible, and overly finite, selection these services contain.
This has been a Thought from the Cake Scraps.
What is it that defines a vacation? It’s kind of an interesting question.
For those of us currently working, we use vacation days to spend a day not working. But there are many who are retired and I’m not sure they would consider each day a vacation. Perhaps it is the act of going somewhere for more than a day, ideally not on a day you would typically work. Then again, people take day-vacations so it cannot simply be duration either.
Then I thought that it could be to go see something or do something. That seems like a characteristic that would often apply to something called a vacation. But, some people take a day of vacation to be at home, relax.
Ah, so that’s it then – it should be something that you’re doing to relax. If you’re taking a day of vacation to catch up on housework, attend a wedding, or something similar, your employer may consider it a vacation day but it is not a vacation for you.
And yet, one must be careful with that description because how one defines relax can be very different for people. Some people find that a return to nature as part of a multi-day hike is just what they need, while other would hate every minute of that. Others want to go and see things, packing an event into every open moment. Others would rather sit and relax, be it at home or at a destination of some kind. And still others would use it as a time to reconnect with themselves – taking a break from the ever-present connection to technology and the outside world – by taking time to reflect, or as a friend of mine just did, spending 10 days in silence, meditating, as part of a Vipassana Meditation.
I believe that it is probably best if one samples from the above ways to enjoy a vacation. A vacation where there is little planed affords needed breaks, but may not create experiences which are very memorable. And if new memories are not created, there is little to reflect back on. One should not work simply so they can take breaks to escape it.
At the same time, if each vacation is filled with activities, many memories are created, but one might fail to create deeper connections. It is the white space between activities in which you get to know those you are sharing your time with. Get to share stories of days gone by. Whether funny, or interesting, or odd, or whatever the flavor, it is those stories that can reinforce a relationship for years to come.
And finally, it is hard to maintain any of the above without being in touch with oneself. At the end of the day, that is the person that must be happy with the life lived. It is important to reflect and understand the things which truly make yourself happy. Where do you want to spend more time going forward, and where do you want to spend less? Because while life is short in many ways, it is also very long in others. It’s a journey that deserves some good company, and you are with yourself every step of the way.
Go ahead and take the vacation which is right for you.
This has been a Thought From the Cake Scraps.
I am the type of person who loves to do projects. For whatever reason it brings me a lot of joy to have small tasks that I can complete. Sometimes that is something as simple as finally getting around to folding laundry and sometimes it is a bit more involved.
Over the last few weekends I’ve had a chance to do two of those types of projects. Neither of them took more than an hour or so, but they were projects out of the ordinary. That’s the part that made it special; it is the fact that it was something new and different. The first was fairly straightforward. It was washing down the windows from the outside. It was one of those things that was bugging me for a bit. Every time I looked outside there was a thing layer of dirt to see through first. Sometimes it’s easy to look through, and other times the sun catches it just right and it looks terrible.
Well, I went to battle. My weapon of choice was a hose with a nifty window washing attachment. I had never used it before, but it worked wonders. First I hosed down the major chunks of dirt (and there were some pretty gross ones) and then you flick a switch and the suds hits the window. A quick rinse, and you have a beautiful, clean, window.
The second project I took on was a bit more involved. I replaced the deteriorating brick flowerbed edgers with brand new ones! To do that, I had to dig up all the old edgers, or what was left of them, trench out a new path that was actually a semi-circle, and then lay down the new pavers. With a little bit of adjusting and leveling, they went in without a problem. The flower bed looks a lot better and I had fun doing it.
Now, neither of these things are all that exciting. I wasn’t saving the earth, and I wasn’t dropping some interesting new knowledge. What compelled me to write about it was that it was very fulfilling. I think that the fun part for me was doing something with my hands. Creating something. Having a physical product to show for my work (other than a bunch of printouts).
My advice is to not lose sight of these sort of things. Especially in a big city, with little land around, it’s easy to get in a routine where everything is just taken care of for you. Some days, that’s exactly what I want. Yet, there are other times where it feels good to connect with something physical.
So, take a step back from what you’re doing. Go find a project in the physical world. You just might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.
This has been a Thought from the Cake Scraps.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full year since I donned a robe and cap to ceremonially celebrate my graduation from my MBA program at Cornell. It has been an amazing year since my graduation, even if the year passed quickly, as they always seem to.
