Episode #78: The Great Potato Salad Mystery

Grad Conn

February 17, 202112 min read

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Sometimes business is like making potato salad. No really, it is. In today’s episode we search for the secret to my grandmother’s famous potato salad, and in the process learn some valuable business lessons about specificity, or the lack thereof. It’s a recipe… for success.

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All right, welcome to the CXM Experience. And as always, I am Grad Conn, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr. And today we’re talking about potato salad. So, potato salad is our topic for today. And you’re gonna wonder, how does this relate to what I’m doing every day in my marketing enterprise? To which I answer, I’m not 100% sure, yet. But hopefully within about 10 minutes we’ll have that all figured out.

I had a really interesting experience over the last few days with my mom, who I’ve talked about a few times on the show. And she’s a regular, avid listener. So Hi, mom. This is our potato salad story. And thank you for getting everything done today so I could do the podcast. Very, very much appreciated. And I’ll talk about that story in a few minutes, too.

I want to talk a little bit about the benefit of specificity when it comes to getting things done. So, a little bit of background on potato salad and the current sitch in terms of the family. So, most of my family is up north. Between New Jersey, Pennsylvania, all the way up to Toronto. Mostly in extremely cold weather right now. There’s a massive winter storm going on. In the middle of February, power’s out. It’s blowing snow. It’s a really rough, cold, very awful, awful winter months. That worst of the worst of the eastern coast winter, which is February. If there’s ever been a terrible day in a winter, it’s usually been in February. Which is also when my birthday is. And many of those days have occurred on my birthday.

So, what is a little bit different is that this year, I’m in Florida. And so while the rest of my family is freezing their boochucklies off out east, and even the ones that have somehow found themselves in Seattle. They’re also in the middle of a winter storm gripped by snow as well. So essentially, everyone in my family covered in heaps and heaps of snow. But here in Florida, it’s about 85 degrees. Gorgeous, sunny. Dry as a bone. Amazing, amazing summer weather. Absolutely gorgeous summer weather.

And of course, when you have gorgeous summer weather, what better thing to do then to have a picnic. And so without driving my family too crazy we’ve been having lots of picnics. And what better thing to have in a picnic than potato salad. Particularly something called picnic potato salad.

So, picnic potato salad is something that my mom has made for a long time. And she’s got a great recipe for it. Essentially, it’s a really delicious potato salad. Uses feta cheese, crumbled feta, and Italian dressing. And it does not use mayonnaise and sour cream. So you can actually take it on a picnic, and it won’t curdle and kill you. It’s a very effective and very delicious potato salad.

But every once in a while, I still do have quite a hankering for old fashioned mayonnaise-based potato salad. And so after making a picnic potato salad, and I think it went very successfully, and it was very, very good. I asked my mom for the basic, main traditional potato salad recipe. This is where things all went awry.

So, that recipe was actually invented by my grandmother. My grandmother’s polish, and often people will affectionately call Polish grandmother babushka. But I couldn’t pronounce that when I was a kid, really young. And so I called her Bobbi and that kind of stuck. And so Bobbi and jogye were my Polish grandparents. Very amazing, incredible people, which I will talk about at some point in the future. But absolutely amazing.

And so Bobbi had a “recipe” for potato salad, as she did for many things. Now, Bobbi as a cook, didn’t really measure things. It was just throwing things in. Knew how much to throw in. And it just magically tasted the same every time. And it was amazing. And so after getting the picnic salad recipe, which is pretty specific… my mom’s got: it’s two thirds a cup of Italian dressing, a half a teaspoon or dill weed, a half a teaspoon of oregano. It’s all very precise. My mom’s really good at writing these things out and with directions and how it all goes together. I asked her for the recipe for Bobbi’s potato salad, and she sent me the recipe. And I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in my entire life.

So, basically the recipe is boil potatoes. Add egg, and boil. Place potatoes in a pot … in a bowl. Add mayonnaise and sour cream, and then some lettuce. That’s the recipe. What? Boil some potatoes and some eggs, throwing in some sour cream and mayonnaise, and then pop in some lettuce. How am I supposed to make that?

I thought it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. And my mom was like you just make it. And I’m like, how much? How many potatoes? How many eggs? How much sour cream, how much mayonnaise? It didn’t make any sense to me at all. So, it was the night before my surgery, so I might have been a little punchy as well. But I was laughing my face off.

