Monthly Archives: May 2020

Ep. 83 – Tooling Machines to Fight COVID-19

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Gordon Erickson, founder of KWALYTI Tool in Batavia, Illinois. KWALYTI specializes in tooling up packaging machines, often for food products such as meat and cheese. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, KWALYTI has played an essential role in combating the epidemic. The company has tooled machines to package cotton swabs for coronavirus testing. Soon it will be tooling machines that produce pouches for holding N95 masks so they can be sterilized for reuse.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

(2:45) Gordon talks about his company KWALYTI, a machine shop, located in the Batavia, Illinois. He says KWALYTI rebuilds and tools up vacuum packaging machines, primarily used in the meat and cheese industry. When you see the vacuum packages holding hotdogs or bacon they are probably produced with the type of machines his company works with. 

(5:00) Gordon talks about tooling packaging machines for both the food and medical industries. For the medical industry KWALYTI has tooled machines that vacuum pack suture removal kits and packages of gauze. KWALYTI also services and troubleshoots the machines it supplies.

(9:30) Gordon says that KWALYTI has suppled three machines to Vienna Beef, the hotdog brand that Chicago is famous for.  

(10:50) Gordon talks about how KWALYTI has been relied upon during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says when Illinois Governor Pritzker instituted the shelter in place order he quickly got a call from Vienna Beef and some other customers telling him the company needed to stay up and running because it was their main parts and service provider for their packaging machines. Also during the pandemic, demand for vacuum packaging machines arose when food that had usually gone to restaurants was diverted to grocery stores.

(13:30) Gordon talks about supplying molds to a company in Florida to change over its machines from packaging syringes to packaging nasal swabs for virus testing. He said the company was running three shifts a day making 3” swabs. 

(15:30) Gordon says that KWALYTI is in the process of making a perforating system that goes onto a machine to makes special pouches. Medical workers will put their used N95 masks in the pouches, which then will undergo an autoclave sterilization process overnight so they can be reused the next day. An autoclave process exposes the pouches to 250 degree Fahrenheit direct steam. The pouches have one side made of plastic and the other side made of a material called Tivek.  

(18:45) The same company that makes pouches to sterilize the masks also had KWALYTI make a tool to use in machines that make plasma bags. He says some of the tooling his company produces could have taken months to import from Germany, but he was able to produce them in a week.

(20:20) Gordon says he doesn’t point the finger at the government for not being more ready to deal with supply chain problems because nobody could predict what was going to happen. He says many critics are “hindsight engineers,” and in his case, suppliers knew right away they needed to insure food packaging machines stay up and running. 

(23:40) Gordon says he likes his business because it helps people people make their ideas happen. He says that tooling machines to combat COVID-19 doesn’t give him much more purpose in his work than he had before because he always felt his products were vital. Though he says right now he has more pressure than usual to get products to customers faster. 

Question: Should people wear face masks when they go out of the house?

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Do You Trust Yourself?

By Lloyd Graff

Deciphering the path of business through the COVID-19 mess is more difficult than finding your way through Boston without Google Maps. 

Stock markets zoom while Hertz declares bankruptcy. Oil prices fall to $18 a barrel but then double in five weeks. Auto plants shut down en masse but then reopen to parts shortages from Mexico, which didn’t want to produce until GM, Toyota, and VW leaned hard on the government.

The political and scientific elites caution us not to reopen because a mistake could mess up their reputations. They scare us about the “second wave” that may be coming sometime.

Meanwhile, the salon owner worries that she may never comb out another wave at her shop if she can’t reopen.

Small businesses navigate through government bureaucracies to claim the cash to survive, not knowing how much they will have to pay back because the SBA itself doesn’t understand the authorizing legislation. Washington consultants earn their juicy retainers by explaining stuff even the dudes who wrote the laws don’t understand.

People ignore barricade near Chicago’s North Avenue Beach.

The boardwalk fills up in Venice Beach, California, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In Chicago, real people keep knocking down the fences that the park police keep erecting to keep them off the grass. In Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, where the governors took the risk of opening before other states, the caseload from COVID did not change.

