Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

European Futbol Is Better Than American Football

Aguero Man Ups Against David Luiz

European Futbol is better than American Football. That’s something I never thought I’d write, think, say or feel. But, it’s true.

I’ve never been a soccer guy. I grew up playing baseball and basketball. While the soccer team was practicing, I was busy running cross country. In trying to watch or follow soccer games, I found them to be boring snooze-fests. Hockey, for all of its lack of actual scoring at least had mean beating each other up. There was “action.”

As a dad though, I’ve been watching both Cora and John play soccer. They started out in the kickers program and have quickly moved into “U” play. Cora, in particular has really taken a shine to soccer and it to her. She’s very talented and certainly better at 9 than I ever was, at any age. I marvel at her skills, her work ethic and love for this sport.

Each year, I pick 3 new things to do or learn. In 2016, one of those 3, was to pick a soccer team, follow that team and root for that team, in hopes I would become more inspired and knowledgable. I figured, at worst, I would be able to understand the game better, which would help me appreciate what Cora was doing on the field.

Never did I expect to become, not only, smitten with soccer, but to see it as superior to watching American Football. Before I get to the rationale behind such a proclamation, let me explain how I got here.

Two of my very good friends are die hard soccer fans. They support Chelsea and Liverpool. Several work colleagues are also fans of teams in the English Premier League. Specifically I work with or have had the opportunity to work with fans of Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal. All of that made choosing the Premier League over other soccer leagues, quite easy.

So we have a league! But, we need a team. By default, any teams my friends and co-workers were supporting, were off the table. Half the fun in picking a team is the shit-talking and to pick a team someone else was already following would make that time-honored tradition more challenging.

Thus, I turned to the internet. I googled, “which Premier League team should I follow?” This lead to several quizzes. I took somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen quizzes to help narrow the field and hopefully lead to an obvious choice. The sum of these quizzes lead to a clear choice: Manchester City. In fairness, I would say, Arsenal routinely bubbled up as a choice that fit my answers.

After sharing the quizzes with several people, along with my answers, they understood how I arrived at Manchester City.

  1. They don’t have a storied history
  2. In soccer, money matters, and they have war chest
  3. They’re routinely in contention for the championship

But, they also rock the UNC Tarheel color of powder/baby blue. It was like fate.

So, Manchester City it was. I had a league and I had a team, but I knew nothing. So began my training, so to speak…courtesy of my 2 friends. For the first game of the Premier League season, I found myself at a bar around 6:30 AM, with my friend. We drank beer, ate breakfast, I asked questions, he answered, I asked more questions, he answered more, we drank more beer. 2 hours later, the game was over. We won. I was hooked.

Let me explain why I now believe soccer/European Football is better than American Football/NFL.

  1. There are NO commercials in soccer. None. Zero. They play 45 minutes of uninterrupted sport. They break for 15 minutes. They come back for 45 minutes. Think about that. No freaking commercials.
  2. Because of #1, the games never last more than 2 hours. An NFL game would last 2 hours (very unlikely), it could be 3 hours…it could be more. You never know.
  3. There’s constant unpredictable action. The keyword being, “unpredictable.” If it’s 3rd and 12 from your own 15, what do you think your team is going to do? I can tell you. A safe hand-off, a screen pass, or a designed roll out. What will the defense do? Easy! They will most likely back off, play safe, and ensure a punt will happen. It’s 100% predictable. Yes, things can happen, but for the most part, the game is scripted.
  4. Now, let’s talk about action. In a NFL game, where does the action come from? On the offensive side, you could argue it’s only with 4 players. The QB, the RB, the WR and the TE. That’s it. Defensively? The MLB, DE and CB. Realistically, on any given play, at most 6 players are involved in the action, so to speak. In soccer, sure, your Strikers do the bulk of the scoring, but every single person is involved in passing the ball, tackling, attempting an interception, playing for the counter-attack and so on. In the same way that West Coast basketball can be high energy with every player involved (think a Phoenix vs Golden State game), soccer is that, all the time.
  5. Because we live in the United States and for me, more specifically, I live in the Central Time zone, the games are on at 6:30 AM, 7:30 AM or 8:30 AM. Occasionally, they’ll be on at 10:00 AM. Games are generally played on Saturday or Sunday. What does this mean? Well, go back to #1. It means that by 8:30 AM, most game days, the game is over and the WHOLE day is still in front of me. Think back to college and your early morning tail-gating experiences for BIG games. That’s soccer, every weekend. You’re having a beer at 7:00 AM. You’re eating sausage, eggs and potatoes. You’re talking trash. You’re in your shirt or jersey and everyone knows what team you’re rooting for.
  6. This brings me to the people. I have watched Bulls games, Braves games, Rangers game and Giants games at bars. They’re fine. They’re fun. Perhaps the best bar experience was watching the Cubs World Series games at Chicago bars. The energy was there. But, it should be, it’s a World Series game. In all those experiences, I never made random temporary friends or felt a connection to other people at the bar. When you show up at a bar for your Premier League game, you instantly know who your friends are. They’re wearing the same colors as you. They welcome you in. They share in your anguish and if they’re fans of the other team they will in fact talk trash to you. The people make it fun. They make it worth getting up early for.
  7. Where as the NFL last 22 weeks or so, with 16 games, 1 bye and of course the playoffs, your soccer team plays year round. The Premier League is 38 matches, with roughly a 1-match a week pace. But, they also play in other tournaments. Your roller coaster lasts nearly an entire year. You’re pulled in for nearly 52 weeks. You care for 365 days.