You may have read the article which reports that Gallop found 70% of Americans are disengaged from their job. That’s too bad. But I would challenge the conclusion of the article which is essentially to do what you love and the money will follow or, to quote them:
“The best performers do so much extra study and work that they become experts, and often becomes wealthy as a result”
I think the key here is the under-emphasized “often”. Without any hard data, I would argue that while people that have earned their wealth are generally passionate about what they do, the inverse is not true. The article even vaguely hints at it when it says
“Start by identifying your natural talents, abilities and interests; develop them; and use them to solve problems that people are willing to pay you for.”
The key from this quote is “people are willing to pay you for”. The fact is: what you are passionate about might be something nobody wants to hear about, much less pay you for. Or it might be so specific that there is simply not enough people out there to actually pay you.
Now, you might launch into a counter argument about how money isn’t everything, and I would agree with that. Money isn’t everything, but money is a component of happiness and that cannot be overlooked. People will often make the comparison that people go to a job they hate just to make ends meet (which is a whole different issue that when you have a family you can’t just go off and do what you’re passionate about and hope money will come in – your family needs to eat tonight), but people often fail to make the very reasonable reverse argument. People will go to a job they love and come home to a place they hate.
Whenever people ask for my advice about what to do and how to balance their passion with work I tell them to pick their life goal. Don’t go after a career that will be perfect for you, but won’t pay the bills. Don’t take a job just for the money and hate your work. Do pick a job that you can reasonably enjoy and which provides for a life at home which makes you happy.
There is no single formula that works. For instance, if you are all about deferred gratification and can work a job you hate but retire at 40, and that’s how you’re going to be happy with your life. Go for it. If you are an optimist and think your passion will make you money no matter what, and trying and failing would be better than not trying at all – a la Gary Vaynerchuk – do it.
Ultimately, either is consistent with my philosophy to pick the life you want and go for it. So if you’re part of the 70% that are disengaged with your job, but consider that a fair trade-off for the stability and lifestyle it provides, I’m happy for you. Follow your life goal, with laser focus, readjust when necessary, and be happy.
How happy are you?
This has been a Thought From the Cake Scraps.
Opportunity cost – the cost of what you give up in order to do something else. It is something that is pounded into you in an MBA program. The question of “what else could be done with this time or money” constantly comes up. A great project will be passed on simply because there is an even better project to fund and a business cannot do all of the projects at once. Trying to do so will, most likely, lead to failure of many or all of the projects.
This concept of opportunity cost truly is an important concept. It is important to realize that choosing to do thing A means that you won’t be able to do thing B. It’s not good or bad; that’s just how it is. The problem that I’ve run into recently is that I’ve become more aware that every decision actually does have an opportunity cost. While this seems simple enough on the surface, it’s actually a bit of a problem. Thinking about what the alternatives might be isn’t all that productive for small decisions. Furthermore, the reality is that it’s not possible to know all of the ramifications of the actions you take.
With this realization, I have had to become comfortable with once again not thinking of the opportunity cost of small decisions. It simply isn’t worth it.
For example, like any good MBA I keep up on the news of the day. I enjoy getting the WSJ every day – paper delivery – as well as following headlines on various news sites. I’m also a sucker for a good magazine offer (tip: pay with check to avoid auto-renewal and just let it lapse). My RSS feeds are a wonderful source of consolidation, despite what Google thinks. There was a time when I could follow many of these things and still have time left over. As you know, that’s no longer the case and likely won’t be again. This is where opportunity cost comes into play.
Previously, I would worry about missing a day of news, an item in RSS, or not reading magazines cover to cover. My overarching thought was “what if I miss something?!” I had to let it go. There simply wasn’t enough time to catch up – I would just get further behind. And as items would build up, the task would grow ever more insurmountable and the gap would grow. Now I use an elimination strategy and don’t worry about it.
If I have not read the prior magazine when the next one arrives, the old one is recycled. Same with the paper. For RSS I simply allocate myself a certain amount of time to read. When time is up, I consider everything as read and start a blank slate. This has been a huge benefit for me because I feel so much more in control. When my WSJ subscription lapsed for a month, I just didn’t read WSJ for that month. Was I a little less informed on certain things? Of course, but not completely out of the loop. And so I continue to streamline and manage my time.
Worrying about what I might miss if I don’t spend the time reading all of these articles isn’t worth the stress. The opportunity cost isn’t as high as I thought it was.