There are at least a dozen possibilities for successful vaccines. With a decent chance we’ll have a real one before Christmas, and a drug is being made today that really does help reduce hospital stays.

Yet 100,000 people have died in the United States.

The press makes its living by promoting bad news. Maybe there would be no pandemic without cable news. But there is 20% unemployment, doors are locked, cities have emptied, and I am afraid to go to my own anniversary party. 

Yet somehow Americans seem to retain their optimism. The smart people predicted new home buying would fall apart. Yet yesterday the Commerce Department stats showed that real people put down real money and took out real mortgages to buy more homes in April than in March. People are making airline and hotel reservations. They probably are even nutty enough to plan cruises.

But if you are running a machining business, even if you are making respirator parts, it looks iffy. Will people start buying new cars? There are lots of leases ending, but dealerships are quiet because they seem like scary places to go to. 

Major League Baseball can’t seem to figure out if players can take showers if it resumes.

We live in the land of phases.

I am coming around to the idea that government should trust people to decide their next steps. It would be chaotic, I know. Most old people will not do dumb stuff like going to the beach or a restaurant. Young people will mix it up and some will get sick, but probably not real sick. 

We could have school this fall for those who want to go. We will get closer to the herd immunity that a successful vaccine could complete. 

Death in the economy by asphyxiation could be defeated. China would lose the COVID-19 war. Toilet paper would be everywhere. 

Is this crazy?

Question: Do you trust yourself to make the right decisions regarding COVID-19? Do you trust other people?

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Best of Swarfcast Ep. 66 – Creating Products People Use, with Rick Miller

By Noah Graff

Our podcast team is taking a short break this weekend to enjoy time with our families (virtually in some cases). In the meantime, this is one of our favorite episodes from earlier this year.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

In January, we interviewed Rick Miller, owner and co-founder of Elijah Tooling, a company that sells innovative CNC work holding equipment. Rick has a knack for coming up with unique products and has several patents in the work holding sector. He says that innovative ideas are vital for success, but getting customers to buy into those ideas is what makes for a successful business.

Main Points (Time codes according to audio)

(3:05) Rick talks about the origin of his business. Before producing work holding equipment, he and his brothers started a programming company for milling machines in 1990, but the business failed.

(7:00-9:30) Rick discusses the captive fasteners Elijah Tooling produces for CNC milling. They reduce the need for bolts and clamps in work holding by standardizing processes. He said it wasn’t a new concept, but the ability to buy a product off the shelf for that purpose was novel at the time. The company today has three patents on work holding products.


(9:30-13:00) Rick gives technical details on some of Elijah Tooling’s Products and discusses various applications they are used for.

(13:15-15:30) Rick discusses the ROI on his work holding fixtures. He gives one scenario in which one of his customers could save $4,000 per month by using his products.

(15:30) Rick talks about the challenge of getting customers to adopt his products. He says that often coming up with great ideas is easy, but making people understand why they would want a product is the most difficult task. On the video he talks about a T-slot vice the company created that wasn’t successful in the market place.

(19:20) Rick talks about a product Elijah Tooling produces called a zip bushing, which is a combination of a bushing and a threaded insert that come together in a fixture.

(21:20) Rick talks about his creative process. He says inspiration often comes from talking to customers about which existing products need to be improved.

(24:10) Rick talks about Elijah Tooling’s use of social media and videos that talk about the company’s products and business. He works with one of his sons who has a social media marketing company. They found that for the videos to be effective it was necessary for him to host them.

(27:00-37:30) Rick talks about sabbaticals he takes to find inspiration. He goes away for a week completely alone—no friends, no family, and no TV. He reads, he journals, he eats and sleeps when he feels like it, and does a lot of praying. On a recent sabbatical he decided he was going to eliminate all debt from his life.

(38:00) Rick says one of Elijah Tooling’s main focuses in 2019 was figuring out the company’s “why.” He wanted himself and his employees to understand their purpose.

(39:45) Rick says in 2020 Elijah Tooling will be focusing on growth by improving the company’s systems and reenforcing trust with its customers.

Question: What tool would you like to see invented?