Now, the above, while all true, does not mean soccer is perfect. In fact I have several gripes or things that still drive me mad.

  1. Too many games end in ties. I’m a big believer of wins and losses. The NBA and MLB have this right. Hockey and the NFL, do not. Every game should end up penalty kicks, if needed, to determine a winner, just like it happens in major tournaments.
  2. Your team’s jersey or kit as they refer to it (along with the shorts) changes every year. Literally, every year. Sometimes it’s a subtle change, sometimes it’s a major one. I could see how this is incredibly frustrating for fans. At the same time, this brings in boku revenue to the clubs, which help ensure NO commercials. So, yeah, I get it, but I don’t love it.
  3. Related to #2, this is sorta funny; they don’t have baseball caps. Think about it for second. Whether you follow the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or a college team, the fitted cap is an iconic way to show who you support. They don’t do baseball caps. They do scarves. Scarves? WTF?
  4. You could argue that the concept of “Any Given Sunday” is a good thing…or a bad thing. If you have Durant, Curry and Klay and you’re playing the Sixers, you’re going to win 99 times out of 100. If you’re the Cowboys with Zeke, Bryant and Das, you’re going to win 99 times out of 100 when you play the browns. But, even when you have Suarez, Neymar and MESSI you can lose to Tottenham (aka a team who is very solid, makes the playoffs, but never wins the championship) 50% of the time Maddening.
  5. There are so many strange rules. The most puzzling is that a soccer field need not be the same length and width. You can play a team in January and play on a field that’s 100 meters x 70 meters, then play a team in February with a field that’s 110 meters x 64 meters. Could you imagine playing on a smaller field in Dallas and a bigger field in New England? Huh?

So that’s what I got. I’m sold. I can’t believe it took me this long to get invested. Something people have asked me is why I got into it? It’s a good question. I know I covered a portion of this in the intro, regarding my daughter and her interest and proficiency. But, there is another reason. In the same way, I took a wine class and golf lessons so that I could be more involved in professional settings outside the office, soccer delivers on the same need. If you find yourself in any city across the world, at a conference of business meeting and think you have nothing in common with anyone in the room, I assure you will, if you follow soccer. Bring up a recent game between your team and another or Mess vs. Ronaldo and instantly you’ll have a connection.

While it’s not the sport of kings it is a worldly sport with universal appeal.

That Christmas Wow Moment

The TV genius, Dr. Gregory House, once said, “Gifts allow us to demonstrate exactly how little we know about a person. And nothing pisses a person off more than being shoved into the wrong pigeonhole.”

#Truth and #Preach

But, the opposite of that is when you completely deliver on the expectation in a way that creates a moment of pure joy and emotion.

We’ve all been in the situation where you really want something. You ask for it. You probably think you “deserve” it or you’ve “earned” it. You make that request very clear. But, you’re not 100% sure you’re going to get it.

And then…you get it.

For the last 6 months or so, my son, John, has been asking for an XBOX. He asked for it up until Christmas Even and I think he mentioned hoping “Santa” delivered it, when he checked the tree on Christmas morning.

After much discussion with his mom, we agreed, he could have one. So to the Amazon I went and purchased the XBOX One Madden Edition and Fifa 17. He’s a huge Madden Mobile player and really enjoyed demoing Fifa 17 at my condo.She got him a few other games and an extra controller. Quite the coordination!

This was the moment when he got exactly what he wanted.

Dang! Yeah, Christmas about more than a physical gift. I really do believe that and my kids genuinely understand it. But, in the same vein of “money can’t buy happiness”…but, I’ve never seen a person who did’t enjoy winning the lottery, we knew his mind would be blown. And blown it was. I honestly can’t recall ever feeling that way. I’m sure I acted that way, when I was a kid, but I can’t remember.

That emotion, that joy, that reaction…it’s something I want to bottle up and make sure every single person is able to feel.

It’s true that experiences can impart more on us than things. It’s also true that things can bring a short shelf life of bliss. But, every so often, you receive something so thoughtful and unexpected, that, yes, a “thing” can make you feel an extended and prolonged level of bliss.

How I Did With My 2016 Predictions

With only 2 weeks left in 2016, I’m at a point where I can fairly assess, how I did with my 2016 predictions. As I do every year, I look at each prediction and score it as an accurate prognostication, a miss or somewhere in the middle. An accurate prediction nets 1 point, there are no points for a miss and a 1/2 point for something in the middle. I try to be a tough grader; accountability is important.

F Report Card - Credit IndieWire.com

For a recap of my 2015 predictions, click here; you’ll see I scored a 6.5/10. Not bad, but not great. It was certainly not as great as my 2012 predictions which were 90% right or my 2014 predictions, which had an 80% success rate, but certainly better than my 2013 predictions, which was a laughable 60% hit rate.

With all that said and out of the way, let the judging begin! Note, the original prediction is listed first, with the analysis and scoring in bold font, after.

