Sunday Cup of Joe from Detroit


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Week 233. Fall came to Detroit. In full swing, we had cold breeze (I believe it’s called the northwind) and changing leaves and the smell of wood fires. Every year I wonder if I’ll get sentimental about the seasons and try as I might, I can’t deny it. I always love the smell and look and hoodies of Fall. Typically it’s also college football, World Series and every now and then a Philadelphia Eagles game.

I’ve definitely followed sports less closely as the years pass. This past weekend had me nostalgic for tailgating in Happy Valley for a Penn State game. My friend Scott and I were discussing the Alabama-Georgia game last Saturday and finding ourselves more drawn than usual to missing out on the usual trappings of Fall.

My second confession behind being nostalgic for Fall and college football is that I skipped the Presidential debate on Thursday. Highly unusual for me, I just couldn’t imagine what I’d hear that would make it a valuable use of my time and emotional capital. As anyone who reads this Saturday Cup of Joe already knows, I care deeply about this country and believe that politics is important to how we craft and tell our story. It is also a barometer for how the country feels about the overall policies and direction we’re headed. It may not seem like politics matters especially day-to-day in between elections but it can (and does) move the larger levers of the economy.

It also acts as peer pressure — positive or negative — for how we’re “allowed” to treat each other. Of course, we are ultimately responsible for how we treat each other (and that includes posting widely on the Internet); yet it is clear that the language of the “national conversation” becomes the language of how we talk about our country, our states and our communities.

When I was a teenager, my parents controlled what music I could listen to because they did not want the language of certain lyrics to become the language in my mind. Somehow we’ve given politics a pass on that same standard. The language of politics has become the language we use at the grocery store or in referencing our neighbors.

Michigan is a battleground state so we’re seeing all the commercials and on top of the Presidential race, we also have a closely contested Senate race between incumbent Gary Peters and challenger John James. Between the Biden, Trump, Peters and James ads, we’ve had our share of political rhetoric. I’m sure you have too.

I still felt somewhat guilty for skipping the Debate on Thursday night — my sense of duty or whatever — but I’m kinda glad I did. Less than 10 days till Election Day…

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Couple of Thank You’s.

Thank you to everyone who responded to the memories and recollections of Chicago, 1968. I really appreciate your reading the Saturday Cup of Joe from Detroit and responding like that. I’ll be writing back but definitely wanted to mention it this week.

More importantly, THANK YOU!!!! to everyone who voted for the Downtown Boxing Gym in the Small Business, Big Impact contest. DBG won a new van to transport the students to and from the gym each day. THANK YOU for your help!

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Painkillers or vitamins?

What are you working on?

This question was posed by someone I spoke to this week — are you working on painkillers or vitamins? His point was not to work on the symptoms but on the underlying health. I don’t want to work on painkillers that simply address a symptom. I want to work on the health of the system, the health of the thing

How do you view it? Are you working on the symptom or the body?

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The mortgage industry has been battling the financial services versus fintech line-drawing battle for a few years now. Many mortgage companies and mortgage brokers employ technology only when required by regulation or demand to do so, while others built entire business models on technology-fueled platforms. In the mortgage industry the competition for leads continues to intensify. Speed to lead in refinance is the name of the game. When it comes to providing a home loan for someone buying a home, it is much more personal and referral-based. Some are looking at it as “point of sale,” ensuring they are the recommended company for realtors, financial advisors, or online listing services.

Last week I was reading Jason Frazier’s The Letter X newsletter.

Brian Vieaux, President of FinLocker, writes a guest spot each week and last week commented on Rocket Mortgage partnering with as moving toward the “point of thought.” Point of sale is so 2019. I’d like to go one step further.

The point of thought is exactly the direction credit & mortgage should be moving, but true point of thought is even further upstream than Given big data capabilities, mortgage companies should be thinking about how to proactively serve up a mortgage credit limit enabling shopping before a trigger. A trigger is everything from an online calculator, credit report inquiry or actual quote. Generally, before a trigger, there is a Zillow search or a look around the neighborhood or, predictably, a thought.

Point of thought means finding a way to be there from the beginning.

Point of thought is how consumer finance should operate.

Point of thought links the moment to the offer.

There is a series of lawsuits — one in Mississippi, one in the EU, to name a few — changing the use of the word “burger” for plant-based or veggie patties. Yup, cattle ranchers are challenging veggie burger.

“It’s not a burger unless it’s meat!” (Just imagine my best, gruff faux-outrage voice)

When I think of storytelling, I’m almost always imagining the active advocacy and promotion of an idea. Even if that promotion is framed as the rigorous defense of the idea. That, to me, is still storytelling and still offensive rather than defensive in nature.

Suing over “veggie burger” is not storytelling. It’s fundamentally defensive in both nature and tone. In fact, it’s the lack of belief in storytelling that causes strategic failures like this.

One possible explanation to create a law defining a burger as animal-product only (cause, of course, you can have a turkey burger) is the concern over consumer confusion.