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50 Years, Still Great

By Lloyd Graff

My wife Risa and I will celebrate 50 years of marriage this Sunday. It sounds like an awfully big number. I don’t feel old enough for that number, and Risa looks like 45 or 50 on a bad day. 

Less than half of the adults in the country are married today, but for Risa and I it was a natural fit. I started talking about marriage a few weeks after we met in January of 1969. She was 17 years old and a freshman at the University of Michigan. I was a graduate student, recently back from military training. Risa had barely been out on a date and suddenly it was hard for her parents to find her at night. They rushed from Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet me six weeks after we met in Ann Arbor. When they learned that I followed a Jewish prayer ritual every morning, similar to that of her father, Risa said she felt like “they gave me away.”

The truth is, that one of the things that has bound us together over those many years is our mutual but different commitment to Judaism. Growing up, I developed a powerful, visceral connection with the Jews of the Holocaust. Although I did not have an immediate personal relationship with people who died at the hands of the Nazis, I could not get thoughts of it out of my head. Risa’s connection was more a social one, connected to Jewish ritual.

My parents accepted Risa Levine of Charlotte about as well as they could. Their basic viewpoint was that nobody was really good enough for their firstborn. But I had never had an interesting girlfriend before, and if I was as sure of myself as I seemed to be, they might as well go along with the program.

Risa and I have had an enormous emotional attachment from the first day of our relationship. On the first night we met at the Michigan Union, we talked until 3 a.m. One reason for this was that my Chevrolet Biscayne wouldn’t start in the January cold when I tried to drive her back to her dorm at 2 a.m.

I recently had returned from Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Before I had left for basic training on New Years Day 1968, I had been obsessed with the Vietnam War and fear of dying in the swamps for Lyndon Johnson’s ego. I applied all over to get into the Illinois National Guard or the Army Reserves. Finally, good luck and some family political clout got me into the Guard. I was the only one of 600 recruits in my Company who wasn’t headed to Nam.

Prior to doing my military stint, I didn’t know I was capable of meeting a woman I could have a sustained relationship with. But six months after Fort Jackson, I felt emotionally liberated and looking for a kind, smart, beautiful woman like Risa. Coincidentally she wore the shortest skirt in the crowd of people at the mixer dance in the Student Union that fateful Saturday night in Ann Arbor.

I had gone to the Union primarily to play ping pong, but the music in the ballroom called me that night. I looked around in the big room and spied Risa Joy Levine of Charlotte, while I held on to the ping pong paddle in my corduroy sport jacket pocket. I kept that jacket for 40 years.

From Risa and Lloyd’s wedding day, May 24th, 1970

Over the last 50 years, Risa and I have talked about luck, God, and the short skirt that brought us together among 1,500 people in that ballroom. The crazy thing is that Risa was the only person I talked to in that giant room. I saw her, walked through the crowd and said hello. After a few minutes, I asked for her to leave the floor and go out for some food. And she did. Later, I asked her to come to my apartment. And she did. 

In the course of conversation, I mentioned that Ted Williams was the last .400 hitter in Major League Baseball. Risa was not a baseball fan, and she still isn’t, but if you ask her today who was the last .400 hitter she will immediately tell you it was Ted Williams.

In our 50 years of marriage, Risa and I have endured the deaths of our parents, life threatening illnesses, the joy of raising three great children, and enjoying four grandchildren. I say prayers of gratitude every day for getting another day with Risa. 

I continue to wonder how I was and continue to be so blessed to get these days with her 50 years later. 

This Sunday night we are planning to celebrate with friends and family on Zoom. Not how we thought it might happen, but I know if Risa and I are together it will have to be a great night.

Question: Where did you meet your spouse or partner?

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Ep. 82 – Running a Pizza Place During COVID-19 with Marco Schiavoni

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Marco Schiavoni, owner of Pizza Metro, one of my favorite pizza places in Chicago. Marco has been in the restaurant business for 20 years, and like most business owners he’s seen his share of ups and downs over time.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

I spoke to Marco last weekend about how restaurants in Chicago are navigating the COVID-19 crisis. He also taught me the secret to making the perfect espresso.