  1. VR, be it Oculus Rift, Cardboard or whatever, will fail in a manner only bested by Google glass. The price point will be too high, the platform too closed and the novelty too limited. I’m taking this as a win. There’s some clear diagnostics. For example it’s not a holiday must have / best seller. Let’s then add in the fact James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron), thinks VR is laughable. And, then of course, you have actual sales figures that paint a dismal situation.
  2. FourSquare will be purchased for less than 60% of it’s high point valuation. It will sell, not to Microsoft or Yahoo!, but to a platform like Yelp!, FitBit or OpenTable. Basically, it will sell to something unexpected. Complete miss. I’m shocked. If there was one thing I was sure of, it was this.
  3. Marissa Mayer, will choose to pursue other opportunities and the board will thank her for her efforts and service. I was close on this. Being practical about it, she’s just about gone. You have activist investors looking to replace the entire board and they announced a sale to Verizon. I can’t imagine her staying on when that deal closes, to work for Tim Armstrong. I’ll take a 1/2 point here. The spirit of what I was forecasting has come true.
  4. There will be a major hack of either “connected” cars or the connected home. You will see a major exploit of something like HomeKit, Weave or BMW’s connected service. This happened. It was big. But, it wasn’t as much a hack of specific platform or product as much as a hack of the “web” powering them. I’ll take a 1/2 point.
  5. A major sport will adopt digital technology in a way that changed their game and starts to make humans obsolete. For example, we’ll see a chip put in footballs and in the pylons to determine if a touchdown is a touchdown. There were a lot of small things throughout the year, but it took until last week for this article about Major League Baseball and wearables to give me a full point. Nothing like making it close!
  6. Tesla will start or continue, depending on your point of view, it’s long, slow, death spiral. I hit this one, but not quite out of the park. The stock is down 30 points from the start of the year. You also have the autopilot issues. Then of course there’s their inability to hit production forecasts. Tesla may not die, but my prediction was good.
  7. Chip credit cards will bring retail to such a slow crawl for checkout, that NFC forms for payment (eg Apple Pay), will become promoted by retailers, thus doubling, if not tripling, NFC transactions. Close, but not quite a cigar. Chips were a huge problem (leading to a lawsuit), but NFC didn’t take off. 1/2 a point.
  8. Tied to #7, walled garden payment systems, like Walmart Pay, will fail miserably. Nailed it, not much more to add.
  9. Social media will influence the election in a way that will bring about changes to how elections are run. For example, it’s well known that when you tell a population X candidate is winning by Y%, voter turnout suffers. Yes, social media influenced things in a major way, but too early to tell if future elections will change. 1/2 a point.
  10. When Donald Trump wins the election we will see a re-writing of how the role that the media plays, in general. This will be the tipping point for the decline of mainstream / traditional media and the rise of platforms (particularly, social media) as more important than TV and companies like CNN. This was a home run, grand slam, slam dunk and whatever way you want to describe it. Not only did Trump win, but it was his counter approach to mainstream media that sealed the deal.
  11. Snapchat will look to go public. It’s IPO will flop. Didn’t happen. When it does, I’ll be right.
  12. Twitter will rebound and regain 25% – 30% of its previous stock, high point of $69. Major miss. Not even close.
  13. Cell phones will reverse trend and get smaller, not bigger. With the launch of the Apple iPhone SE, I was on trend. There were other manufacturers who produced smaller phones, but we didn’t see a complete trend reversal. 1/2 a point.
  14. Drone delivery will happen. Amazon will be first, followed by Taco Bell. Amazon did complete a drone delivery. There were not first. Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer on who was, but I think it’s clear, Dominos was ahead of Taco Bell. All in all, a miss.
  15. Uber will face a period of growth flattening, due to democratic/blue states siding with unions to restrict growth. This will force Uber to seek new avenues for growth, beyond its core transportation delivery business or via other markets. This happened in a variety of ways. Let’s start with the Didi deal. Then you have the subscription service. You have the exit from Austin, a very blue city. And, we’ll finish with the overall growth slowing. Basically, yeah, I was right.

Wow, that was a lot. So let’s tally it up. The clear misses: 2, 11,12 and 14. The clear wins: 1, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 15. The half right predictions: 3, 4, 7, 9 and 13. All of that makes for a total of 8.5/15 or 56.7%, bringing my year tally to 70% (35/50).

Not the best year, but like I said upfront, I’m a tough grader. Some of those 1/2 points, other might view as a full point. 60% is an F, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. Maybe, next year, I’ll be better.

Earning Your Keep

John talking with his coach

This weekend, John’s traveling team played in a basketball tournament in Lakeville, MN. On Championship Sunday, John didn’t play a single minute and I could not have been more proud of him, his team and his coach.

John’s in 2nd grade and playing “up” with the 4th grade team. The kids are bigger, faster and more experienced. At this level, you have to earn your playing time. You are not guaranteed time on the court. There are no participation medals. Well, there are, but that’s just how the tournaments are run, not representative of his team.

I applaud his coach for explaining up front at the beginning of the season, that you need to work hard in practice, but working hard doesn’t mean you get to play and it certainly doesn’t mean you win. Rather than pout or complain about a lack of playing time, John clapped, rooted and supported his team. He stayed engaged, watching, observing, learning.

