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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Sansolo Speaks: Take My Boredom. Please.

by Michael Sansolo

Breaking boredom isn’t easy. Getting any of us to stop in our tracks and actually pay attention to something is an achievement these days, so when it is done well it should be studied, celebrated, considered and copied.

And while I cannot believe this, Delta Airlines has managed to do exactly that.

I fly a lot and mostly on United Airlines. I consider myself lucky that my travels are wonderfully uneventful because I generally watch the safety demonstration with as little focus as I can possibly muster. My hope is that somehow my brain has absorbed the details on how to use my oxygen mask or inflatable whatever.

Truth be told, I’m not really sure because I usually fall asleep.

Yet Delta actually got me to watch. If you regularly fly Delta, you know why. Delta turned the traditional safety video on its ear with humor and slapstick that actually had me actually wanting more.

Now, rest easy FAA inspectors: The video delivers exactly what it is supposed to do. The video stars the usual smiling flight attendant who takes us through the regular message with that incredibly practiced and calm voice. But the star of the video is everything happening around her.

When she tells us to put luggage in the overhead we see a pizza with no box getting placed in instead. The inane reminder on how to use a seat belt is highlighted by the vision of a gigantic man who suddenly has incredibly dainty hands and dazzling red nail polish. When we’re told to put away certain electronics we see a woman put down her electronic mixer and continue mixing batter with a spoon. And a man with an abacus gets to merrily keep working because it isn’t electronic.

I actually chuckled out loud when she reminded passengers to ask questions and we see an old-fashioned press corps jump out of their seats.

Here’s the thing: I paid attention. And on my return flight one day later I found myself actually waiting for the video to watch the sight gags and see what I might have missed. Let me repeat that: I couldn’t wait to see the safety video.

Now it’s possible that I might tire of the video if I flew Delta weekly, but I might also be paying attention in hopes that a new version has been released. What’s more, if I were flying with a colleague or family member I’m certain I would tell them to watch the video. That’s something I’ve never, ever done before.

In fact, I'm even including one version of the video, which you can watch below. Extra points to anyone who gets the Star Trek joke, which we on MNB always appreciate.

It is simple. Delta found a way to turn the most mundane few minutes in travel into something special. No one cares that they made the video longer. Rather, they made it compelling.

Every business and every experience include some routines that over time become background noise. We may not sleep through it like I usually do during the safety video, but we might as well. And by never trying to make the routine special, we surrender to boredom and apathy.

As Delta shows - and as Southwest demonstrated for years before - that’s unacceptable. If an airline safety video can be made compelling, sure the same can be done inside your store or your business. Certainly there are ways you can recognize the mundane and find ways to attack it head on and in the process deliver the required message better than ever.

Remember, you have nothing to lose except bored customers.


Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here.


Tuesday Morning Eye-Opener: Discordant Note

This morning's Eye-Opener is brought to you by Barnie's CoffeeKitchen…

by Kevin Coupe

It has been almost two weeks since Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella managed to hurt his own image - and that of his company - when he said that women should not ask for raises when they think they deserve them, but rather should trust the system to reward them appropriately. And he made the comments at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, no less.

Nadella said at the time that it was "good karma" for women not to ask for a raise.

While Nadella said some hours later that he'd been inarticulate in his comments, the San Francisco Chronicle reports this morning that he was still apologizing yesterday when attending a conference about cloud computing.

“I was wrong in the way that I answered that question,” Nadella said, adding that while men and women at Microsoft get paid equally, he wants to continue to work on the issue of "equal opportunity for equal work.”

In a related story - though one that Nadella probably would prefer not be related - the Associated Press reports that Nadella's current pay package is worth $84.3 million. Most of that is in long-term stock awards, with $918,917 in straight salary and a $3.6 million bonus. Microsoft also says that Nadella received a $13.5 million one-time retention bonus for staying with the company before he was named the third CEO in Microsoft's history.

Which certainly suggests that Nadella has karma working for him…

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Staples Reports Possible Data Breach

Reuters reports that Staples is saying that it is investigating "a possible breach of payment card data and has contacted law enforcement about the matter."

According to the story, "The office-supply retailer disclosed the investigation after security reporter Brian Krebs reported on his blog Krebsonsecurity.com that several banks have identified a pattern of payment card fraud suggesting that several Staples stores in northeastern United States had succumbed to a data breach."

The report follows data breaches affecting millions of households at Target, Home Depot, Michaels, Neiman Marcus, and Sears, among others.

KC's View: It is worth noting that there is a new study out suggesting that 45 percent of credit and debit card holders plan to avoid retailers that have been hacked. Which simply ramps up the pressure on retailers - and banks - to reassure consumers that they are protected … and then to actually make moves that will protect them.

