Mexican Food Principle

Mexican Food is great, but it can teach us lessons far beyond gastrointestinal delight. I’m talking about the Mexican Food Principle.

Mexican food’s great, but it’s essentially all the same ingredients, so there’s a way you’d have to deal with all these stupid questions. ‘What is nachos?‘ ‘Nachos? It’s a tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.’ ‘Oh, well then what is a burrito?‘ ‘A tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.’ ‘Well then what is a tostada?‘ A tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables.” -Jim Gaffigan

When CBS News reporter, Amanda Schupak, was describing Google’s new modular phone she said, “It sounds like a taco truck. But instead of picking a filling, sauce and side, your choices are a camera, a speaker and an extra battery.”

This is a metaphor we can all understand. There are basic building blocks to make something ‘delicious’. In the kitchen, it’s cheese, meat, and vegetables. In a smartphone it’s a touchscreen, WiFi, and bluetooth. Sometimes you want more or less of one or the other, but it’s never going to be bad. That’s the Mexican Food Principle.

Mexican Food Principle

Mexican food is great, but it is all the same, it’s almost a conspiracy. It’s almost like they had a meeting 200 years ago in Mexico City and one guy stood up and he was like, ‘Hey, the reason I got everyone here is pretty simple, I figured we could rename this one entree seven times and sell it to the North Americans. The French said it would be a good idea.” -Jim Gaffigan

This is not a conspiracy, it’s standardization. Peter Drucker said the greatest invention of the twentieth century was container shipping. Containers allowed ships, ports, and equipment to move easier than the random assortment of crates and boxes that preceded it. But the Mexican Food Principle isn’t just for standardization, it can also be used to create new outputs from the same inputs.

Taco Bell is for Closers

Taco Bell is for Closers

SmartBrief on Social Media editor, Jesse Stanchak first coined the term in May of 2013 when referring to the “Mexican Food Principle” of repurposing content. “It’s pretty simple: Mexican food takes the same core ingredients, mixes them up and packages them in different ways. You can do the same thing with your content. If you do a good job remixing and reusing your content, your audience won’t see it as leftovers.”

Forbes’ contributor, Nadia Arumugam, calls the Mexican Food Principle of product development, “Breeding“, which, “Has been seriously neglected in previous brainstorming sessions for new product development.” James Altucher calls this process of coming up with new ideas, “Idea Sex“.

Whether you’re trying to create a new breakfast menu item by using a waffle as a tortilla or a doughnut as a bun, you’re using the Mexican Food Principle.

How to Succeed and Grow through a Slow Economy

Are your company leaders keeping an eye on the traffic patterns in the economy? Are they doing what most companies do during a down economy? Does your company have a culture of innovation?

It doesn’t matter if your company has 10,000 employees or you are self-employed, the economy affects us all. How we react to it and lead our companies through it will determine our success or failure over time. Here are some things that successful companies do to succeed and grow through a slowed down economy:

1. Don’t be afraid to change the company or it’s core products. I’m not talking about changing the dress code during the summer time or preventing overtime, I’m talking about examples like Scott Paper becoming a consumer products company rather than a paper mill or General Motors becoming a transportation company instead of a vehicle manufacturer. Listen to what your customers are asking of you. Mine your customer service data banks and don’t assume that what has worked for the last hundred years will work for the next ten.

2. Create a culture of innovation and creativity. Leadership needs to be the most innovative and creative at all. It’s time to go back to what you learned in Kindergarten and stop being afraid to fail. Don’t kill the messengers. Reward those who speak up with new ideas even if they are bad. Things will beget similar things and ideas will beget new ideas. This is the essence of brainstorming, but glacial drift of a company’s mentality has a way of leveling off those who are non-conforming. Instead of being a hive of solidarity, consider being a greenhouse for growth.

3. Keep an eye on the future, not just the next payroll. Companies can be pac-managers too, knee-jerk reacting to any wave or fluctuation in the economy as it comes, but a macro view of the economy, realizing that precisely because it is a wave, what goes down, must come up, decisions need to be made about the future, not just the short term. This doesn’t mean staffing for an eventual, but currently non-existent work load, but being more fluid in the utilization of human capital and creating ‘pressure valve’ positions and opportunities for adaptable workers and ways to recognize and insulate top performers.

If your interested in economics, you might also check out my post on Ex Forex about Vibration Economics.