It’s such a nice change of pace from the “everyone plays” approach that seems to be becoming more mainstream. There are no handouts in life (well, there are, and there are too many, but you get my point) and learning now, that you have to earn opportunity and then when given that opportunity you must take advantage of it, is surely something that will benefit him in the long run.

On The Election

I pretty much avoid political commentary and discussion, on this site and in social media. There’s very little upside. That said, post election, there have been a ridiculous number of “hot takes” on what happened and why. Again, not going to give a point a view on that. I do, however, like to read a lot. I enjoy reading from a broad cross-section of opinions. The different points of view are helpful. The more you learn about another person’s point of view the better you can understand and empathize.

72andSunny Quote

The one article I read, that was actually worth sharing, analyzing and weighing in on, was from The Wall Street Journal and was titled, “Trump’s Win Has Ad Agencies Rethink How They Collect Data, Recruit staff.” In my opinion, the benefits from reading this thought provoking piece are not limited to marketers and data geeks.

Talk about a market correction!? From data, big data, modeling, predictive analytics…to…let’s go back to talking to people. As with most situations, we tend to over-correct. If you have a players coach and the team does bad, you hire the strict disciplinary coach. After you’ve focused so much on cost savings, that you’ve cut into the bone, there’s announcement about an unprecedented investment in the same area you’ve cut, for so long.

I don’t think a complete pendulum swing is needed, but I do think there’s a lot to be gleaned from the quotes. In particular, there were 3 things that really jumped out to me:

  1. The importance of the human element. It can’t just be about 1s and 0s. Ethnographic research is more critical than ever.
  2. Diversity is more than what is typically considered diversity. Socioeconomic and geography can’t be overlooked.
  3. What defines and makes up “aspiration” isn’t what we always think.

Data isn’t going away. But, what we do with the data, how we interpret that day and who is interpreting that data, may need a bit of a reboot.

Data Is Driving Accountability…Sorta

The hope and promise of digital marketing has always been, “you can measure it better than traditional media.” I got into digital marketing in 1997. Back then, decision makers were skeptical that the internet could be a business driver. The advertising options were basically limited to banners and paid search ads. Candidly, when you consider what digital marketing was up against, with those options, it’s easy to understand why marketers weren’t bullish.

Data Is The New Oil

However, the one thing that kep marketers coming back was the data. Digital was to be, the holy grail, of marketing measurement. Instead of wondering if something works, you’d know. Instead of debating if you were truly wasting 50% of your ad spend, you’d know. Were we making money from our efforts? Now, you’d have an answer.

Digital has always been held to a higher standard than traditional marketing, because of that promise. Few question the “viewability” of ads on TV, but everyone wants to question the merits of did real people see an ad, on the internet. Data and measurement, in so many ways are why:

  • Google remains one of the most trusted sources in advertising
  • Facebook has a marketing and advertising offering, that you simply can’t ignore
  • Uber, AirBnB and the rest of on-demand companies are skyrocketing

It’s almost 2017, we should be at a point where we don’t have to demand data. Data drives accountability and should be non-negotiable.

I was struck by this article from DigiDay, about Snapchat and their lack of data, accountability and transparency. This passage, is equal parts poetic and frightening.

Multiple brand execs have told Digiday that the hardest thing to swallow about Snapchat currently is that in a marketing landscape obsessed, ostensibly, with measurement and transparency, Snapchat worries them because it doesn’t provide the kind of metrics platforms like Facebook and Google do.

Why, on Earth, then, would you invest a $1? How could Snapchat be worth $25B, if it can’t tell companies, that their investment is driving business results? The answer lies in this passage, from the same DigiDay article:

Ultimately, the reason marketers don’t want to acknowledge that Snapchat may not work for them is because nobody wants to be “that” marketer who pooh-poohed it — only to find that it completely blows up later, said one marketer.

There were marketers, 1000s of them who pooh-poohed social media, in general. Invest a dollar into Facebook, that’s crazy, they said? Missing the boat on something like Facebook, meant you paid a significant amount to play catch-up. You also had to answer the question of why we/they/that company, missed such an “obvious” boat.

It’s been said that “data is the new oil.” For those of you think oil is an energy source of declining value, I’m willing to concede oil for the next best energy source (solar, electricity, etc.) and say, “data is the new solar.” But, the point is, you wouldn’t invest in an energy source that’s completely theoretical and in essence, vapor. To me, that’s what’s happening with Snapchat.

We can not, as marketers, demand viewability, attribution, etc. and then prop up Snapchat or any ad-tech offering, lacking end-to-end data transparency, as the future. It’s hypocritical.

We’re getting better as an industry. The detailed reporting from the ANA and the subsequent response from the marketing, regarding transparency, was long overdue and proportional to the warts that were uncovered. But, if we want to deliver on the promise of digital marketing, we need to evolve from accepting accountability…sorta to full accountability. We must be vigilant or risk a reset back to 1997.

The Comparison Conundrum

We’re all guilty of falling into the trap that is, comparison. When we’re at the gym, we look left, we look right and we then evaluate how we’re stacking up. If you’ve ever been running, especially in a race, we size of the competition, so to speak and make a snap judgement about whether we should be faster or slower than someone. There’s of course the old, “grass isn’t always greener” concept, where we look at our neighbor’s lawn, house, car, etc.