Main points of the interview

(2:45) Marco gives his story. He talks about leaving his home in Rome to come to Chicago in the ‘90s. He realized there wasn’t a traditional Roman style pizzeria in Chicago so he opened Pizza Metro in 2001. Roman style pizza is served cut into square slices that are easy to eat on the go. He says that Pizza Metro is one of the top 10 pizza places in Chicago. 

(4:10) Marco describes the small size of Pizza Metro. The restaurant is around 700 square feet and has 15 stools. One cool feature of the restaurant is that you can sit at a bar and interact with the cooks while you watch them cook your food. 

(7:00) Marco talks about how his pizza is unique because it’s made in the traditional roman style, but every slice customizable as far as toppings. This differs from pizzerias in Italy, which usually only offer a few choices

(8:40) We discuss how Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood has changed since Pizza Metro opened on West Division Street in 2001. Marco says when he first opened there were hardly any restaurants and many gangs in the area. He said during his second year in business the laundromat across the street was replaced by Starbucks and everything started to change. Today, Division Street is super trendy, with too many restaurants to choose from.

(10:15) Marco explains why Pizza Metro’s espresso is the best in Chicago. Marco says he started making espressos when he was 13 years old. He says you have to grind the coffee to a different thicknesses based on the humidity at the time. He says his beans are some of the best imported coffees from Italy. Marco also says he makes his espresso with much less water than the way it’s usually made in the US. He says you can tell if the espresso was made properly if you put some sugar on top and it takes 6 seconds for it to fall through the surface. 

(16:40) Marco speaks about shutting his restaurant down at the very end of March. He says that one day he noticed the street was empty and that Starbucks was closed. He saw this as a sign that he should close as well. Marco closed Pizza Metro for a month and said it was the first time in 19 years he had a true vacation because it was first time that he didn’t have to worry about what was happening in the business. 

(18:22) Marco explains that the pizza business is good in both strong and weak economies. He says in a weak economy a pizza business can thrive because many Americans don’t know how to cook and a pizza can feed a family for a relatively low price.

(19:30) Marco says that what spurred him to reopen his business was that his employees needed the work. Otherwise he might have stayed on vacation a little while longer. 

(21:30) Marco says that people are going to start new businesses and alter their business models to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. He says that restaurants who succeed will use social media to get exposure. He says people will put up videos of new, creative dishes they are working on. He alludes to a secret new desert item he is working on. He plans to pass it out to Starbucks customers waiting in line for coffee when it reopens.

(25:20) Marco thinks that many big restaurants will close, which will decrease competition. He says that many restaurants cannot stay in business if only a small number of people can eat there because the restaurant still has to pay the same rent and expenses as they did before COVID-19. He also says that if the country goes into a recession less people will eat out.

Marco Schiavoni, owner of Pizza Metro in Chicago

(27:30) Marco expresses worry about the health of restaurant workers. He says most restaurant kitchen staff do not have a lot of money so they are forced to take public transportation, and this puts them at higher risk for catching coronavirus. He says if one person on staff gets coronavirus he would have to close his restaurant for at least 2 weeks to ensure everyone is not infected. 

(33:40) Marco says he thinks that the US will look at how businesses are reopened in Europe. He talks about the first coffee bars in Italy that are just opening up. He says that people have to wait outside the cafe and only one customer is allowed to enter. The customer has to be 2 meters from the barista, so after the barista makes the coffee she has to back up from the bar for the customer to pick up the cup of coffee and leave the money. He says that even some restaurants in Italy that have been open for 50 years will eventually be forced to close because they can’t afford to pay their fixed expenses.

(35:00) Marco believes that people will learn to adjust to the new normal. He wishes the best to all the other restaurant owners and says the ones who survive will be stronger than before.

Question: What’s been your favorite takeout food during the COVID-19 crisis? Are you afraid to order takeout?