I've found lately that I never slide my debit card through a terminal without thinking twice. It hasn't affected my behavior to any great extent yet, but I feel it like a shadow hanging over every transaction. I don't think I am alone.

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Report: Tesco Accounting Problems Related To Deliberate Inappropriate Behavior

In the UK, This Is Money reports that the internal probe into early booking of revenue end delayed recognition of costs at Tesco, which led to apparent inflated by $400 million (US) its first half profit projections, will conclude that "a small group of staff" engaged in "inappropriate behavior" and a "deliberate deception."

According to the story, "this involved booking fees from suppliers to display their goods prominently on shelves. These fees were dependent on Tesco hitting sales targets, which the firm failed to reach.

"But Tesco booked them anyway and struck agreements with suppliers to give them benefits in the next financial period – or even reimbursing them.

"It is thought that the tactic was ramped up in the last six months as shareholders’ disquiet over the behemoth’s spluttering performance increased."

Some eight executives have been suspended pending the results of the probe, though none have been accused of fraud to this point. Federal agencies in the UK also are looking into the allegations.

Tesco CEO Dave Lewis is scheduled to address the extent of the scandal when he announces the company's financial results later this week.

In an unrelated story, Yahoo Finance reports that "South Korean Tesco executives will potentially be prosecuted over claims the company sold customer data without obtaining proper permissions … It is alleged that Homeplus, Tesco's South Korean counterpart, sold the 'personal information' of over five million customers to insurance firms."

KC's View: If this report is accurate, Lewis has to move quickly to get rid of the offending executives. Heads-on-pikes might be an appropriate response. (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)

But then, a bigger question will have to be considered: How has the culture at Tesco evolved to the point that people thought this kind of behavior was acceptable, and how does one fix it in an expedited and sustainable way?

Good luck.

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Amazon and Publisher Reach New Multiyear Contract Guaranteeing Lower Prices

The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has reached "a new multiyear print and digital contract" with a publisher that will set the prices of digital books, with certain allowances for discounts that could be set by the retailer.

However, the publisher was Simon & Schuster, not Hachette, with which Amazon remains engaged in a longterm dispute over pricing negotiations that have not been able to be resolved.

In announcing the deal, Amazon said that "the agreement specifically creates a financial incentive for Simon & Schuster to deliver lower prices for readers" … which is what it has said Hachette is willing to do.

As the Journal reports, "Amazon’s dealings with publishers have come under greater scrutiny lately amid author criticism of its negotiating tactics in the dispute with Lagardère SCA’s Hachette. As a result of that standoff, which centers on e-books, Amazon no longer allows consumers to preorder Hachette titles. The retailer has also reduced the discount it offers on many Hachette books and delayed shipment of some Hachette titles. The two sides have been at odds since early May."

KC's View: Even if Amazon were to reach some sort of accord with Hachette, the broader debate into Amazon's power and influence is likely to continue, and Amazon may in the long run regret poking this particular bear.

Reacting to a piece last week in The New Republic that called Amazon a 21st century monopoly that needs to be addressed, Salon has a piece this week that says, in part:

"Americans may need to look to Europe, with its skepticism toward Silicon Valley powerhouses like Uber and Google, for inspiration. In the end we may need to treat the Web as we once treated the airwaves: as a public resource that can house for-profit enterprises, but which must ultimately be administered for public benefit.

As we write these words, and as if to prove the truth of the suspicions harbored against it, Amazon is in court defending its predatory behavior toward low-paid hourly warehouse workers. The contempt that it displays toward its wholesalers and customers extends to its workforce as well, resulting in a trifecta of abusive behavior that’s almost comically Dr. Evil-like in character.

"But Amazon’s aggression is no laughing matter. It’s not innovative, either. It’s as old as predatory business practices, in fact, accelerated and amplified by the newest technology. And Amazon’s peers in the tech world are no better. If there is one lesson to be learned from this debate, it is this: We need to think imaginatively about restraining the Silicon Valley juggernaut before it extracts a price from society that we will regret paying for a long, long time."


And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman also weighed in:

(Amazon's) power is really immense — in fact, even greater than the market share numbers indicate. Book sales depend crucially on buzz and word of mouth (which is why authors are often sent on grueling book tours); you buy a book because you’ve heard about it, because other people are reading it, because it’s a topic of conversation, because it’s made the best-seller list. And what Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz. It’s definitely possible, with some extra effort, to buy a book you’ve heard about even if Amazon doesn’t carry it — but if Amazon doesn’t carry that book, you’re much less likely to hear about it in the first place.

I get all this … but I also have trouble wrapping my head around some of it.

After all, for decades the New York Times has reveled in the fact that it has been able to create buzz for cultural events. A positive review in the Times could make a book, movie or, especially, a Broadway play. And a negative review could destroy them. (I don't see Krugman bemoaning that kind of market power.)