Apple vs. Organge

This passage from a study, published in Neuron, really nails it:

We found that although people estimated their abilities on the basis of their own performance in a rational manner, their estimates of themselves were partly merged with the performance of others,” says first author Marco Wittmann, a doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Oxford. “The findings potentially have implications for social interactions in the workplace as well as clinical disorders such as depression.

In essence, we’re wired to constantly evaluate ourselves, not against our own goals, but against what we perceive someone else to be achieving. Perception is a funny thing. It can drive you mad. I know, because, I’ve definitely been there.

On the one hand, comparisons are helpful, because they provide context and a way to understand how something is performing relative to a norm or average. When used correctly, comparisons are incredible helpful. When I say “correctly”, what I mean is that when the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and a norm to work off of, you have a perfect combination of elements needed to make a comparison useful. For example, is my 7 year old son, underweight or not growing fast enough? Can my 9 year old daughter read at a 4th grade level? A 5th grade level? Or is she reading below her grade level? In both of those scenarios, you have known variables (weight, height), you have a norm (avg weight/height for a given gender, at a given age) and you have defined evaluative criteria (that height or weight relative to the norm).

In those types of scenarios, comparisons are helpful, useful and logical. But, where comparisons start to fall apart is when you begin evaluating situations that are not as mathematical and structured as the height and weight situations. In particular, as someone who’s worked for other people for ~20 years and managed people for more than 10, there are 2 workplace scenarios that come up, routinely, that create great stress, because the comparisons aren’t structured.

  1. Promotions: Why wasn’t I promoted, but so and so was? Good question. I’ve asked it before. I don’t ask it anymore. I stopped 10 years ago. Why? Because, trying to compare yourself to someone else, even if you’re in the same role, is a fool’s errand. There are so many variables to consider. Everything from soft skills, like “executive presence” to experience and tenure to active career planning conversations. Additionally, if what you’re looking for is a promotion, comparing yourself to the job description for the role you want is far more structured, logical and productive. Lastly, I once found myself in a situation, early on in my career, when a peer of mine had been promoted. An email was sent out. I was irked. I scheduled time with my manager and basically explained how unfair it was and how was more qualified than the other person. She let me go on for about 15 minutes. And, finally, she said, “You are being promoted. Well, you were. It was taking longer than anticipated, because we also wanted to give you a bonus, on top of your increase. But, candidly, this outburst, gives me hesitation.” I did get the promotion and I learned a valuable lesson. #1, don’t compare yourself to other. #2, there may be other things at work, that you’re not aware of. Be careful not to put your foot in your mouth.
  2. Compensation: I should be making more money. The market rate for my role is $X and so and so makes $Y. Fair compensation is important in an organization. In an ideal world, a great organization, continually evaluates existing compensation, market rates, employee potential and then continually looks to invest fairly into their employees. “Fairly”, you’re asking; yes, “fairly.” Let me explain. Let’s say you have 3 employees, with the same title, experience and role. Person A, has been with the company for 5 years and joined in the same role they’re in, today. Person B, was hired 3 years ago, but from another internal team. Person C, was hired this year. It is conceivable and likely, given how they came into the roles, that their pay would be different. As I wrote in 2014, if you changed jobs every year, you’d be guaranteed to be evaluated against the current market rate. Said another way, your max base compensation potential, is always gained when/if you switch jobs every single year. That’s just one problem with evaluating comp. You have other variables like performance level. Is person A, statistically a better performing person than person B? If so, wouldn’t their increases each year be higher? Or, would you pay equalize the increases so that a high performer is compensated the same as good or poor performer? It’s not black and white.

I have found, over the years, the single distinguishing characteristic, between good and great employees, is an appreciation for context. For example, asking for a promotion, 3 months after you’ve been promoted, is unrealistic. Demanding a raise of Y%, when the company just had layoffs and reported poor financial results, is tone deaf. Context is critical. Context is understanding the nuances. Having an appreciation for context, makes you a better, more well-informed employee. With context, you can make smart comparisons.

Just because you can make a clear, structured, factual and logical comparison, doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. The world is filled with scenarios where value is in the eye of the beholder. The Miami Heat didn’t value Dwyane Wade the same as the Chicago Bulls. As such, Wade left the Heat and joined Chicago. Why? Context. The Heat wanted to get younger. The Bulls wanted to win now. It’s that simple.

Lastly, I’ll answer the age old maxim of “that’s like comparing apples and oranges.” Yes, you can, in fact, compare apples and oranges, if the variables are known, the evaluative criteria established and there’s a norm to work off. If the question is which fruit is a better source of Vitamin C, this is an easy comparison. If the question is, which fruit is better, you have a difficult comparison, full of subjectivity.

 

10 More Whiskeys To Try

Hibiki 17 at an ancient temple in Kyoto.

2 years ago, after starting a journey that I didn’t even realize I was taking, I developed a list of 10 whiskeys to try. Since then, I’ve personally tasted nearly 100 distinct and unique whiskeys, in 4 different countries and more than a dozen states. I’ve found whiskeys that are just not for me, but I know would be great for others and then I’ve come across whiskeys that I’ve absolutely fell fallen in love with. What a trip it’s been!

In adding 10 more whiskeys to the original list of 10 whiskeys to try, I wanted to keep with the same basic principles.