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Healthcare Workers and Combat Veterans Need to Share Their Experiences

By Chad Storlie

This week on Swarfblog, we’re sharing a timely guest post by US veteran and B2B marketing expert, Chad Storlie. Chad discusses the similarities he sees between combat veterans and the nation’s healthcare workers, and offers encouragement and advice to strengthen their resolve. Read on: 

Imagine going to work each day armed with the best colleagues, the best technology, the best training, and the best education to battle a resilient, ever present, and capable foe.  You do your best and people still die.  Wake up the next day, do your best, people die.  Then repeat, repeat, and repeat.

Healthcare workers are learning in a COVID-19 world what combat veterans have struggled with for an eternity.  What if you do your best and it is not enough?  What if you do your best and you fail?

The problems, frustrations, and despair that healthcare workers are experiencing fighting COVID-19 and the maelstrom of secondary effects on patients are disheartening and all too familiar for combat veterans.  Trapped in sweated soaked protective equipment, lacking mission critical supplies, cut off from friends and family, fighting a changing foe that is everywhere and nowhere, and working incredible hours without end.  This could be Balad, Brooklyn, Fallujah, or Detroit.  Counterinsurgency and COVID-19 too often follow the same challenges.

Healthcare workers are the new front line

I am a small “c” combat veteran.  A small “c” for combat because I only did a year in Iraq and a little less than two years in post-war Bosnia helping that country pull itself out of a genocidal, killing frenzy.  My peers did 6, 10, and 12 combat deployments between Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations across the globe.  Combat veterans need to pass our emotional learning onto the country’s new front line soldiers, healthcare workers.

Combat veterans need to express to healthcare workers that effort, caring, attitude, and resolve matter most when they seemingly matter not at all.  One of my most difficult days in Iraq highlighted a massive car bomb that blew up at the provisional United Nations compound with an understanding that none, none of our massive web of ongoing intelligence operations detected the plan.  On one of my worst days, I got back to work and tried again to do my best work.

In Special Forces training, the mantra of “Do the Best You Can” rings through every operation, every class, and every Special Forces instructor.  Doing the best fully acknowledges that difficult, seemingly impossible, mission sets are the part and parcel of a Special Forces life.  The key part for Special Forces is that no matter the conditions, you do your best, and you do your best again and again no matter the conditions.

Combat veterans knew that to win we needed to go out and do our best every day, to help and keep faith with our fellow soldiers, and to always, always come back the next day willing to lead, willing to keep improving, and willing to keep believing that we would be successful.

Whether combat or COVID-19, I want the healthcare front line to believe in themselves, believe in their training, and believe in their ability to win.  I know that the true results of their efforts may be years away, but their daily efforts contribute to the coming victory. 

Question: What have you been able to do to help people during the COVID-19 crisis?

Chad Storlie is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, an Iraq combat veteran, and has 15 years university teaching experience as an adjunct Professor of Marketing.  He is a mid-level B2B marketing executive and a widely published author on leadership, business, data, decision making, military and technology topics.

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Ep. 81 – Negotiating Like an FBI Agent with Chris and Brandon Voss Part II

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the second half of a two part interview with Chris and Brandon Voss, coauthors of the best selling book on business negotiation, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Chris Voss used to be an FBI hostage negotiator. When he retired, he applied the negotiation techniques he learned in law enforcement to the business world. Some of the methods Chris and Brandon teach can seem difficult to execute and counterintuitive, but I can personally vouch for their effectiveness in my own business dealings.  

Main Points

(3:00) Chris and Brandon talk about why they prefer not to name price first in negotiations. They also explain why they don’t like extreme anchoring (naming an extreme asking price to begin a negotiation). Brandon says that it’s a problem that so many people come into a negotiation and automatically assume the first price is an extreme anchor. 

(5:35) Chris says that very often when people ask you to give them a price they are not actually interested in buying. He says that researchers have found that at least 20% of the time people ask you for a price they are only looking for a competitive bid, which he equates to lying in business. He says this percentage is an underestimate because people don’t naturally admit to lying, so you have to use strategies to bring out the truth.

(10:40) Brandon gives examples of how to use labeling to get a customer to reveal what they are willing to spend. As explained in part one of the interview, a great strategy to get information is to use labels—verbal observations such as “it seems like,” “it sounds like,” “it looks like,” and “it feels like.” He suggests saying, “It sounds like you haven’t spent that much time thinking about what you would spend on this,” “It sounds like there is a ceiling you don’t want to cross,” or “It sounds like you have a range in mind.”

