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    Published on: February 27, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Perhaps you saw this online yesterday.

    There's a picture of a dress. The problem is, some people saw it as black and blue.Some as white and gold. And there was an enormous amount of debate about who was right.

    And i'm talking about an enormous amount of debate, with all manner of people chiming in. Anna Kendrick tweeted it was white and gold. Taylor Swift tweeted that it was blue and black. (For the record, I see it as blue and black ... though I'd be willing to change my mind to ingratiate myself with Anna Kendrick.)

    In this case, the color actually is in the eye of the beholder. Here's how Wired describes it:

    "This fight is about more than just social media—it’s about primal biology and the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world.

    Light enters the eye through the lens - different wavelengths corresponding to different colors. The light hits the retina in the back of the eye where pigments fire up neural connections to the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes those signals into an image. Critically, though, that first burst of light is made of whatever wavelengths are illuminating the world, reflecting off whatever you’re looking at. Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the “real” color of the object.

    “'Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance,' says Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington. 'But I’ve studied individual differences in color vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen.' (Neitz sees white-and-gold.)"

    (You can read the entire scientific analysis by Wired here.)

    It is an interesting example, but it illustrates an important management lesson.

    Just because you see things one way does not mean that everybody sees it the same way. Indeed, just because you see things one way does not mean you are right.

    Leadership and management is not just about imposing your view and vision on everybody else. Not in 2015.

    Today, one has to understand everybody's point of view. Incorporate everybody's position. And be sensitive even to dissenting views, because often it is the people who disagree with us who can be our most important allies, our most important BS detectors.

    To do otherwise is to be guilty of epistemic closure.

    This isn't just an Eye-Opener. It is about actually keeping your eyes open.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) yesterday unveiled a new marketing campaign at its 2015 Building a Healthier Future Summit, arguing that fruits and vegetables deserve to have as robust a marketing push behind them as traditional CPG brands.

    The new fresh produce brand, dubbed FNV, will be supported by commercials that were teased in a video that can be seen at left. The commercials will feature celebrities and athletes who support FNV, including actors Kristen Bell and Jessica Alba, WWE Superstar John Cena, musician Nick Jonas, New York Giants Wide Receiver Victor Cruz, Golden State Warriors Point Guard Stephen Curry, Memphis Grizzlies Forward Jeff Green, San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton.

    FNV is being pitched this way:

    For years, fruits and veggies stood by passively as the marketing machine cranked full throttle, selling you everything from shoes to barbecues to shiny new sports cars. But now, we’re officially joining the party. Taking over billboards and airwaves. Enlisting athletes and celebs. Shamelessly pushing peaches and sweet potatoes onto the public. FNV is here, America. Prepare to be marketed to.

    “FNV was inspired by big consumer brands, whose tactics are relentless, compelling, catchy and drive an emotional connection with their products,” said PHA CEO Lawrence A. Soler. “We want to do the same thing for fruits and veggies, which have never had an opportunity to act like a big brand.”

    Founding supporters of FNV include the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Produce for Better Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a number of produce manufacturers and suppliers. PMA, for example, has approved a $1 million investment and the appointment of a marketing task force, comprised of produce industry executives, to support FNV.

    KC's View:
    Between this as the deal that PMA made with Sesame Street to use its characters to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, it seems like we've had sort of a sea change in terms of how the produce industry is making its case to consumers. I think that this is a good thing ... and all the companies involved are to be commended for understanding that smart and aggressive marketing is critical if they actually want to grow the business.

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    The Financial Times has a piece about Walmart's decision to give a wage increase to at least $9 per hour to some 500,000 employees, a move that seems to be creating some pressure on other retailers to also raise their wage scales. The point of the piece that while increased wages are important, they are only part of the discussion .... because retailers also are able to use sophisticated software for labor planning, which often results in fewer hours even if at a higher hourly rate.

    And there is more...

    "Software does not take into account the shifting nature of human lives," FT writes. "Nor can it deal with unexpected events such as a sick child.

    "Quality of life is about more than the size of your pay cheque. It means being able to spend an evening with your family once a week — instead of keeping one parent at home with the kids while the other works, and then exchanging a few words when you switch roles halfway through the day. It means being able to request working hours that allow you to travel when buses are running so you do not have to walk miles to get to work.

    "Those things matter to workers. When someone on a low wage talks about finding a better job, better pay is just part of the mix. This is why campaigns groups across America are trying to win better conditions — enabling employees to address questions of health, safety and life quality, alongside their wage gains."