  1. You should be able to easily buy this bottle online or at a store.
  2. If you can’t buy the bottle, any solid whiskey bar, should have it.
  3. The cost should equal good value. That doesn’t mean the cost will be cheap, but in thinking about overall taste and/or experience, the cost should be in-line.
  4. I’m not choosing a specific bottling year. Keep in mind taste does change subtly in different vintages.
  5. Where possible, I’m avoiding large mainstream recommendations.

With that out of the way, here’s 10 more whiskeys to try.

Westland Sherry Wood: Sherry finishing has become a thing, again, thanks to Yamazaki’s offering being named the 2014 best whiskey in the world, by Jim Murray. This is a young whiskey. Roughly 3 years old. Usually young whiskeys are raw, untamed and lacking a smooth finish. Sherry helps manage that issue. This is such a great whiskey. You get a wonderful flavor, a beautiful color and a nice finish. A bottle will run you ~$85.00 and a glas ~$16.00.

The Hakushu 12: I don’t normally go for peated whiskeys. They’re just not my cup of tea. I don’t like the smoke. The Hakushu 12 changed my point of view. You get smoke, but you also get sweetness and spice. It’s a flavor conundrum, but oh so pleasant. At $75 a bottle and $14 a glass, this is a solid value and is sure to please all palettes.

Nikka Coffey Grain: They also offer the Nikka Coffey Malt. They couldn’t be more different. Make sure you know what you’re buying. I don’t recall what prompted me to buy my first bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain, but I’m glad I did. It’s probably become one of my top 5 favorite whiskeys. There’s nothing bad about it. It’s rich in color, has a wonderful nose, smooth on the taste and with a pleasant finish. At roughly $55 a bottle, you can’t go wrong.

Oban 14: My friend, Zach West, introduced me to Oban. From the first glass, I could see why. This is the whiskey people should be given when they’re introduced to whiskey. It’s light in color, neutral in taste (goes with anything) and lacks the “burn” people associate whiskey with. There is simply nothing not like, including the price! For only $50 a bottle, you get all that!

Ichiro’s Malt and Grain: Not a lot of people know about Ichiro’s whiskey. Google Ichiro Akuto to learn more. The Malt and Grain product, is a marrying of his whiskey with whiskeys from across the globe, to create a perfect blend. Heck of a story, right? It’s a heck of a whiskey too!  Fruity, floral and smooth, this is one great tasting whiskey. This might be a little harder to find and will set you back $125, but like I said at the beginning, I’m focusing on value and this is great value.

Very Old Barton: I was persuaded to visit the Old Barton distillery by a friend. She raved about it. So, I visited. She was right. Let me get this up front, Very Old Barton costs $20 a bottle. Yes, $20. Why it’s only $20 is anyone’s guess. It’s a fantastic bourbon.

High West A Midwinter Nights Dram: What is this whiskey? Well, it’s complicated. Technically, it’s just their Rendezvous Rye. But, it’s then finished in port and French oak barrels. Similar to sherry, a port finish offers a certain sweetness to a whiskey. I snatched this bottle up from the High West Distillery in Utah. At $90 a bottle, I had high expectations. I was impressed.

Sazerac Rye: This is the perfect whiskey for making cocktails. The Sazerac Rye is fine with a cube, but shines in a cocktail. I was once a Bulleit Rye or Basil Hayden cocktail guy. After having Sazerac Rye, that all changed. Full of flavor and the right amount of spice. This is a great choice for reminding you what a good whiskey cocktail should taste like. Oh and it’s only $35 a bottle!

Angel’s Envy Bourbon: At $45 a bottle, you’re getting one heck of a unique bottle, a refined smooth finish (thanks to the port barrel finishing) and enough punch to remind you that you’re drinking whiskey. I find it to be spicy, but balanced, with a great nose. One of the few whiskeys, in my opinion, that benefit from a drop or 2 of water.

Knob Creek Rye: Dark and rich, like maple syrup, in color, with a good, but not great nose and surprisingly butterscotch/toffee smoothness on the palette, this rye was so much more than I expected. And, at $35 a bottle, it’s a steal!

That’s 10, folks. You should be able to score these at your nearest bar, liquor store or online. I would like to add, that if you’re willing to spend some time hunting and/or opening up your wallet, here are 5 other whiskeys to check out: Yamazaki 18, Willett XCF, Blade and Bow 22, Old Pulteney 21 and my personal favorite, Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope.

On Camera Gear

There’s a long standing joke, told by photographers, based on Arnold Genthe’s autobiography, ‘As I Remember‘ that goes something like this:

A photographer invites his friend and his wife over for dinner. While waiting for dinner to be plated, the wife looks over the great photos on the wall and says, “I love these photos, they’re amazing. You must have a great camera.” The photographer smiles and nods his head. A few weeks later, the couple returns the favor and invites the photographer friend over for dinner. After clearing his plate, the photographer expresses to the wife who made the dinner, “I absolutely loved this dinner. It was amazing. You must have great pots and pans.”

The point of the story of course is that it’s the photographer who is responsible for the great photos, it’s not the gear that’s used, just like it’s the chef who prepares the meal.

Photographers love this story, because it over-values their contributions, while undervaluing the tools. I subscribed to that line of thinking for years. But, eventually, you realize the gear does matter and probably matters more than we’re willing to admit.