As I continued to heighten my awareness of how I was making decisions, I discovered there was more in my life that could use the same treatment. Yes, a run to the store will take 30 minutes or an hour. Yes, that is time that I can’t do something else. Do I still find it a bit annoying that I have to go? Yes, but I have stopped obsessing about it. On the other hand, the reason I don’t have to obsess about it is because I’ve made cuts in other areas. I barely watch TV and it takes a act of nature to entice me to see a movie because it is so hard for me to enjoy watching video when I could be doing something else. But then, there are societal costs for not being able to make conversation about these things.
The first semester of my MBA program definitely put me into hyper-aware mode on how I was spending my time. Looking for all of the opportunity costs was productive until it was a source of stress. With the second semester finished it is clear that for some things, the opportunity cost just isn’t worth it.
What is your largest opportunity cost?
This has been a Thought From the Cake Scraps.
It doesn’t seem that long, does it? Just 15 minutes. 900 seconds and then it’s gone.
In my pre-MBA life that usually wasn’t all that big of a deal to get distracted for that long. Maybe it was a break to surf the Internet, play some games on my mobile device or read the paper. That life appears to have gone by the wayside, or at least it needs to for me to continue to keep up with the pace of my life.
What I’ve found is that during my day I actually have many breaks of just a few minutes, anywhere from 5 to let’s say 15. Because it was in between classes, I would just chat with friends or jump on my phone to play a game. That is simply no longer the case. I still make time for friends, but the rest of those breaks I have started cramming stuff into the gaps.
The WSJ comes to my door step every day and I pack it in my backpack and jump on the bus. For me the bus ride is a bust because I get ill in about 30 seconds of trying to read, so it’s a good thing the ride is short. Once I’m on solid ground not a minute is wasted. A 5 minute break is long enough to skim the section of the WSJ that I don’t have much interest in. 10 minutes will take me through most of the sections and 15 plenty for the entire paper.
My Series 9 Ultrabook is also one of the best purchases I have ever made. The ability to carry it anywhere and then flip it open and have a fully functioning computer at my fingertips in seconds is so helpful, I can’t begin to describe it. I have 6 different PowerPoint decks open right now along with probably 8 or more other programs. In just a few minutes I can respond to a few emails, update some PP slides I’m working on, or make some notes after a quick coffee chat with a recruiter.
I could also run and check my mail box, grab a cup of coffee, get a quick snack from the (over-priced) cafe, switch out my books in my locker, change into business formal clothing for a briefing, change back into street clothing afterwards, read a few pages from the homework, do a practice problem or two. The list goes on, but I have learned that each and every second counts, so I need to use it.
Another thing I could do is bang out a blog post.
What do you do with your 15 minute gaps?
This has been a Thought From the Cake Scraps.
I read an interesting post the other day about how the new generation of kids will never know what a pixel is and cannot imagine a life without touch screens. I’m sure many of us see it every day – children but a few years old (or less) interacting with tablets such as the iPad or eReaders like the a Nook or Kindle. As I thought about these interactions I also was reflecting on a conversation I had with a professor of user design that was telling me about how unintuitive these actions actually are. Nobody sits in front of something and naturally thinks “if I could just pinch to zoom…” This is a learned behavior, but nearly all touchscreen devices, that contain something which you would want to zoom in on, contain that feature. How is one to know?
As my mind wandered along this thought path I realized I had nearly visited this topic previously on this blog but never got around to publishing the entry. The post is still a draft but was written shortly after I got my first iPod Touch. I was likely one of the few people who actually went to the website where the PDF of the manual existed and read through it. There are all sorts of things in there that I bet the average user doesn’t know. Things as simple as “press space twice to auto-punctuate with a period.” This may or may not be common knowledge now – that’s not for me to judge – but at the time I can remember many proud iPhone / iPod Touch users who had no idea this feature existed.
I then also though about some recent interactions I had with other applications on my Incredible 2. You wouldn’t believe some of the undocumented (or perhaps they are and I just don’t take the time to find them) features these apps have. I find myself trying to guess what I can click on the screen. What happens if I swipe left, right, up, or down? Will the same thing happen on each screen of the app? And what about the long press? There are some features that I’m sure people have no idea exist because they’ve never tried the long press. And why would you? Isn’t the long press something we’re supposed to make fun of old people for? Like when they’re trying to type or click with a mouse and completely fail because they can’t get their finger off the key/button quickly enough?
But more and more these features are being built into new devices. Integrated as part of the experience and this, I realized, is why the stereotypical “old person” can’t keep up with technology. It is not that they cannot, but if they don’t keep making all of the small steps as technology progresses, when they finally try it is simply unintuitive because the technology relies on the user already having a level of presumed intelligence about how it “should work.”