    FT goes on:

    "Walmart’s decision to make positive moves with its $1bn overhaul is welcome, not least to taxpayers who in effect subsidise its wages with welfare subsidies which, by some accounts, add up to over $6bn a year. Any raise is significant at these wage levels, but $10 per hour is still a poverty-level wage in many US cities. But it did so under pressure from a tightening labour market and a tide of bad publicity from protesters, its own striking employees and politicians ... Big employers in America seem to be realising what is meant by the term 'human capital.'

    "Should this trend continue, led by the world’s biggest private sector employer, it is possible that we will start seeing the kinds of stable and dependable jobs that build a strong economy, instead of the efficient but unstable sort that build a strong quarterly report."
    KC's View:
    It's interesting. I got an email yesterday that reflected, in part, a different view...

    While I am personally sympathetic to your position that Wal-Mart should pay its workers enough and supply enough hours that the employees will not have to work a second job, the reality is that it is not Wal-Mart’s or any other retailers responsibility to satisfy each employee’s specific needs.  Most employers pay rates and employment policies are developed to, in the view of the employer, maximize revenues and minimize expenses while providing the appropriate service level to customers or clients.  If Wal-Mart is making changes, it is only because they have realized that its current program is not supporting its best interests.  I think many of your readers would agree it long overdue.

    As a person who has written schedules, I will also say that it is nearly impossible to satisfy even the majority of employees no matter how much you try to accommodate all the requests for certain hours and times off.  It is certainly worthwhile to try, but it is a thankless job and the new scheduling software most companies use now actually makes it more difficult to be flexible.

    I grant you that it is hard. I'm not sure it is impossible to do your best to satisfy most people's needs ... and I certainly think it is possible to create an environment in which employees believe that they are an asset rather than a cost, and that they are not being treated like cattle.

    It seems to me that if companies actually believe in the importance of human capital, and that the front lines in any retail business are critical to creating a compelling shopping experience, as opposed to just giving the concept lip service, then you should be concerned about the economic circumstances in which your employees find themselves. Sure, full-time employees may cost more than part-time employees, but they may also stay longer, cut down on training costs of new hires, and showing a greater commitment to the company that results in higher sales and stronger profits. If they are making a sustaining wage - meaning they don't have to take a second job - they also may have more money to spend at retail. They may raise kids who do better in school, who have higher aspirations, and who get better jobs at higher salaries that they can spend to drive the economy to even higher heights. (And by the way ... my position is that if you don't pay people enough money so they can have healthy family lives, you don't get to preach about family values.)

    Of course, none of this is easy. The economy is a lot more complex than it used to be. Many middle-class jobs that used to sustain middle-class families have gone away because of technological advances, productivity improvements, and manufacturing shifts ... which means that retailing has found itself taking up some of the slack. That's an unaccustomed place for many retailers to be ... and it puts new stresses on fiscal building blocks that may have existed for decades. I get this.

    But ... I also think it could be argued that at a time when bricks-and-mortar retailers are under siege from online retailers, it is in their best interests to create more compelling shopping environments ... and a more engaged and motivated, better compensated front line employee could be part of this strategy.

    I recognize, as I said, that none of this is easy. But I cannot help but feel that if retail companies do not adjust how they value human capital, they will, in the long run, be putting themselves in a less competitive long-term position.

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    The Chicago Tribune reports that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) yesterday "approved tough net neutrality regulations to oversee online traffic. The new rules prohibit Internet service providers from discriminating against legal content flowing through their wired or wireless networks, such as by charging websites for faster delivery of video and other data to consumers."

    Essentially, the net neutrality rules define the internet as a public utility, not a business to be run for the benefit of stakeholders rather than consumers. Of course, critics of the new rules say that the approach also will stifle innovation by creating too strict a regulatory environment.

    Variety writes that "the FCC’s approach is one favored by many public interest groups, Hollywood content creators and a large number of web companies including Netflix and Twitter: It is reclassifying Internet service as a Title II telecommunications service, a regulatory designation akin to that of a utility.

    "The FCC’s move was intended to give it solid authority to impose rules over Internet service. They prohibit ISPs from blocking or throttling content, as well as from collecting payments from content providers for speedier access to their subscribers."

    But of course, because the rule was issued by the government, "the sharply divided 3-2 vote on Thursday may not spell the end of a decade-long debate over net neutrality but a new period of contentiousness. The FCC’s approach is strongly opposed by cable and telecom companies which provide wired and wireless Internet service, along with congressional Republicans who have already launched hearings and inquiries into the FCC’s rulemaking."