I’m often asked why my photos are so sharp, have such great color, etc. And I tell people, outright, it’s the gear. It’s because I’m shooting a Nikon D810 with a Zeiss 50mm Makro Milvus lens and you’re shooting with your iPhone. This isn’t to say an iPhone can’t take great photos. They absolutely can, under the right conditions.

Buddha in Kyoto. Taken with Nikon D810 and Nikon 35mm 1.4 G.

But, better gear gives you a better shot of capturing the moment. When you can shoot 8 frames per second at 24 megapixel resolution, with a full frame sensor, you’re going to have a better chance than shooting with an iPhone 6. That said, the gear can only take you so far and it can also highlight mistakes in technique.

I’ve been shooting since I was about 8. Always, Nikon. Always. From manual manual focus lenses and manual camera bodies like the Nikon FE2 to the legendary auto focusing Nikon F5 to the first real digital consumer SLR, the Nikon D100 to my current Nikon D810, I’ve owned many different camera bodies and no shortage of lenses. I’ve also tried dozens of digital image processing software suites. Here’s my accumulated knowledge and advice for what to buy:

  1. You’ll have a lot of options for camera bodies. But, at a high level, you have Full Frame, Cropped Sensors and Micro Sensors. As a general rule of thumb (but not an absolute), the larger the sensor the better the image quality, color fidelity especially at night. You pay more for Full Frame…and by more, nearly double. If you can afford Full Frame, go Full Frame. But, never invest in the Full Frame at the expense of quality lenses. Never.
  2. Once you pick a body type, you’ll pick a brand. Though my allegiance is with Nikon, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter which brand you pick. Honestly, there isn’t.
  3. Lenses are more important than bodies. As a rule of thumb, avoid zoom lenses. Most are cheap. They promise you versatility, but you sacrifice so many other benefits. Think of lenses like knives in a knife set. Knives have a purpose. Lenses have a purpose. Don’t buy a new lens, until you’ve mastered the previous one. Also, don’t buy a knife set. Buy individual knives. Also, buy lenses that are fast. Where possible F1.4, but you won’t lose much going to F1.8. And generally, you’ll save hundreds of dollars going from F1.4 to F1.8. My recommendation is to look at a 50mm F1.4 lens. Regardless of brand, it will run you about $500. A F1.8 version will be half that.
  4. Get a good quality camera strap. I recommend the OP/TECH Reporter series.
  5. There is no such thing as the perfect Camera bag. Too many options. Too many use cases. But, I nice versatile solution that’s low cost would be the Lowepro Orion. It’ll carry your camera, 2 lenses a flash and some other supplies. It’s also lightweight, durable and doesn’t look like a camera bag, which means it doesn’t attract the same potential theft risk.
  6. Work on your form. There’s nothing more impactful than holding a camera the right way. Doing it the right way, eliminates vibration, making your images sharper. There’s no shortage of links and books that will help you improve in this area.
  7. Avoid cheap tripods. What you gain in cost, you’ll lose in performance. Here’s the thing about tripods. You’ll probably only need one, over your lifetime. Yep, just one. Spending $300-ish, might see, crazy, but not when you amortize it over a decade of shooting.  I recommend something like this, from Giottos. It’s carbon fiber, a solid height and supports 3rd party heads and plates.
  8. You will need software to process and manage your images. Think of it like a digital darkroom and file cabinet. For oganizing and managing images, I use Adobe Light Room. If you’re looking to save cash, both Microsoft and Apple, offer free options that do the job. Your camera manufacturer will also offer you free software with the purchase of your camera. They’re fine. At some point, though, you’ll want something better. When that happens, get DxO.
  9. Buy a portable hard drive to backup your library. I have over 10,000 digital images. They’re backed up to a Lacie hard drive and backed up again to another hard drive.
  10. Avoid anything called a “kit.” For example a camera kit, will contain a camera and 1 or 2 lenses. Run. Run. Run away. Per advice #3, you think you’re getting a deal, but in reality you’re getting mediocre lenses. You’ll also see things like a starter kit, which might contain a cheap tripod, a memory card and some other things. Again, this seems like value. It’s not.

Beyond the gear, take a class. Yes, I’m serious. Take a class that will teach you how to use your camera, proper form, composition, etc. Your pictures will be better for it. Your local community college probably has a course that’s less than $150. It’s money well spent.

Lastly, go out and experiment. Decide you want to shoot something, be it a bird, graffiti, architecture, alleys or trains. It doesn’t matter, just practice. Tied directly to this, never accept or offer to shoot someone’s wedding or other major moment, until you’ve practiced, apprenticed and are willing to put your name and finances behind what you’re committing to. It’s irresponsible.

So there your have it! Hopefully, this will help you become a better photographer, even if all you’re capturing are your kid’s birthday parties. And believe me, as a father of 2, those are some of the most important memories to photograph.

 

Killer Customer Service Strengthens Loyalty

Happy Customers (Photo Credit, Shopify)

In any “relationship” between a customer and a company, there are no shortage of things that can go wrong. I get to see this up close and personal, every day, in my role, at Walgreens. From the item wasn’t in stock, to an extra call to your Dr. needed, a coupon not working the way the customer expected and a line at checkout there’s a lot of ways for us to miss the mark. Granted, I’m biased, but I think we do a great job of listening to customers, understanding their tension points and looking for ways to reduce, or even eliminate those tension points all together. Try the “refill by scan” feature in the Walgreens app, the next time you need to refill your prescription and you’ll never go back to calling in.

