Sunday, May 31, 2009

Smoothie Operator

As consistently as the sun rises—and at about the same time of the morning—I find myself in front of a blender, mixing together tasty and refreshing fruit smoothies.

I like to blend smoothies of all kinds; I always have. I especially like doing so now that I am married to Emily. She enjoys drinking them as much as I like making them.

We were given a Waring 60th Anniversary Blender as a wedding gift. Simple and of solid brushed chrome, this blender is straight forward and powerful.

While the Covey counter packs punch, the secret to mixing consistently delish smoothies is not in the blender. Most any blender will do, so long as it is durable. It is what is in the blender that counts, and keeping a half-dozen or so reliable staples in the kitchen is critical.

So, what do I keep in-house to rock steady smoothies, day in and day out?

I always have a bunch of bananas on hand. Smoothies do not have to contain bananas, but I find that this yellow fruit gives them a creamy texture. The more banana included, the creamier the smoothie. I sometimes toss two in the blender, depending upon what I am mixing, and it is all goodness.

It does not matter much which brand of bananas you buy; I prefer Earth University, available at Whole Foods Market, because I notice that other brands of bananas turn brown more quickly than these. But any brand should work. If my bananas do begin to brown, I slice them and pop them in the freezer. When it comes to smoothie material, frozen bananas do just as well as room temperature bananas from the fruit basket.

I keep a 32-fluid-ounce box of Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value Organic Soymilk Unsweetend in the fridge. I buy it in a case of ten, so as to get the standard ten-percent discount that the store gives for bulk purchases. Nine of these boxes remain in the pantry until the one in the fridge runs low. Soy milk, like many ingredients, should be cold when put into smoothies.

I prefer soymilk for our smoothies, because it is complimentary with almost any fruit, and the tasteless, yet nutritional quality of it makes it a better cutter than cow’s milk. Its mere presence provides a liquid texture to smoothies. And this particular brand, with only 80 calories and one gram of sugar, has a certain sweetness without the buzz. (I save my buzz for coffee time.)

Speaking of sweetness, another item I pour into our smoothies is honey, the rawest I can find. Honey is the best way to sweeten smoothies, and several other drinks and foods in fact. Not all smoothies require added sweetness, however. Some fruits, like cantaloupe, for example, are perfectly sweet as they are.

If the budget is not tight, I pick up flaxseed oil from Whole Foods or The Vitaimn Shoppe. Both stores carry and manufacture a variety of flaxseed oils. I do not know which type is best, with or without lignans, so I usually select the most affordable option.

The two most relevant points I can make about flaxseed: the oil is easier to clean than is the ground seed itself and and it is a super-efficient way to get a daily dosage of essential fatty acid. Despite its benefits, when it comes to smoothie-making, flaxseed is not for the faint of heart.

Another ingredient that is not easy on the pocketbook, but I like it, is pure cranberry juice. 100% pure. For whoever has tried pure cranberry juice, it is tart. So with that in mind, when I add cranberry juice to our smoothies, honey also finds its way in the mix, simply to even the balance.

There are a couple of cranberry juices that I have seen in the marketplace: one is R.W Knudsen Family's Just Cranberry the other is L&A Juice's All Cranberry. Neither is cheap; but nor is much of either needed.

Mint, or mentha, is a cool ingredient. I grow mint in our backyard. Mint does not belong in all smoothies, but it goes well with most blends. Mint is an item that, like honey, deserves judgment on when to include it, depending upon the seasonal variety of fruit you select. Mint tastes great with watermelon, methinks.

Perhaps the key ingredient to our smoothies is açaí. I order ours from Sambazon, "the global leader in açaí." I select a 76-pack of Pure Açaí, and now that it is available, Pure Fusion, a 50-50 mix of Açaí and Acerola, another heart-healthy Brazilian fruit. The Pure Fusion, like the Pure Açaí, is available in a 32- or 76-pack. For a number of reasons, which I will not delve into in this post, if you are buying açaí in the US, there is no better supplier than the folks at Sambazon.

The final and most fun ingredient for our typical smoothie: one seasonal fruit of choice. It is the variable nature of this addition that gets my juices flowing. This is a smoothie’s "spice," if you will. If not for the seasonal fruits, smoothie-making could become blah and boring.

Local seasonal fruits are best. In spring and summer, Texas soil provides some top-notch fruits, such as peaches during this time of year, and they all work to flavor smoothies in their own way.

So, if you made it this far, you now have my recipe for consistent homemade smoothies. It is not a messy exercise and does not take long. Smoothies are an energizing and healthy way to start the day. I rarely measure how much of anything to include, because it really does not matter. If you have more than usual of a fruit that is ripe, then add it. If you want a thicker smoothie, then add less soy milk or try adding oatmeal or granola.

No smoothie is the same, but having a few staples with you helps to ensure that your smoothies will be just as delicious as the ones we have each morning in our casa.

I hope to dive deeper into the subject of fruit smoothies, and I want your feedback on what more you would like to know. I can provide a deeper look at açaí and acerola. I can look closer into the nutritional aspects of smoothies. How about seasonal fruits? Which ones are grown when and in what region? Juice shops? I can peer further into those, wherever I encounter them, be it in the United States or elsewhere. You tell me. What more about fruit and smoothies would you like to know?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lead Your (Social) Network

Your personal and professional networks can provide you with the unique opportunity to lead people. If you have not done so, take stock of these networks, understanding their composition (i.e., who is in them) as well as where the connections you have can contribute to your success as a leader.