The new devices and interfaces are built with a level of presumed intelligence. It is presumed you know the basics of interacting with a touch screen. It is presumed that you can go Google/Bing for help or additional instructions. Software that used to come with thick instruction manuals now come with a flimsy booklet, if you’re buying a physical product at all. The best you can hope for is a Quick Start Guide in most products. After that is it just presumed you can go and figure out how to get the rest of the info. Sure, there’s a website listed but it is not as if you go to the website and it will only display the things you are looking for.
Certainly this is not a new phenomenon. Each version of technology can and should build upon the past OR replace it altogether with something better. But, even full replacements will lean on still other presumed intelligences. Now, a great designer will tell you that things need to be stupidly simple – so simple a child could do it. The problem is, of course, that the children can do it. It’s the adults that have problems. And while one can lower the level of presumed intelligence that a product relies on, we must also continue to look forward and realize sometimes – for those that don’t put in the time and effort to keep up – technology will pass you by.
I intend to not let that happen.
Do you notice presumed intelligence in your daily life?
This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.
As I laid out in my last post, the hottest business trend of showing deep discounts just leverages the current sale-oriented culture. While one can find these deals in nearly every email that passes through the inbox, it is not more plainly laid out then with GroupOn where stuff is simply 50% (ish) off all of the time. Everything they are selling, every day of the week.
Rather than delve into whether or not GroupOn takes advantages of small businesses, I am going to stay focused on the business concept that drives GroupOn – discounts compel people to buy. Sometimes they need the item and most of they time they don’t. The thing is, the deal is just so darn good and the discount so darn large people are left asking themselves “how can I not buy this?”
The reality, of course, is that we’re still in the early phases of this broad based discount solution and businesses are still trying to figure out if there is a way to effectively use it as a marketing channel. Regardless of how it turns out, this is clearly a marketing expense and, therefore, will come out of the marketing budget as part of the promotion cost. Small businesses may not have the data or wherewithal to figure out the true cost, but my guess is that they will find out via word-of-mouth or their own P&L statements, even if they don’t have the gory details. With this in mind, let’s focus on the major players only for the sake of discussion.
When a company runs a promotion as significant as a GroupOn, they are surly going to be tracking everything they can to figure out if it was a good deal or not. Did the promotion drive enough incremental sales to cover, not only the cost paid to GroupOn and the cost of the goods/service provided, but also of the subsidized behavior (people who would have purchased anyway)? That’s a lot to overcome. The business benefit, for the moment, is more that it can help make a company look cool and interesting. It may even draw people back into the brand that have been away for a bit.
Still, it is all a marketing expense. It comes from a marketing budget. And this is what people fail to realize. A good that is on clearance is discounted because the business needs to move through the inventory and is, therefore, not a marketing expense. The loss of margin dollars comes out of a different part of the budget. The consumer is actually getting a deal here because the goods used to be sold at full price.
This is not the case with a deal like GroupOn (or LivingSocial). Since these are marketing expenses, the cost of a marketing is built into the cost of the product. That fact that you, as an individual, get the full price product for 50% off doesn’t change the fact that, in total, it didn’t cost the company anything. They simply didn’t run a “Buy one get one” promo or a “Gift with purchase” promo.
What this means for the sustainability of this heavy coupon culture is that it will only continue to work so long as there are enough consumers willing to continue to buy the product without a marketing promotion. My prediction is not that the discount culture will go away (although I am skeptical of the long-term viability of operations like GroupOn) but that you’ll see the same companies or the same types of companies use that type of promotion and that it will become stale.
For the moment I, as a consumer, would – and do – jump on that discount train but my prediction is that it won’t last as it currently exists. After more and more companies run those type of promotions we’ll start to see clear trends emerge. As those trends become more solidified even the less advanced businesses will start to see that “business of selling product/service A are never featured” and there will be more whitepaper style publications on the success or failure of the promotions.
While not as overdone as Black Friday, as Black Friday has a good 20 year head start, I would keep an eye on this. The simple truth is that a company cannot give away goods at 75% off (50% discount and then 25% to deal provider e.g. GroupOn) and not raise prices. The promotion is simply too deep and too short lived (versus a longer buy one, get one) to last. The math doesn’t work. So get the the deals now, while business still have not “marked ’em up to mark ’em down” and don’t fully understand what the expected cost really will be.
And remember, the “deals” at Coach Outlets actually have a higher profit margin than the full price regular stores on 5th Ave.
Did you get a deal recently?
This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.