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?

Share this post

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.

Share this post

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?

Share this post

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?

 

Share this post

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.”

Click here to watch more videos from the interview.

(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?

Share this post

Ready to Travel?

By Lloyd Graff

The reopening of 90% of the Starbucks stores in the US over the next 4-6 weeks is a signal moment in the COVID-19 recovery, but what does it mean for the machining world?

I think it is a significant moment, but not a game-changer in itself. Nor are the very hopeful results coming in on the new Gilead drug remdesivir, which is already in use but not approved yet as an antiviral in America.

For many of our clients who make so much product for cars, trucks, and airplanes, as well as the oil and gas industry, the big question is when will people feel confident about getting out of their homes and doing the things they did routinely last year when the economy was humming along.

Unfortunately, this is much less clear because we are dealing with the big issue of fear of sickness and dying, especially if you are over 70 or have issues such as diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems, or lack of immunity. These categories probably affect over 25% of the American population.

If you take out 80 million people in America, plus millions in other countries with a lot of older people, such as those in Europe, it is hard to imagine robust auto, aviation, and travel business for quite a while. A second wave of COVID would cement the fear factor well into the next year.

Travelers cautiously brave O’Hare Airport

It seems to me that America really goes back to work when illness and death from COVID-19 is no longer the lead story in the news. This is why I keep thinking how important it is for the 2020 election and big time sports to become the focus on TV. The news media has correctly gauged the interest in the pandemic but have also fanned the panic.

We are really getting closer to it becoming just an addition to the flu season, but it will probably not happen until we have a credible vaccine. The scientists who know the regulatory hurdles, which will probably be more significant than the successful development ones, say it is very unlikely until next year sometime.

The question that I keep noodling is when will my wife and I feel confident enough to go to the airport, get on a plane, and visit our daughter and family in the Bay Area and vice versa. I know it will take longer than just for Starbucks to open its doors. It will take longer than the NBA and Major League Baseball to restart, which I project to restart by early June.

I will throw out my guess and ask you to give me yours. When will you feel safe to travel? When will you jump into an Uber car? When will COVID-19 be old news?

I will go with August 15th 2020. The Cubs will be in first place then. The presidential campaign will be starting to get nasty, and the 2021 cars will be ready to roll out.

Your guess?

Question: When will you feel confident enough to travel?

 

Share this post

Ep. 79 – Building the Ultimate E-Bike with Taber West

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Taber West, founder of Gravity Worx, the manufacturer of a high performance suspension electric bike, called the E160FS.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast

When Taber was younger he raced bikes professionally, but as he aged and gained weight he no longer could do the type of cycling he used to enjoy, particularly mountain biking. When he discovered that a high performance e-bike could empower him to ride places he had thought were impossible, he set out to build his own.

Main Points

(3:50) Taber gives his background. He started out as a junior electrical engineer in the Navy. He has worked at various tech companies such as Unisys and Intel. He worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory (in his home town), where he worked on projects such as constructing super computers, running fiber networks, and various classified projects for United States military and security agencies. This gave him a wide background in fields such as advanced manufacturing, digital systems, and programming. He has three engineering degrees in electrical engineering, complex systems, and software engineering.

(5:22) Taber says when he was younger he raced bicycles professionally in triathlons and mountain biking, which he calls “painful and financially ungainful.” He says he liked mountain biking the best, even though mountain bikes back then were primitive and braze welded, with no suspension. He says he has tested just about every mountain bike component over the last 30 years.

(6:30) Taber talks about restarting his old bicycle company, Gravity Worx, 6 years ago, focusing on building state of the art carbon fiber mountain bike wheels. He designed a multiple wheel mold and started producing composite wheels and testing them under extreme riding conditions. He wanted to create a mountain bike built to withstand hitting the trails hard or carrying a heavy rider such as himself—Taber says he is 6 feet and weighs 300 pounds.

(9:25) Taber says he knew that with the right technology he could build a mountain bike stronger, faster, and better than anything else out there. The problem was that the best technologies which were being used in aerospace and ballistics had not yet been applied to building bicycles.

(10:00) Taber shows Noah a cut section of one of his rims, a hollow composite layup in a three piece mold that has no holes in the spokes.

(12:00) Taber says that after he engineered his components he had to search for the right machine tool to produce them.

(12:50) Taber explains in detail the components for his bikes’ hub shells. The body of the hub shell is forged from a 7075 ingot of aluminum alloy, then heat treated, then machined down.

(16:40) Taber talks about the production process for the hub. He says to make the hub at a typical machine shop it would probably require 2 different 5-axis mills and 4 different operations. He discovered that Samsung has multi-axis Swiss-type mills designed for feeding in bar stock that can machine the part in about 9 and a half minutes. He said another option is the INDEX C300 turning center priced around $1million (he estimates), which can make the part in about 4 and a half minutes.