(13:17) Brandon says it is also good to let a counterpart name price first because it  makes that person feel they are in control. He says that when people feel autonomous and in control of what is happening they are more likely to want to make a deal. 

(15:10) Chris explains the purpose of asking “no” questions. One of the negotiation techniques Chris and Brandon prescribe is getting other people to say “no” in conversations. He says that people are unfortunately conditioned that the word “no” is a word they don’t want hear in negotiations. People associate it with failure. However, he says research has shown that when people say “no” it actually makes them comfortable and safe and prompts them to take action (see video below).

Click here to watch more videos from the interview.

(18:40) Noah asks if Trump is a good negotiator. Chris asks jokingly, “Do you want the Trump people to hate us?” Chris brings up Trump’s dealings with North Korea. He says Trump did a spectacular job opening the negotiation with  North Korea—something unprecedented. However, he says that today nobody seems to know where the negations are at. Chris says that Trump is by nature an “assertive” negotiator, similar he and Brandon. He says that assertive negotiating can yield to some early spectacular successes, but people will not want to deal with you long-term if you can’t change from that mode. He says that every negotiator needs to be assertive, but it cannot be the only component in how you operate.

(21:35) Brandon and Chris discuss their dislike for the concept of “win-win” solutions. Brandon says the term is associated with compromise in which both parties give up things, leading them to feel unsatisfied. In his experience, deals that people call “win-win” often fall apart. Chris says when someone says “win-win” in a negotiation, they are either a cutthroat negotiator or a naive negotiator. He says if someone calls him to propose a “win-win opportunity,” he will hang up. Unfortunately this subject came up at the very end of the interview, and Chris and Brandon said they could easily give an entire lecture about it because of its complexity.

Question: Do you like to haggle when buying a car?

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Why Are People Optimistic?

By Lloyd Graff

I believe that within a year or two we will look back at the period we are experiencing today as one of huge growth and opportunity. And for many, a time of miserable pain. 

The incredible bounce-back of the NASDAQ stock index into positive territory for the year is indicative of optimism in American business by the people who control the levers of big money. 

This is not an opinion that many of my 75 year old age group who have managed to survive the pandemic so far, seem to share. With 70 to 80% of the deaths among my age peers, that is hardly surprising. 

What am I seeing that makes me optimistic?

Many people have moved out of New York. I have several relatives and friends who packed their bags, moved out of confining apartments, especially if they have children, and fled to higher ground. One person I know in the machine tool business moved out of Manhattan with his wife and family to Rhode Island, near the seashore. He says he is moving for good. 

Another dealer fled Chicago’s Lincoln Park for a rental house in Phoenix. Daughters of yet another business person I know left closed dance companies in New York to join family in Detroit’s suburbs, along with their boyfriends. All of these experiences have been generally positive, with the business being carried out on the phone and on Zoom during the interruption.

In my own home, I see my wife resuming her educational and counseling practice effectively via Zoom. It has even expanded significantly because her client base is no longer confined to the neighborhood. Her clients are all over the United States now, and her students have increased as kids have come back from college and their parents see they need a boost. 

In my quarantine life, I have continued to make sales of Graff-Pinkert inventory and write the blog. Noah is on the phone all over the world every day and doing provocative podcast interviews. 

Yesterday, I emailed my order to our local grocer who I know, and picked it up after the fresh blueberries had arrived. He put it in my trunk himself without me having to bag the broccoli. We are paying out less per week for food because we are cooking more and buying fewer impulse items. Our fresh fish provider called us when she had made the salmon patties we love, and then she arranged for a mutual friend to deliver them to us.

This is how these successful local companies compete against a clumsy Walmart nearby: better quality, better service, throw in delivery. 

The iconic Manny’s Deli in Downtown Chicago

Chicago has a world-renowned deli named Manny’s, near McCormick Place. Just one location, but it draws from everywhere during “normal” times. They are landlocked with no drive-through and Chicago’s mayor virtually shut them down to fight COVID-19.