    In one of the more cheeky responses to the FCC decision, Verizon referred to it as imposing "1930s rules on the Internet," and then posted the rest of its response in Morse code. It read as follows:

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    It also posted the comments in English, saying, in part:

    “Today’s decision by the FCC to encumber broadband Internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors. Over the past two decades a bipartisan, light- touch policy approach unleashed unprecedented investment and enabled the broadband Internet age consumers now enjoy.

    “The FCC today chose to change the way the commercial Internet has operated since its creation. Changing a platform that has been so successful should be done, if at all, only after careful policy analysis, full transparency, and by the legislature, which is constitutionally charged with determining policy. As a result, it is likely that history will judge today’s actions as misguided."
    KC's View:

    I simply do not believe that this move will stifle creativity and innovation. Rather, I think it will allow for small companies to continue to operate on a roughly level playing field with big companies, and not allow providers to create a two-tier system that will penalize them in terms of cost and speed.

    I'm completely on-board with how John Oliver framed the debate on "Late Week Tonight" ... a diatribe, by the way, that prompted enough comment that it shut down the FCC site temporarily. And, as it ends up, the FCC vote ended up going in an entirely different direction, at least in part because of this rant and the subsequent coverage it got.

    You can see it ... complete with typical outrage and the occasional profanity ... here, or by clicking the screen above. (And by the way, this also illustrates the power of moral outrage framed as satire ... or maybe it is satire framed as moral outrage. Either way, it is powerful. Important lesson ... don't get on John Oliver's bad side.)

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that Giant Eagle has decided to shut down its eight Good Cents value-driven stores in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    “While our Good Cents locations initially gained popularity, numerous business and economic factors have made it difficult to continue to successfully deliver the shopping experience customers have come to expect from Good Cents,” Giant Eagle spokesman Dan Donovan said in a statement.

    The story notes that "Giant Eagle’s announcement comes on the heels of Bottom Dollar’s recent exit from the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia markets, when the grocer’s Belgium-based owner decided it didn’t want to be in the limited assortment discount grocery business any longer." Discounter Aldi is expected to by all or most of the 66 Bottom Dollar stores.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    USA Today reports this morning that "more than 12,000 low-wage workers will benefit from the first phase of Walmart's commitment to workforce training and career development, with $16 million in grants going to seven jobs non-profits. Walmart made the announcement at the National Opportunity Summit in Washington Thursday, a week after it said it would commit $100 million over five years to helping retail and entry-level workers in related sectors advance in their careers."

    The story says that "The goal of Walmart's funding is to reduce barriers for low-wage, unskilled and uneducated workers to receive training, understand advancement opportunities and be considered for higher-level jobs, McLaughlin says. For example, a cashier is considered an entry-level job whereas an assistant manager or logistics manager is considered middle skill.

    "The grants will focus on four initiatives: mapping out career paths in retail so that workers understand what opportunities exist to move up, pre-employment training, providing training and credentialing to move entry-level employees to middle-skill jobs, and finally working with specific cities where retail companies have the greatest need to fill middle-skill jobs."
    KC's View:
    This is about maximizing human capital, which also can be good business.

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    In the UK, This Is Money has a long interview with new Tesco CEO Dave Lewis, in which he lays out the challenges and opportunities at the company, and the paper finds a CEO who seems remarkably grounded while operating in a cauldron of heightened competition and dramatic change.

    You can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Target "posted its best sales growth in nearly three years, a sign shoppers are responding to changes under new Chief Executive Brian Cornell such as free holiday shipping and a greater focus on apparel and home goods.

    "Sales excluding newly opened and closed stores rose 3.8% for the fourth-quarter, ahead of Target’s projection for 3% growth, and profit beat the forecast Target gave a little over a month ago."

    USA Today reports that KFC is testing an edible coffee cup that it hopes to begin offering in its UK stores later this year - "the 100% edible cup is made from a special, wafer-like biscuit, then wrapped in sugar paper and lined with a layer of heat-resistant white chocolate." No word on if or when the cup might come to the US.

    The story notes that "this is mostly aimed at environmentally-minded Millennials, who want products and packaging to leave a smaller footprint. There's a huge market for new packaging technologies that are better for the environment.

    "Last year, Stonyfield, the environmentally conscious organic yogurt maker, took its first baby step towards ultimately eliminating the plastic yogurt container. It rolled out a product dubbed Stonyfield Frozen Yogurt Pearls -- frozen yogurt sold inside edible, fruit-flavored packaging skins -- at a handful of Whole Foods stores in the Boston area."

    Bloomberg reports that "RadioShack Corp.’s biggest shareholder, already seeking to buy hundreds of stores from the bankrupt electronics retailer, agreed to a separate sale of the chain’s name, with bids to start at $20 million. The plan to break off the sale of trademarks and other intellectual property from the auction for store leases would put the 94-year-old brand up for grabs without forcing buyers to also bid on the stores."