(22:30) Taber talks about his prototype rear derailleur, the mechanism that shifts the chain at the rear sprockets (see video). He says his is different from all other rear derailleurs in the world because it’s designed specifically for his mountain bikes and e-bikes. He says an e-bike bike is extra heavy and has to withstand significantly more torc.

(23:25) Taber talks about how he has to produce very precise bike components because even a few extra grams can effect performance.

(24:25) Taber compares his e-bike’s features with competitors. He says he can get 55 hours of heavy climbing out of a single battery charge. He says part of the reason he can get such long battery life is that his bike weighs 44 and half pounds while a typical e-bike is in the 53-55 pound range. Thus, his bike is lighter, but is built to hold more weight. He says he designs his bikes to climb a hill at a 20% grade over rock. Taber says that his initial prototype bikes have passed 500 miles of riding and 63,000 feet of climbing.

Question: What is your experience with e-bikes?

 

Share this post

The COVID Conundrum

By Lloyd Graff

Norm and I were born on the same day. We grew up together. We did Cub Scouts in his basement. His mom, Miriam, was the den mother. Norm died from COVID-19 last Friday.

I was stunned when I received the news, even though I had not had any contact with Norm for over seven years, and didn’t know of his Alzheimer’s. He was the first of my high school classmates to die from it. I heard this from the internet listserv our class maintains. It brought the COVID plague off the CNBC news streamer into my heart.

The cold brutal fact is that most of the people who are dying from this terrible plague are like Norm. They are over 70 with other complicating health issues like Alzheimer’s, kidney dysfunction, lung disease, cancer, and diabetes. Their defenses are very weak and COVID-19 devastates them quickly. 

* * * 

In the past week the narrative in the country has rapidly shifted from desperate New York City and shortages of respirators, to what do we do when we loosen up the nation’s economic strait jacket. Many of the vital facts needed in the national and individual decision-making process are gradually emerging from the fog, and the MSNBCization of the news media. 

Most of the people who are dying are people like Norm. He is “the norm.” It kills mostly the weak who can’t fight back. It kills old people on cruise ships, but not sailors on aircraft carriers.

We know this because it hit the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and virtually every one of the 4860 crewmembers was exposed. Only one person, 41-year old Chief Petty Officer Robert Thacker, died.

Old people on cruise ships got infected and several succumbed. One person out of nearly 5,000 was the unlucky one on the carrier. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but also very important for the country to make its decision on going back to work. Opening up the economy is not just President Trump’s call, or Andrew Cuomo’s call, or Gavin Newsom’s or Jim Cramer’s on CNBC.

The decision will ultimately rise up from the people in a democracy because the politicians will be polling incessantly. Real people are gradually going to start coming out of their homes, meeting their friends, going into grocery stores, and returning to their barbers and hair salons. 

Temporarily closed barber shop in Bucktown, Chicago


The shutdown will begin to collapse because people will gradually, very gradually, start to shed their fear and their masks. They will quietly start asking Starbucks about when it will open its stores, and then they will ask to go back to work. Soon after that they will demand that they go back to work.

When the news trickles out that the number of people who have been exposed to Covid-19 but did not get really sick is 50 to 100 times higher than the published statistics, which is what the data coming out of Santa Clara County, home of Stanford, Google, and Apple indicates, the decision for the fearful politicians will almost be made for them. The people will decide.

More folks like my Cub Scout buddy Norm will die. The statistics in Italy are about as blunt and awful as it gets—55% of those who have died were 80 or older. People age 70 or older have accounted for 80% of deaths.

COVID-19 is the Grim Reaper for the old, infirm, and defenseless. For everybody else it is the flu. 

We had to shut down the country to save the hospitals in the big urban areas from being overwhelmed. That moment has passed. 

If we open up the country gradually, more of the old and weak will die, but the vast majority of people will be okay. People like me, born on the same day as my childhood buddy Norm, but hopefully in better shape, will ultimately have to decide for themselves when to get back in the fray.

Question: Do you feel safe enough to go back to work?

 

Share this post

Ep. 78 – Is the Hot Hand Real, with Ben Cohen

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Ben Cohen, sports writer for the Wall Street Journal and author of the new book, The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

In the book, Ben analyzes many types of hot streaks, from basketball shooting streaks, to investing streaks, even a streak of hit plays by William Shakespeare. Most people have had a moment in their lives where a string of successes have given them the confidence that the next thing they try will also be successful. This book explores whether that belief is actually true.

Main Points of the Interview

(4:40) Ben gives his background and what inspired him to write The Hot Hand. He says he has always been obsessed with sports, and while at Duke University he got an internship in the sports department of the Wall Street Journal. In 2014 and 2015, Ben wrote some articles about the “Hot Hand” concept, and he thought it could be a neat way to look at a lot of industries beyond basketball.

(6:30) Ben says that when he started looking for examples of the Hot Hand, he saw it everywhere. He says we all have felt the Hot Hand at one point in our life and that the Hot Hand applies to all industries.