I think it can be argued that at the same time as Amazon wields an enormous amount of market power, it also democratizes the process. Sure, it can give a book buzz or take it away. But I remember years ago, when I was interviewing author Robert B. Parker, he told me that it was his publisher who essentially made him a best-seller - he had a big enough backlist to warrant the attention, and it knew that with aggressive marketing, it could turn his Spenser novels into hits. Which it did.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Michael Sansolo and I have sold a lot of books because of Amazon, and it would've been a much harder and longer process if we'd had to depend on a big publisher and traditional bookstores. So I'm torn … though I do think that the bigger debate, about power and influence as practiced in a 21st century economy, does need to be conducted.

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WTO Rules Against US In COOL Dispute Over Meat Labeling Rules

Reuters reports that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled that "the United States had not done enough to change its labeling rules, requiring retailers such as grocery stores to list the country of origin on meat, after it lost an earlier WTO challenge.

"Canada and Mexico called on the United States to repeal the rules and said they were prepared to retaliate if needed against U.S. exports. Previous estimates have put the cost of tariffs as high as $2 billion."

The story notes that the WTO originally ruled two years ago "that the U.S. meat labelling program, known as country-of-origin labeling (COOL), unfairly discriminated against Canada and Mexico because it gave less favorable treatment to beef and pork imported from those countries than to U.S. meat, which is illegal according to WTO rules."

"The announcement today by the WTO dispute panel on the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling rule brings us all one step closer to facing retaliatory tariffs from two of our largest trading partners," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Bob McCan in urging the Obama administration and the US Congress to fix the rules.

Andrew Harig, director of government relations at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), released the following statement: "“The findings in the WTO’s panel report on meat labeling come as no surprise and mirror many of the concerns that FMI and its partners up and down the supply chain have raised about COOL and the 2013 regulatory revisions. The WTO decision makes it clear that there are problems with the law that only Congress can address. Rather than continuing to ‘run out the clock’ on the WTO process, we urge Congress to act as expeditiously as possible to bring the law into compliance with our trade commitments and put an end to the threat of tariffs by Canada and Mexico on U.S. exports."

KC's View: Laws and governments can resist transparency. But it only works in the short-term, because eventually, information and consumers' desire for total disclosure will win out.

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Study: Smart Home Products Gaining Traction In US

Telecompetitor.com reports on a new market research report from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and Parks Associates saying that "Americans will purchase more in the way of smart home products and systems within the next year," creating momentum that "will drive healthy growth for a range of devices and services that provide remote, as well as on-site, automated monitoring and control across a variety of applications in the smart home, including lighting, heating and cooling, and security control and management."

According to the story, "Thirteen percent of U.S. broadband households already own at least one smart home device at present. Growing sales of devices, such as smart thermostats, door locks, smoke detectors and light switches, will continue to drive smart home device market growth. Sales of smart home devices will reach 20.7 million units this year and increase to 35.9 million units by 2017, CEA and Parks forecast."

The study goes on to say that 20 percent if US households "will acquire one or more smart home devices" in the coming year.

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FastNewsBeat

...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

Reuters reports that the US Supreme Court will not hear an appeal filed by Duane Reade former CEO Anthony Cuti and former CFO, William Tennant, in which they contested their "2010 securities fraud convictions for inflating earnings at the New York drugstore chain."

The appeal was based on the men's contention that accountants who testified against them in the original trial were not expert witnesses, and therefore should not have been identified as such. The appeal apparently was not based on any assertion of innocence.

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Executive Suite

• Beverly Lynch has been named the new president of the Food Industry Association Executives (FIAE), effective April 1, 2015. Lynch, currently a consultant with the Advocacy and Management Group (AMG) and an association executive with three decades of experience, will succeed Jim Olsen, who has led FIAE for five years.

Your Views: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Yesterday, in a rather unorthodox Eye-Opener, we reported about an Ethicist column in the New York Times Magazine questioning whether it was ethical to tell Koko, a gorilla who is extremely adept at sign language, about the death of Robin Williams, who she met once, 13 years ago. If Koko was sad at hearing the news, which press reports suggested, was it ethical to bring unnecessary sadness into her life?

Chuck Klosterman, who writes the column, used the question from a reader to address broader questions about ethics and consciousness … and I found the piece to be unexpectedly fascinating. (You can read the entire column here, if you wish.)

I did say that I wasn't sure what the business lesson was, but some of you did…

One MNB user wrote:

I picture a group of executives at a very large corporation sitting around and having a similar conversation about sharing info with and gathering info from their customers, employees, and stakeholders. I sometimes wonder if some companies feel consumers, employees, and others comprehend issues at the same level as a gorilla. (Take the GMO labeling issue for example.)

