What’s cookin’

cookbooksI love cookbooks. I like to page through them, reading the recipes, mentally putting them together to figure out if something will work. I like the background stories that some of them include, and I imagine what it must have been like the first time that steaming dish made its way to the table. Mostly I like the way yet another assemblage of words–not prose, not poetry, not carefully crafted essays–can make the neurons fire in my brain to conjure pictures and flavors and smells. [Oh, how I love words and their power.]

Lately, though, I notice my cookbooks gathering dust. Never fear, I’m still feeding my family, but unless I’m reaching for a specific recipe that resides in the pages of my collection, I find myself reaching for my phone or my iPad to search the internet for inspiration.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that.

My approach is the same; I read through a recipe to assess it. I compare several different options. I imagine the outcome. It just feels so…impersonal. I miss holding the pages and smelling the paper, not to mention the fact that the screen on my phone gets pretty nasty from my internet cooking forays.

Still, it has its benefits. I have access to more resources than I could ever fit into my kitchen. I get the benefit of others’ reviews and commentary. [Note: ALWAYS read the commentary.] My cuisine choices are no longer limited by that which sits on my shelf. The world is really and truly at my fingertips.

As much as I love my hard copies and hope that paper cookbook publishing won’t fade away, on the whole, I think I’m far better off in this brave new world. I think we all are, actually, and two reasons stand out to me in particular:

  1. Accessibility. Anyone can find just about anything with an internet connection (free at most libraries for those who don’t have it at home). No longer are we limited by resources, e.g. how many/which cookbooks we can afford, what’s available in local stores, whom we know who can help.
  2. Competition. As a pretty firm believer in the corrections of the free market, I have to believe that increased accessibility and the corresponding increase in options will positively impact the quality of all. While things may look different in the end, I believe that survival of the fittest will make the winners–whatever they may be–far better than the original offering. I just have to be open-minded and keep a broad perspective.

It’s cookbooks for me, but it may be something else for you–I think the lesson is universal. Still, if you borrow one of my cookbooks, please don’t forget to return it!

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Purse-rverance

PurseI forgot my purse. By the time I realized it, I was 40 miles away from where it lay nestled unobtrusively in an empty file drawer at work. I had already been home, packed my kids in the car, and whisked them off to accomplish a flurry of errands that would finish with dinner at a restaurant. It wasn’t until we pulled into my son’s haircut venue that I realized the omission. Plans for the evening shattered, and we prepared to go home and sulk.

That lasted about 30 seconds.

My son had his debit card with him, so I sent him on his way to his haircut. I then took off with my daughter to unload half my closet at the dry cleaner while I mentally regrouped. When we returned 15 minutes later, I had a plan.

As soon as my son’s high-and-tight was complete, we headed to the neighboring bank and its ATM. Although my debit card was safely snuggled in my absent pocketbook, his was inches away in his wallet. Of course, his bank balance was likely not enough to cover dinner for our little threesome, but now comes the fun part.

By the time we pulled up to the ATM, I had already whipped out my phone, logged into my mobile banking app, and transferred money from my checking account to my son’s. I covered his haircut and the amount he was about to withdraw for our dinner. Two minutes and a few twenties later, we pulled away from the bank and started negotiating for our respective favorite restaurants. Crisis averted; our plans were saved.

I can’t stop thinking about that evening. At first I was awed by the flexibility afforded by electronic technology. (And why, oh why, can’t I just pay from my phone if I can move money around with it?) Look how far we’ve come. Eventually, though, I came back around to the fact that even with a full palette of digital options, they’re all worthless without the ability to string them together into something useful. They are simply tools; we still need craftsmen (and women) to effectively put them to work.

No matter what the technology, it is no substitute for reasoning and critical thinking skills. In fact, as technology advances, we have to move our minds along with it in order to effectively use the tools at hand. We have to keep up.

P.S. Although we had a great time at our dinner out, we would have had a great time at home, too. We’re cool like that.

Getting to know you

A colleague sometimes shares with me the trials and tribulations of an advisory board on which he participates. One of the board’s current challenges is to attract young people to come to its events. They see a generation gap and have not been able to bridge it effectively thus far. They’re afraid that the industry–or at least the sponsored events–are dying a slow death.

“Use more social media!” was the battle cry put forth at a recent meeting. “We should be on Facebook!”

I was shocked. “What is your message?” I asked. “How will you attract  your audience to your Facebook page? If they aren’t listening to you now, what makes you think they will seek you out somewhere else?”

As silence ensued, I took the opportunity to hop onto my soapbox. Social media is a tool, a medium. (In case you missed that, refer back to its name: social media.) A medium needs a message. It seemed to me that the problem was really a lack of ability to connect. No one really knew why younger people weren’t attending, but rather than figuring out the reasons, this group wanted to find a new bullhorn to project the same, tired message that hasn’t worked so far.

I asked my friend if anyone is trying to get involved with the desired audience. Has anyone talked to these apparently intimidating young people? Has anyone engaged them in conversation? Does anyone know what is important to them? Has anyone considered offering board membership to some of their key opinion leaders?

This is a classic case of not knowing the audience, of talking louder instead of talking smarter. If a particular audience isn’t attending an event, the first task should be to discern why, and the best way to do that is to engage those people in conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook. It’s no different than a telephone, though. When you make a call, you can’t have a conversation unless someone is on the other end. The hard part isn’t picking up the phone or creating a page; it’s getting someone to answer. The first thing you have to do is get to know them.

And that goes for any audience, not just young people.

Trust the technology

An old friend reminded me yesterday of a particularly annoying habit that seems to have become pervasive: following up on emails. I’m not talking about the kind of follow-up that provides additional information or seeks an answer after a prolonged period of unresponsiveness. I’m talking about the guy who pokes his head in your door seconds after you hear your computer chime, saying, “Hey, did you get my email?”

Or the woman who calls and says, “I just sent you an email. Let me know when you get it.”

Or the co-worker who stops by the minute you return from a meeting and, while your hand is still hovering over your mouse, says, “Hey, I know you probably haven’t seen it yet, but I just sent you an email about [fill in the blank] and here’s what it says. What do you think?”

As my friend put it, “Unless the server is down for an extended period of time, I got your email!

Sure, servers can fail or spam filters can suck out the unlucky few, but chances are that if you know me well enough to ask about your email, we’ve probably exchanged electronic messages in the past so 1) we’ve proven the server works and 2) you’re probably in my address book so you can stop worrying about the spam filter. Trust the technology and give me a chance to respond.

If you’re going to follow-up with a phone call or a visit to my office anyway, then don’t waste your time with the email in the first place. Unless you’re my mother. Then you can do what you want.

P.S. If you come to me asking because you really need a response and can’t wait, try phrasing it that way. Hey, I know you’ve been busy, but I’m up against a deadline and really need an answer on this one. Will you take a peek at my email and let me know what you think?