    Fortune reports that "Barnes & Noble has unveiled plans to raise up to $775 million in a spinoff of the company’s college bookstore assets in a move that will create a separate, publicly traded company. The plan will separate Barnes & Noble Education from the legacy Barnes & Noble retail and Nook digital businesses."

    Barnes & Noble had suggested previously that it would spin off its Nook business, but that hasn't happened, as the company continues to struggle with how to survive in a digital world where traditional bookstores are in trouble and the Nook has not ben able to compete effectively with the Kindle and iPad.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has hired Jay Carney, the former White House press secretary in the Obama administration, to run its public relations and public policy operation. The goal, the story says, is to give Amazon "added heft in Washington" ... because having its founder/CEO Jeff Bezos owning the Washington Post apparently is not enough.

    • The Columbia Journalism Review reports that Starbucks has hired Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post, to form a new media company that "will produce longform social-impact content' in the form of nonfiction documentaries."

    The story notes that the initial focus of the company will be on veterans' issues; Chandrasekaran co-authored a book about veterans, "For Love of Country," with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. Chandrasekaran says that over the long term, the goal is to branch out to look at different social and public policy issues.

    "“I’m not doing this so they can sell more cups of coffee. What we’re doing is trying to play a positive and constructive role — and broaden understanding across the country around issues that matter to our nation,” Chandrasekaran said in an interview.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    Responding to my FaceTime yesterday about the exceptional CVS cashier who passed away, and how she illustrated the importance of great and engaged employees, one MNB user wrote:

    You lamented that you wish you had told her when she was alive….  it is always good to compliment someone, say the good things you want to say, in the moment, face to face. I guess that is what “spiritual preachers” mean when they talk about Kindness, Caring, Mindfulness.

    From another reader:

    That’s why you hug your wife and kids every chance you get and tell them that you love them. You never know which time might be the last.

    MNB reader Theresa Ruppert wrote:

    I hope the message that people take from this is tell a person you appreciate them.  Don’t wait until it is too late.  I make it a point to tell people how much I appreciate them sooner rather than later.  Thank you for sharing her story.

    From MNB reader Brian Hayes:

    Loved today’s Face Time. As a store manager, I am so very grateful for the “Gails” out there. They are the ones who make the machine go! I am absolutely convinced that the relationships that develop between our associates and customers are the primary drivers of our store’s success.

    I often tell the story of Lori, a cashier who works for our company. She and I hadn’t worked together at the same location for about a decade when she called me one day and inquired about transferring to my location because it was closer to her home. I didn’t hesitate to say yes because she remains one of the kindest and most caring people I’ve ever worked with. But I also knew that Lori had developed such deep and lasting relationships with her customers that they’d follow her anywhere. They literally didn’t shop the name on the building, they shopped Lori. Go ahead and re-read that last sentence because it’s so very true! To this day, I half joke with her that she single-handedly increased our store sales $5-$10K a week when she transferred.

    I also had a piece yesterday about the difference between what men and women on Death Row order for their last meal. Not everybody appreciated it.

    MNB reader Dan Alderete wrote:

    I didn’t enjoy this article, it was something you would find on FB that I would scroll past, ignore and was very surprised to see it as an “eye opener”.  I look forward to your eye opener’s every day, today not so much. 

    Just my feedback, thought you would want to know.

    And from MNB reader Timothy A. Bastic:

    I thought your story on Death Row inmates was in very poor taste.  It is not going to change the world or make one iota of difference what these individuals requested for their last meals…Therefore I think you need to reassess your subject matter for future reference as this particular piece was in very poor taste and judgment on your part. There are bigger fish to fry than this unfortunate piece.  God rest their souls.

    Oh, well. You can't please all the people all the time.

    To be honest, I figure that if I'm not flirting with bad taste at least a couple of times a week, then I'm not doing my job.

    Besides, as another MNB reader wrote:

    As I have said once or twice before, I’m not getting this kind of news from anywhere else. Even if I sometimes go, “Yech” when I read it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    A week ago, I spent six days in California with Mrs. Content Guy, who was on winter break from school and was happy to be invited someplace where there wasn't any snow and the temperatures ranged between 55 and 70 pretty much every day. It was lovely to split our time between Redondo Beach and San Diego ... a nice break from winter, and even a nice break from our kids. I had a couple of speaking engagements, and still was writing MNB and working on a couple of other projects ... but it somehow seemed easier while enjoying the west coast vibe, especially when mornings included a jog along the Strand.