How will people know what they are ordering or buying at Applebee’s or Burger King?

(Open scene to mid-sized SUV sitting in a standard Burger King drive-thru line)

Middle-aged man, golf shirt, comb-over stares out the driver-side window looking at an illuminated menu board. The men resembling Steve Carrell just slightly squints his eyes and mutters

“Whopper or Impossible Whopper — what?

His gazes slowly drifts up to the blue sky and into the clouds with anguish on his face he yells, “WHY IS THIS SO HARD?”

End scene.

Let’s assume for a moment that someone is genuinely concerned about consumer confusion. Even then, it does not seem to me the move is state-by-state legislation coupled with defensive litigation.

Even if you win, you don’t actually win.

You think consumers are confused between soy milk and actual milk or impossible burger and quarter-pounder but pick Starbucks all day every day over diner, gas station or coffee shop coffee. The point is not to be defensive but to so define the product and space that value and desirability is unchallenged.

Take the real estate industry for a minute –appraisers and closing attorneys, specifically.

At one time or another each of these groups has complained of being threatened or having their service infringed by another company/technology/industry/etc.

In both cases, these groups enacted laws or fiercely litigated laws keeping the role in the real estate transaction. The storytelling — forget value to the consumer or the industry, we need legal protection. But the rest of the story is the unspoken end to that sentence, we need legal protection because…

What about being an appraiser or being closing attorney is so fundamental to the transaction, fairness, the consumer, the system that it cannot be subject to the risks and competition of the free market?

Anytime you are creating laws to arbitrarily keep yourself in a transaction without a corresponding value proposition to the market you’ve already lost.

The entire conversation is what are you delivering to the consumer. Trust me storytelling is a big part of it. Rolex does not litigate the meaning of “watch,” they just changed their product to a “timepiece.”

Here, we’re necessarily talking about mainstream versus luxury but my point stands. Needing to resort to the law or litigation to defend the name or role in a consumer product or consumer transaction is a sign not of weakness (though that’s true) but of the larger failure to articulate value.

I’m comfortable allowing consumers to distinguish between types of burgers just as I believe that appraisers, closing attorneys, notaries can prove value to consumers and stakeholders if approaching the problem the right way.

Answer well to the challenge of threats and an industry will not just survive but thrive. Do not believe consumers are easily confused when it comes to brand value. Consumers will sniff out a deal and pay extra for added value (including purely status symbol value) and the longest running brands are still the longest running brands because they know how to deliver.

Innovate, execute, deliver and you’ll never find yourself scrambling to pass a law or enforce a law merely to survive.

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Speaking of innovation, I’ve had a bunch of conversations recently about how to approach the framework for consistency in innovation. Most recently, I had a conversation with my friend Saint John who works in the 3-D printing space. He provided one way to think of the cycles of innovation. Consider these steps for an idea and/or later the process of bringing the idea into reality:

1. Form — the idea takes shape

2. Storm — the idea must win internally for prioritization and resources

3. Norm — the idea becomes part of the company’s plan; everyone is on board

4. Perform — the idea must become reality; the product is born

Each step would have it’s own process or strategy as well. My team has begun the work of creating our framework for the “Form” step. We’ve not called it that yet, but I just mean in concept. We’re talking a lot about how work flows and the on-ramps and off-ramps. I find those to be useful constructs. Until the pandemic derailed our priorities and work for 2020, we were slowly formalizing the paths and processes where an idea “on-ramps” into our work and then what are the limited ways the work leaves our team.

Examples of off-ramps include: we decline to research the idea, we approve only a preliminary research phase before voting on whether we’ll devote greater time to the idea, we conduct the research and then hand off the product development to another team.

What are your on-ramps and off-ramps? Is the only on-ramp into your work email? Are you fundamentally reactive — waiting for work to hit your inbox? Are you in a proactive or development role where you must find work and then prioritize opportunities?

Good luck with your on-ramps and off-ramps this week. Especially those off-ramps, those are key to well-balanced week.

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I haven’t taken to recommending movies and TV in the Saturday Cup of Joe, however in the last few weeks I’ve run across a series of thought-provoking movies. This week it was the documentary The Perfect Weapon on HBO. The doc shows the progression of state-sponsored cyberwar and how it quickly targeted American companies. Unprepared, we were caught somewhat off-guard. This would have been right around the hack of Sony Pictures which is prominently featured in the program.

Moving quickly, we responded and now it seems like we’re in all-out cyberwar.

As something that’s getting very little attention in the political landscape of 2020, I thought it was worth mentioning. Definitely recommend The Perfect Weapon on HBO.

“Originality isn’t something one can simply will to manifest. Originality is the brilliant alchemy of critical thought and creativity.”

– Professor Stanley Hyman in the movie Shirley (2020) now on Hulu. (Elisabeth Moss is incredible as the author Shirley Jackson)

Bonus Content: Age-old Detroit question — American or Lafayette coney?

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Continued success and continue to answer well,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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