(7:00) Ben defines the Hot Hand as “when success leads to more success.” In basketball, where it has often been studied, it applies to the phenomenon of when a player makes several shots in a row and then it seems like the player has a higher likelihood of making the following shot. He says that this feeling applies to moments in all different professions or activities, and if we take advantage of those moments it can change our lives. He first noticed the feeling personally during a Junior Varsity high school basketball game where he scored 18 points in one quarter, more points than the rest of his entire basketball career put together.

(8:50) Ben says that several years ago while researching for his first piece on the Hot Hand he discovered a paper based on 30 years of research by world renown psychologists Gilovich and Tversky, which stated that the Hot Hand does not exist, but is cognitive bias. When the paper came out most people didn’t believe it, including a lot of basketball folk. 

Ben Cohen, author of The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks

(16:30) Ben says that the Hot Hand seems to be the product of talent, circumstance, and a little bit of luck. One Hot Hand Ben writes about in the book is a string of successful plays by William Shakespeare. During one of the most prolific periods of Shakespeare’s career, he premiered King Lear, Macbeth, and Anthony and Cleopatra in a span that some say was as short as two months. Prior to then he had not come out with a play in two years. Ben says this occurred during a plague year that had killed off much of his competition. Satires starring children had been a trend in theater, but when the plague hit, an adult audience more interested in tragedies became a better market.

Ben says that like during Shakespeare’s time, Covid 19 will inspire art movements or industry innovations. One never knows what a catalyst will be for a Hot Hand. 

(20:10) Ben discusses a chapter in his book about Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman and diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during World War II.

(24:35) Ben discusses another part of the book that recounts Steph Curry’s extraordinary game against the Knicks in 2013, in which he scored 54 points and hit 13 3-pointers. He hadn’t ever put on a performance like it prior to that game. After that game the Golden State Warriors encouraged Steph Curry and other players on the team to focus on 3-pointers much more they had previously, breaking conventional basketball wisdom of the time.

(30:10) Ben concludes by saying that really smart people have come to different beliefs about whether or not the Hot Hand is real. But, he says how individuals respond when it seems they are getting the Hot Hand is what determines whether it is a force to enable extraordinary feats.

Question: Do you believe in the Hot Hand?

Share this post

False Positive?

By Lloyd Graff

Are we getting a false positive signal from the stock market, or is it a predictor of the economy in 3 to 6 months? This is the question business folk, big, small, and tiny, are asking themselves as the markets regain the ground lost in the early March slaughter.

The big tech stocks, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook, plus Amazon, Walmart, and Costco, are still sitting near all-time highs, while unemployment swells, small businesses languish, and Macy’s and Kohl’s starve. GM and Ford stock shrink, and Tesla stock hits $700 per share.

Are we on the eve of a depression or is this just a temporary misstep on the great trampoline of growth in America?

The machining business is straddling the chasm between panic and smiles of confidence. If a firm is predominantly an automotive supplier to anybody but Tesla, things look bleak. But for how long? There is plenty of potential demand waiting in the bushes.

People fear public transportation, which may translate to car sales. My sister bought an Audi SUV in February and my wife and daughter were both on the cusp of buying new vehicles. They will be back in the market when it feels safe to test drive some possibilities. My daughter is looking at the Jeep-Chrysler Pacifica, while my wife’s lease expired 3 months ago on her Camry.

We are waiting for the waters to calm. I’m sure there are many others in our shoes. But when will it be safe to do something, when right now a big trip is to visit the local supermarket for groceries to be put in the trunk after ordering ahead? The crazy thing is that we know our fear will dissipate and mostly be forgotten, but will it take 2 months, 6 months, or a year to regain our mojo?

We are just beginning the early spring of revival. I can feel it on good days when the sun is shining and neighbors are venturing out and talking without masks on. My sons are going out on walks together. My granddaughters recently met up with some close friends (10 feet away). I’ve almost gone to Dunkin Donuts to pick up coffee. My cardiologist tells me that his hundreds of patients are doing well and that the few who tested positive have recovered, except for the one frail man who died. I have friends who have recovered. It almost gives me confidence, but not enough to end my 33 day quarantine.

Yet business goes on. Most of my precision machining clients are working and reasonably busy. Medical and guns are strong. Military is okay but hesitant. Auctions are still taking place.

When will the umps say “Play Ball!”?

There will be a warm gust that begins to clear the fog of hesitation. It may be Major League Baseball or the NBA that gives the signal that we are waiting for. Yes, they will probably play without crowds and all of the participants will take their temperatures before play or practice begins. There will be missteps. A player or coach or ump will get sick, but one misstep does not mean it isn’t worth resuming. People always get sick and the world doesn’t fall apart.

Eventually we will have to coexist with COVID-19. We are social beings. We need to connect, travel, touch, and do business. We need to shed fear and take some calculated risks. The politicians and bureaucrats will dither, but the stock market is telling us, hopefully correctly, that good news is coming soon. Maybe when the ump yells “Play Ball!”

Question:  What is the first thing you plan to do when shelter-in-place orders are lifted?

Share this post