Statistically, with so many things that could go wrong and high customer expectations, I always appreciate and in some cases, find it quite remarkable, when companies either:

  1. Proactively address a bad experience
  2. Go seemingly, above and beyond

Generally, if you were to ask someone about their last negative experience with a company, they can answer instantaneously. But, ask them about a great one and it’ll take some time to provide an example. Just look at your social media feed; you’ll see complaint after complaint and negative experience after negative experience. I too am guilty (though less so these days) of over highlighting the bad and rarely shining a light on the good. And yes, there is a lot of good out there.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about 3 fantastic customer service experiences I had in the past month.

Southwest

I love Southwest airlines. I tell people how wonderful Southwest is, so much, I’m sure they think I work for the company or somehow get compensated. They don’t always get it right. And, when they don’t I share that with them and others. Airline travel is tricky. There’s a lot of variables that are 100% out of the airline’s control. For example, weather. On a recent flight, we were 4 hours delayed. This was not a weather issue, necessarily. This was mechanical one. It started with the inbound flight being delayed because of weather in Denver, I believe. But, they were able to make some magic happen and re-route another plane to Minneapolis, leaving us only 30 minute delayed. Much of that, they could make up in the air. But, when that plane landed, they had a mechanical issue. No idea, what it was. But, an hour later, they let us board. We go to take off and…another mechanical issue. Back to the gate. 2 hours later, finally, we take off. All-in-all, we were 4 hours late. This was a 7 PM flight, originally. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. But, before I even had a chance to complain, I received an email from Southwest, apologizing for the situation. To boot, they even provided a $100 flight credit. Think about that. They knew they screwed up. They knew customers were impacted. They knew loyalty would be tested. And they knew to try and make it right. Bravo!

Verizon Wireless

Raise your hand if you love your wireless company? That’s what I thought. I’ve been with Verizon for 10 years. Yes, I pay more than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and every other competitor, but Verizon has always had great reserve, that’s reliable and killer customer service. The other day, was a great example of that amazing customer service. I woke up, as I normally do, at 6:30. I picked up phone, which apparently, was blowing up all night. I had 20+ text messages. Well, look at me, Mr. Popular, eh? Not exactly, it was a text message warning from Verizon every time, we, as a family, went over our 12 GB monthly plan. Somehow, we chewed through 20+ gigabytes of cellular data…over night…on just one person’s phone. This made no sense, for a lot of reasons. I mean, let’s start with, that’s a lot of data to go through in 8 hours, over night. Also, it was limited to just one family member’s phone. Then, you have the fact, we’re always under our 12 gigs. Oh, and, we were only 4 days in to the billing cycle. Something was wrong, right? I called Verizon and spoke with Justin. Justin listened to my situation. Offered some help. Reviewed my history. He was mystified and agreed something was off. He connected me with Apple, directly, so they could trouble-shoot. Justin promised to call me back within 30 minutes to see what Apple had to say. Apple did and agreed something wasn’t right. Justin called back. Yes, he called back. When’s the last time that’s ever happened? I filled him in. He then put me on hold, connected with another Apple person and someone else at Verizon. Time on hold, was no more than 5 minutes. When he came back, he said, he didn’t have a solution. But, to make things right, he would up my plan to 50 gigs, ensuring I’d have the data needed for the rest of the month. Then, next month, he would personally credit us for the difference, switch our plan back to the original plan (a legacy plan, by the way) and call me back personally to confirm. We even set an appointment for that call. Mind, blown!

Room & Board

Some people refer to Room & Board as, Room and Broke. Yeah, you pay a premium for their great furniture, white glove delivery and, you got it, great customer service. Last fall we purchased a coffee table. We love this coffee table. Last week, I noticed something wrong with it. The front left corner was separating. Strange. Odd. R&B has great craftsmanship and all their furniture is very durable. I emailed R&B about my situation. Leah responded the same day. She expressed dismay, shock and indicated how bad she felt. She asked for photos to help her understand the situation. What she didn’t do was accuse me of somehow being behind the issue. She didn’t cast blame. She asked for information that would help her, help me. I sent the photos. She asked for a few more, from a different angle. Each time I responded, she responded, the same day. After 2 days of back and forth she wrote me to say:

  1. She felt bad
  2. They want to make it right
  3. She had already conferred with her manager and her manager agreed they should replace it
  4. But, there was a problem, the designer, no longer makes this piece….
  5. However, she was going to write the designed and ask if they could make a 1-time exception, given the circumstances

From there, she explained, she’d back to me in a week. 4 days later, she wrote with unbelievable news. The designer, would in fact make the replacement unit…at NO charge. R&B would handle the delivery and the removal of the defective unit. Again, this was an item that was 9 months old! Think about that. Wow!

Look, there are great examples of companies doing the little things and the big things. But, it’s true, the old maxim about a person with a good experience telling 10 others, but a person with a bad experience, telling 1,000. Of late, I’m trying to celebrate the great examples and pausing before I share the bad ones. Try it.