Manny’s shifted strategy to email and delivery. They developed email lists by contacting local organizations in the area I live in. They promised to deliver meals to the parking lot of a defunct Toys R Us seven minutes from my house in the suburbs, at 5 p.m. last Friday. Eighty cars lined up to pick up their meals out of Manny’s grandson’s SUV. They will be doing the same thing this Friday.

In a regular year I go to Manny’s once. Maybe I go twice in an IMTS year. If they continue delivery, I will at least triple my patronage. 

On the education front, college enrollments are down for the fall at most schools, and pay raises have been canceled. One school which is still doing well is Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue has not raised tuition cost in 9 years under President Mitch Daniels. It also bought online Kaplan University in 2017 to expand its ability to reach potentially hundreds of thousands of new students. More education is going to be via internet, as we are seeing with the vast array of innovative webinars which are bringing high-quality, relatively inexpensive education to larger audiences who want to watch.

The traditional college model is broken. Daniels and Purdue understand it. With change forced by the pandemic, we will finally see traditional overpriced colleges face real, credible competition. 

Question: What long-term changes do you see coming because of the Coronavirus?

 

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Ep. 80 – Negotiating Like an FBI Agent with Chris and Brandon Voss

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is part 1 of a two part interview with Chris and Brandon Voss, co-authors of the best selling book on business negotiation, Never Split the Difference, and executives at Black Swan Group, a company offering business negotiation training.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Never Split the Difference teaches how to approach business negotiations using the same the techniques that Chris Voss learned from decades working as an FBI hostage negotiator. I can vouch for its effectiveness personally, having listened to the book from start to finish 3 years ago. I probably use its principles in our business every day.

Main Points

(3:45)  Chris and Brandon explain their company, Black Swan Group, which teaches business negotiation. They sum it up as the company that “makes sure you don’t leave money on the table.” They also say that it provides guidance for navigating difficult conversations.

(5:35)  Chris talks about working as an FBI hostage negotiator specializing in terrorism. He says that his son Brandon learned a lot about negotiation from a very young age by observing him. He says that Brandon used his skills of “disarming agitated adversaries” to deal with disciplinarians and Vice Principals in high school. After Chris retired from the FBI he taught negotiation in business classes at Harvard and Georgetown. A few years ago he and Brandon cowrote Never Split the Difference, which has become the best selling business negotiation book around the world.

(9:00) Chris says that the principles of hostage negotiation work for business negotiations across all cultures. He says that in every business deal something is under siege or threat.

(12:25) Brandon explains one of their most important negotiation strategies, mirroring and labeling. He explains that “labeling” refers to a verbal observation in which a person says, “it feels like,” “it sounds like,” “it seems like,” or “it looks like.” A “mirror” means repeating the last few words of the last sentence that someone has just said. These techniques help sound out your counterpart. They give a person new information about how the counterpart sees a situation, but the counterpart stays relaxed because you don’t have to ask questions. Questions can make people feel they are being interrogated.

(17:15) Noah brings up his own recent challenge using mirrors and labels to get a machinery rigger down in price.

(19:25) Brandon talks about a negotiation technique called an “accusations audit” (see video) that Noah could use to try to get a machinery rigger down in price. The negotiator mentions all of the difficult things his counterpart has had to do to accommodate him. This can neutralize his negative feelings before he has a chance to say them. In the case of Noah’s machinery rigger, he could say to him things like, “I know you have had to do a lot of work already for this job,” “I know you’re the only game in town,” “I know you’ve already tried to get the price down,” and “I bet your sick and tired of having this conversation with everyone you speak to.”

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(24:15) Chris explains price anchoring. He says that most academics say a person should start a negotiation by naming an extreme asking price. However, he discourages this strategy because it can scare customers away and cause one to lose potential deals. Also people don’t know what price their counterparts will start at—perhaps his price is better than they thought. Chris says the majority of the best negotiators get the counterpart to name a price first. When both people are trying to make each other name price first a person can use mirrors and labels to get important information about the price the counterpart has in mind.

Question: Do you usually like to name price first in a negotiation?

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