Vibration Economics

How managing a bad economy is similar to driving a car through a construction zone.

Yesterday, driving with my family in the car, there were several times when traffic ground to a complete stop due to merging lanes in construction zones. Logically I knew this didn’t have to happen if everyone within the system both had access to all information (e.g. the left lane is closed ahead) and drivers were incentivized to slow down instead of attempting to pass each other and cause clogs up ahead. The fact that it does happen and continues to happen even with full access to information (e.g. signs, cones, traffic patterns, news radio, Internet access, and CB broadcasts) could mean that drivers are incentivized to slow down the entire system in order to make sure they get ahead first.

In Mission Impossible III, Tom Cruise’s character explains his job as a traffic pattern analyst and how the act of one person’s brakes can send ripples through the entire traffic system. This is exactly what is happening in a lane-merging event when drivers are responding to brake lights and eventually stopping instead of everyone simply slowing down, merging, and passing through the lane at a reasonable rate. The less brake lights are used, the faster a group of cars will move through a slow-down event. This is because, again, of a lack of information. The driver doesn’t know whether the car in front of them is going to simply slow down and then re-accelerate or if it is going to come to a complete stop. They only have one metric to go on, the brake light.

These ripples in the traffic system mimic other waves in science and finance. We know that by reducing the speed of the vehicle and braking less, we reduce the rapid stops and starts. By doing this we are not only reducing the amplification of the wave pattern, but also changing the the frequency. The wave goes from a high-pitched baby scream to a low bass wave. Once the frequency has been adjusted (e.g. less braking, more steady movement), over time, the speed of the vehicle can be increased. The most efficient traffic is one without waves at all, with cars constantly moving, all at the same pace, but this will never occur. While I would love to fix traffic slowdowns by implementing car-to-car communication systems or a third metric to the brake lighting system, I am simply using traffic as an metaphor for economics as a whole.

It may sound counter intuitive to say that the fastest way to move through a downturn is to slow down, but that’s because it depends on how you decrease your speed. We know that brake lights cause other drivers to slow down which don’t use the brake lights such as simply letting off the gas or downshifting. Aware drivers or smart cars will also adjust in a more subtle way and while traffic may slow down overall, it may not stop and will certainly be in a better position to begin increasing speed once the bottleneck has been passed. If we could understand what the “break lights” in the economy were and how people respond to them, we may be able to help reduce their use and get the economy moving forward again with less starting and stopping.

Examples of break lights in the economy are stock selloffs, layoffs, and inventory cuts. Speculators will sell a stock before they think it will go down, which then actually causes the stock to go down, which causes other investors to also sell until the price is enticing enough for people to buy back in. Companies will layoff workers in anticipation of a downturn, even if they are not currently experiencing one. And in fear of not being able to sell current inventory, companies will stop buying goods in order to not be ‘caught with the bag.’ These are all drastic measures that cause ripple effects in the economy, slowing it down and helping to cause the very thing they are trying to avoid.

What if instead, companies simply ‘switched gears’ or ‘let off the gas’ during an economic slow down instead of braking? Wouldn’t these companies be best poised for re-accelerating in an economic up turn? Using the prior examples of stock, layoffs, and inventory cuts, here are some examples of what companies could do differently. Shareholders could simply hold stock and stop buying for a period of time in order to coast through a down turn. Companies could use any excess employees as salesman, research analysts, or focus groups for innovation to create new ideas or help find new customers. And instead of cutting inventory, companies could increase the diversity of what they buy in order to market to areas of the market that in a good economy didn’t make sense, but now does.

In fact, most successful companies already do this. Ford Motor Company outlasted hundreds of other car manufacturers not because it was better, but because it was willing to change. Groupon was originally an online collective action and fundraising company called The Point, which pivoted and began offering discounts via email. Google continually innovate and pays it’s engineers to create side projects and yet continues to grow in spite of the economy. Compare this to the pharmaceutical industry that has increased advertising spending over research and is now in crises as their development cycle has run it’s course. Another example is Southwest Airlines, which for most of its history did not layoff it’s workers and remained profitable while it’s peers went through bankruptcy proceedings. Layoff alternatives like early buyouts, early retirements, across-the-board budget cuts, hiring freezes, and eliminating overtime pay only serve to hurt the top performers – the rest of the company is only there for a paycheck anyway. It all comes down to proper management and leadership.