I was recently directed to a website replete with inspiration: TED Ideas worth spreading. On TED, one can explore a vast trove of speeches by figures who head industries and all else. I came across a speech by Seth Godin that grabbed my attention. (If you have marketing experience, you might recognize Godin for coining the term, "permission marketing.")

I recommend watching all 17:23 minutes of his speech, loosely titled, The Tribes We Lead. Godin struck a chord with me, alluding to networks (a.k.a., tribes), and how leading them can translate into the spread of ideas. Rested on this concept, he argues to his audience, is their chance to boldly assume a position of leadership.

None of us is immune to the powerful phenomenon that is social networking. As surely as you are reading this sentence now, you have participated in some form of networking online. Even if social networking is not your bag, you have at least browsed Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The explosion in social networking allows you to accelerate the number of people with whom you regularly connect. Social networking allows you to organize individuals around a single interest. In a recently published article in Fast Company, How Chris Hughes Helped Launch Facebook and the Barack Obama Campaign, there is a lesson in how such organization can develop on the broadest of levels.

The best part about it is that you can actually choose the network you want to lead. To try it out, visit Ning or Twibes. At either site, you can instantly whip up a group of like-minded individuals to follow you, provided the content and direction you contribute has meaning and relevance. Whenever before could you so quickly assemble and sustain your own networks?

In his latest blog entry, Empowering Natural Leaders in ‘Facebook Generation’ Ways, Gary Hamel notes “Natural leaders today have the means to challenge ossified and change-resistant power structures. Thanks to the reach of the Web, a lowly but brilliantly effective leader can mobilize followers across a global organization and beyond—by writing an influential blog, by using that notoriety to get a platform at industry events, by hosting a Web-based discussion on a hot topic, by building an online coalition of similarly-minded individuals, by disseminating a provocative position paper to hundreds or thousands of fellow employees, and by using email to ensure that supporters show up at key meetings.”

So the digital age might have created more opportunities to lead, but will it create better leaders? Our leaders will look different, perhaps younger (see Chris Hughes and his Facebook-founding brethren). There will be people who are perceived as effective leaders because they start a “movement,” to use Godin’s term, but I contend that starting a movement does not necessarily mean you are an effective leader.

While on a relative basis our networks have increased, some of us have become lazy, relying less on interpersonal skills to connect with our "offline" networks. While we know more people, and much about them, we are, in many cases, less intimately connected than ever before.

Your "offline" connections instill and sustain the trust between you and your networks, and ultimately, your leadership is best tried among those who you know personally.

New opportunities to lead will come to you in the form of your social networks. If appropriately capitalized upon, these opportunities will lead to movements, which will then be carried on as sustainable ideas into the offline world, and it is there where the mettle of a true leader gets tested.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Define Entrepreneur

"Entrepreneur" is one of the most commonly used terms in business, whether it is in office talk, in periodicals, in books, on television or online. I hear the term used with much frequency.

It is especially common these days, given the 8.5 percent unemployment rate, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. People with nowhere to turn, let go from affected companies across the country, are forced to be as creative as ever about how they earn income. Are these people entrepreneurs? Beats me.

I often hear the word stated, particularly in large organizations, to describe an individual who thinks “big.” Is that an entrepreneur, someone who thinks “outside of the box?” Could be.

I know several people who have taken considerable risk to achieve financial success, in some cases many times over, by creating and sustaining enterprises from scratch. Are they entrepreneurs? Not sure.

What, truly, is an entrepreneur? For various reasons, I have given thought to this question lately, so much so that I want to devote time to answering it here.

To start, I picked out a 13-word definition, found at The Free Dictionary online: Entrepreneur (noun) “A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.”

The definition, itself, is simple. But, when I look closer at the three verbs of the sentence, there is deeper meaning to be found.

One, “organizes.” Okay, I am not Stephen Covey (in fact, no relation), but would give myself a decent grade when it comes to understanding organization. While it is important to touch on, I see no need to spend time on the organizational capabilities of an entrepreneur.

Two, “operates.” I think of a business operator as someone who leads. Not necessarily a boss, but someone who makes difficult decisions to drive work forward on a day-to-day basis. While this is certainly a critical skill to entrepreneurs, like organization, it does not lead me to what I want to know. It is not the key characteristic that I associate with an entrepreneur.

Three, “assumes.” Whoa. I like this one. Here, I encounter the real challenge of the sentence. It is the least easy of the three to define. "Assumes risk for a business venture." Huh? With measured risk, I will attempt to explain.

Before beginning an entrepreneurial endeavor, one must ask, what is the reward to be gained? What is the goal in taking on this challenge? Is it to be profitable? Is it to earn enough money, so as much to keep a certain standard of living, perhaps equal to or greater than that which is earned in a salaried position?

Defining the reward of an entreprenurial endeavor is no easy task. Sure, it is possible to do, for example, by forecasting financial returns in a business plan. But even then, the reward is not guaranteed. Often, rewards are hard to come by, particularly those of the monetary variety.

In the article, So, You Want to Be an Entrepreneur, which my aspiring brother-in-law recently sent to me, there are ten valuable points to consider when launching an enterprise. The point of the article, in short, is that the risk for entrepreneurs is high and can take a toll. The rewards are not often achieved until years into the venture.

So, back to risk. How do we justify risk without knowing the reward? That, folks, is what entrepreneurs do. They assume risk with confidence. With confidence that the reward, although uncertain, will mitigate the risk.

An entrepreneur can mean many things to many people, but by defining the word and breaking down the definition, I establish, for the purposes of self-evaluation, what an entrepreneur is.

Many of us can efficiently organize. Others of us can effectively operate. Some of us can do both, but how many of us willingly assume the risk required to reap an unknown reward?

The person who does is the true entrepreneur among us.