business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Ignorance may be bliss, but when it comes to business it’s the essential ingredient in making embarrassing mistakes.

NBC News recently reported on the kind of ignorant and embarrassing mistake made in some product marketing from retailers Bed, Bath and Beyond, and Party City for the current holiday season.

The network’s story focused on a number of items marketed for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah that all incorrectly borrowed phrases and connections to a very different holiday, Passover. The mistake wasn’t quite at the level as the famous merchandising of Hanukkah hams - a very non-kosher item - found in a store some years back.

But the fact that the error was not as egregious is hardly something in which anyone should take pride. However, it does pack a powerful lesson.

If you have a chance, go back to Friday’s MNB and spend a few minutes watching Kevin’s Facetime video on the problem of epistemic closure and how we all get caught in our own knowledge bubbles. It’s a great reminder that we can only know what we know and we all have to recognize that there’s a lot we don’t know.

For instance, the Hanukkah-Passover marketing goof found by NBC News could have been easily avoided if the company had simply talked to one - one! - Jewish employee or found another resource on the holiday. In fact, that’s a simple solution to avoid many potential pitfalls in our increasingly diverse society.

It all starts by recognizing and admitting that none of us knows everything and that frequently we don’t even know what we don’t know. But increasingly, we need to escape our own knowledge bubbles to better appeal to shoppers and staffers.

Consider the increasing diversity - in every way - of the work force. It’s easily arguable that today’s labor pool is more diverse than ever in terms of ethnicity or racial make-up and certainly in terms of generations. The realities that shape the lives of Gen Z, today’s older teens or younger adults, are quite different than the experiences of their Boomer or even Gen X bosses. 

The best way to escape your knowledge bubble is to start by listening and even asking questions. At a time when labor is in such short supply, it makes more sense than ever to talk with (and yes, it might be annoying) with young workers. You might well disagree with their attitudes or their desire for incredible flexibility on the job, but if you want to be an employer of choice you need to at least address those issues.

Recognize that more than ever you are competing with employers (think Uber or Lyft) who trumpet the flexibility of their jobs, something very compatible with a population of gig workers.

Demanding that young workers suffer the same indignities you faced as a young worker might seem like poetic justice to you, but it’s also a sure fire way to send those same workers scurrying for the exits. And remember, there are plenty of other jobs for them to consider these days.

Avoid being tone deaf on marketing, services or employee guidelines by engaging with people different than you and learning about their realities. At a minimum you can easily avoid silly mistakes such as building products for the wrong holidays or the wrong populations.

At best it may make you a more desired place to work and shop - talk about a holiday gift!

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com.

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.