    I got an email from an MNB reader wondering why I hadn't written anything in last week's OffBeat about food and drink we'd had out there, and the reason was simple ... I was writing MNB last Friday at 2 am, before heading off at 6 am to teach a class at USC, and lucidity was in short supply. (It was the part of the Food Industry Program at the Marshall School of Business ... and, as always, it was a delight. The students are industry executives from a wide variety of companies, and I always find them to be engaged, focused, and highly motivated. And they even laugh at some of my jokes.)

    But there were some terrific meals that we had last week. There were the outstanding fish tacos at Tin Fish Gaslamp in San Diego, a small place downtown where the food is simple and outstanding, and a terrific meal we had at Simmzy's in Manhattan Beach, just up from the pier and a beach-style pub that has turned into my go-to place when I'm in the area. perhaps our favorite meal was a quick and unexpectedly fantastic lunch we had at Puesto in La Jolla ... it specializes in what it calls in "Mexican street food," with some of the best guacamole I've ever had and some amazingly flavorful tacos made from lamb, pork and shrimp. (I clearly have a thing for fish tacos.)

    And, of course, there was the mandatory double-double, animal style, at In-N-Out Burger ... still the very definition of what fast food can and should be. And a breakfast at Good Stuff in hermosa Beach, where a breakfast of grilled barramundi, two eggs over easy, brown rice, pico de gallo, and sourdough toast is one of the best ways to start the day, any day.

    Two wines to recommend to you this week...the 2009 Mustiguillo Mestis and the 2012 Finca Villacreces Pruno...two wonderfully luscious Spanish reds that are terrific with grilled meats and ribs. (Though to be honest, I had the Pruno with a meat loaf that I made ... and it was comfort-food yummy.)

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 27, 2015

    Leonard Nimoy, who rocketed to fame as the logical Mr. Spock, Vulcan first office of the Starship Enterprise in the original "Star Trek" television series, has passed away at age 83.

    The cause was said to be end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which was attributed to a smoking habit that Nimoy gave up some 30 years ago.

    In addition to the original"Star Trek" series, in which he played Spock for three seasons, Nimoy also voiced the role in an animated version, and then played the role in two episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," six theatrical movies starring the original cast, and then again in two recent movies, "Star Trek" and "Star Trek Into Darkness," which rebooted the series with a younger cast. (Nimoy's presence was explained via time travel and an alternate time line. "Star Trek" fans will understand. Non-fans won't care.)

    Early in his career as Spock, he resisted typecasting, even writing a book entitled, "I Am Not Spock." But later, seemingly realizing that playing the unemotional Vulcan had provided him with an enormous number of creative opportunities as an actor in film and in theater, as a director, as a photographer and as a writer - all disciplines in which he worked at a high level over the years - he wrote another book: "I Am Spock."
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that when the history of science fiction is written, there is no question that Leonard Nimoy's Spock will go down as one of the most important characters ever to occupy the space, a seminal figure that resonated largely because of the almost mystical fusing of actor and character.

    Nimoy was so talented that he could create and demonstrate passion within a character, half human and half alien - who had adopted logic and a lack of emotion as a way of life. There was warmth where there should have been none, and there was a kind of lonely alienation (pun intended) that a lesser actor never would have found, much less portrayed with such effectiveness. While Spock might have said that the mind was most important muscle, those of us who watched him over the years - serving loyally with William Shatner's Captain Kirk and debating with DeForest Kelley's Dr. Leonard McCoy, and becoming not just friends, but family, with the two shipmates - knew that, in fact, Spock's soul was what really made him different.

    Indeed, I think Spock/Nimoy was so popular for so long because people who felt like aliens on their own planet, disconnected from the mainstream, whether because of race or gender or religion or ethnicity or sexual identification, saw him as one of their own. When Spock spoke of the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC), it was not just a slogan or catch phrase or a plot point from a TV series ... it became a deeply felt statement of tolerance and acceptance of all people...even if they don't come from earth.

    And when Spock would offer the Vulcan salute (fingers spread, in a gesture that Nimoy gleefully used to say that he stole from a Jewish ritual blessing) and utter the words, "Live long and prosper," it was the ultimate statement of hope and belief in the power of sentient beings to make for themselves a better world. A better galaxy.

    You can see that I sort of take this stuff seriously. I know that a lot of MNB readers do, too, which is why I decided to do a special alert about Nimoy's passing.

    Unlike Spock, it won't be possible to bring Nimoy back from the dead, as was done in "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock." But it occurs to me that we actually have Nimoy's katra, or what the Vulcans would describe as his "living spirit." It can be found in hours and hours of television and film, and in memories that never will go away.

    Live long, indeed.