Business lesson:  While what we share with Koko may or may not need to be censored, don’t assume those you work with and sell to are in the same classification.  Ask questions and share information, because “If any of these questions could be irrefutably affirmed, everything we think about gorillas consumers, employees, and stakeholders would need to be re-examined …”


MNB reader Chris LaBella wrote:

I think this article and its subtext lays the foundation for a great transparency and ethics lesson or argument that can be applied to many industries, especially food production and retail.  We can go on and on about this, but in the interest of saving time, I will only attempt to get the ball rolling.  Should industries inform consumers about any or all details involving their products even if it will bring “unnecessary sadness” or for that matter any emotion, necessary or unnecessary, into their (consumers’) lives.  As we have seen, if the “details” mean sustainability and responsibility, then yes companies seem to do a better job (obviously to their benefit) about informing consumers, but when the “details” involve genetic manipulation, unethical rearing and slaughter, or questionable ingredients (some of which may be harmless to consumers) significant amounts of time and money are invested in keeping information from the public, which is a shame.  Personally I am all for transparency and letting the consumer decide, but an argument can be made for the other side too.  Do you really want the image of a doe-eyed calf with restricted mobility to pop in your mind every time you cut into a delicious veal chop?  And given the information will it really change consumers’ tastes?  Furthermore, if this does elicit an emotional response should we then question the industry’s ethics in its entirety or should we instead question our own ethics in creating the demand, which producers are only meeting because of an apparent opportunity?  We must also remind ourselves that ethical norms and standards shift when considering one culture or another.  You won’t see any all-beef patties on the McDonald’s menu in India.  Also, given sufficient transparency and information, will consumers use it properly, ignore it, or will they use it to swing from one misinformed camp to another forming proverbial one sided lynch mobs that overlook reason and blindly adhere and support those with similar ideals (correct or not) and crucify anyone who offers a different perspective.  Scary stuff I know, but we've seen it with the GMOers and the "if you eat that piece of bread your head will explode" gluten movement (don't get me wrong, Celiacs is very real, but not as prevalent as currently perceived...long story short, a lot of misinformation going on about wheat and GMO's to name a few).

I guess what I am trying to say is are the producers of products the bad guys and is it their lack of transparency that makes them unethical or their operations in general that do it?  Or do we blame the unethical consumers that create the demand?  And what do we do when what is unethical to one, ethical to another?  Furthermore, do consumers have enough education to decide what is good or bad, ethical or unethical?  Additionally, how did we let it get this far, are we oversensitive and how much further will it go?  And finally, is transparency the be-all end-all answer?  Some may say no, but I believe it is a step in the right direction.  At least with all the facts consumers can make their choice (whether correct or not) and if demands shift and industries disappear or are replaced by others then so be it, because in the end the people have, one way or another, spoken.

Just some food for though.  As always, thanks for the great daily reads on MNB, your insight has always been appreciated.


Yikes. I'm a little chagrined thatI didn't see the lessons that other folks did.

I learn something every day.

From MNB reader Jan Fialkow:

Yet another reason why I read MNB and recommend it even to folks outside the industry. My thoughts yesterday morning paralleled yours. Obviously, you are great thinker!

Not really. I'm just smart enough to know how much I don't know. Plus, I'm a sucker for a learning experience.




The other day, I mentioned that I'd be okay with a lower minimum wage for young people just breaking into the job market (a training wage?), and a higher minimum wage for people who are older and needing to support themselves.

Which led one MNB user to write:

Of all the bizarre opinions you've expressed, this has to take the cake.  Do you really think people should be paid on the basis of their sob-stories instead of the jobs they do?  Aren't you one of those people always ranting about "equal pay for women doing the same jobs as men"

Wouldn't you think employers would immediately staff-up with lower-wage students at the expense of "adults trying to support themselves"?

Are you auditioning for that national-nanny-in-charge-of-hiring-decisions position The Obamanists must be talking about?


There is just so much vitriol and bitterness in that email that I don't know quite how to respond to it.

So let me address just one of those comments. I don't think that someone who is working a full-time job, or two part-time jobs that have them working 50-60 hours a week, and yet cannot support themselves, or feed and clothe their families, can fairly be accused of offering us "sob stories."

I don't think that describes all minimum wage workers. But I think it is short-sighted … and culturally unsustainable … to have a society in which a lot of people work very hard and yet find it difficult to survive, especially at a time when there is a sizable percentage of society that is doing very well. And I think we have to figure out a way to address the situation in a way that is economically feasible and politically viable.

Preferably without vitriol, which only adds to the toxicity of the debate, and without ideology, which (to quote the great Pete Hamill) generally serves as a substitute for actual thought.

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From The MNB Sports Desk

In Monday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Houston Texans 30-23.

PWS 29