And so I called my sister. And I was saying to my sister, this hilarious recipe that mom sent me, which was completely not understandable. And so my sister said, oh, I’ve got it. I’ve got it. You don’t need to worry about that. I will send you the potato salad recipe. And so she sent me one with specific numbers in it, which is pretty cool. But it just seemed a bit odd to me because it was five medium sized potatoes. And then a cup of sour cream, and a cup of mayo. And then a bunch of other stuff. I thought, two cups of mayo and sour cream in five potatoes. That didn’t make any sense to me, either.

And so I’m talking to my mom about this new recipe that my sister sent me. I said this sounds like potato salad soup or something right? It sounds like mostly liquid. With a little bit of potatoes floating in it. It doesn’t really sound like potato salad. So, mom says, well, that doesn’t sound right either. And I said, Well, what is in it?

So, my mom, again began trying to describe it to me. And was so cool, and this is the fun part of the story, is I eventually said to my mom, could you just do it? Could you just make it. And while you’re making it take a picture of every step. And as you do each step, could you also measure the quantity and write out a recipe with the actual quantities. So now I have a photo essay from my mom with pictures of her hand, the jar, the measurers. What I love about some of this stuff, some of these are measuring spoons from Tupperware parties from the 70s. I love this stuff. And how it goes in, exactly how to dice the lettuce, exactly how to cut the potatoes, the exact width of the egg, the exact width of the potatoes, exactly how much sour cream — not a cup — exactly how much mayonnaise — not a cup — exactly how much pepper.

Oh, by the way, she’s using Miracle Whip not mayonnaise. We can argue about whether Miracle Whip is mayonnaise. And that’s an interesting debate we can have. And mustard and everything else. It’s the whole thing, spelled out in aching, aching detail. I have zero issues about making this now.

Now, I can guarantee you that when I make it, I will make modifications of my own. I’ll probably use mayonnaise, not Miracle Whip, for example, and other things as well. But I’ll make those modifications off a base of understanding of knowing that the current ingredient list goes in perfectly.

And I think it’s an interesting analogy for me. This whole process of really wanting to make this potato salad, getting something so non-specific that I felt like I just didn’t know what to do. Then getting something that just didn’t sound quite right. And now getting something that’s in such amazing high fidelity detail. that I know how to make an exact duplicate of it. But knowing inside that I’ll still probably alter it somehow, in my own way.

And I actually thought this would be a great analogy for what we do in business. Because a lot of time in business, a lot of time in marketing, we have a very foggy idea of what we’re trying to do. We sort of know what we kind of want it to be like. We sort of want classic potato salad that I remember eating at my grandmother’s house and remember having a certain taste. And then the directions to get there are always really non-specific. We very rarely get specific directions in business. It’s very hard to have real clarity on the path that we need to take and how we need to get there. So it’s very, very foggy.

But every once in a while we’ll know someone who’s been there before or who’s done it before. But sometimes they’ll give us directions and we’re like, I don’t know, that doesn’t sound right. And sometimes you just need to get someone who’s been on the journey a bunch of times to sit down and take you through it step by step. Now, I gotta say massive, massive props to my mom on this one. Because I was really pushing her to get this recipe pulled together for me. Because I really want to make it, and I really wanted to talk about in the podcast today. And there’s a massive snowstorm going on in St. Catharines, Ontario. And so my… what’s the right way to put this. My stepfather, I guess, my stepfather, Paul, he jumped in the car in the middle of a snowstorm. Thank you, Paul. And he drove to the store to go get the lettuce that’s supposed to go in the recipe. But of course, it’s Family Day in Canada today. and so the stores were all closed.

Paul came back. And Paul so wonderfully sacrificed these beautiful little lettuce leaves that are growing in his hydroponic farm downstairs, that they were going to use in a salad, and they’ve now put into this potato salad, to be able to do the potato salad recipe for me. So, thank you, Dad, that was awesome. I really, really appreciate it. And you know, it’s really amazing to see the commitment that people suddenly have put into it. Because when you actually ask people to be specific, after a certain point, when they really drill down and really get specific, then suddenly, it has to be 100% authentic. So, you know, my mom couldn’t just cut up a paper towel and show me what the lettuce would look like. She had to actually cut up real lettuce. And so we have hydroponic lettuce cut up into this potato salad that they’ve made in the middle of a snowstorm.

And, as well, my mom made the potato salad in the middle of a snowstorm, which is pretty amazing. And she dropped everything for it, and got it done for me and sent me 30 photographs, which I’m going to turn into a photo essay in a Word document. And I just I couldn’t be more appreciative. And now I have real clarity on how to do it. And guaranteed, a couple years from now when someone looks at that recipe, they’ll see the original recipe, and they’ll see my little scrawling where I cross something out, and make it a little bit more, make a little bit less, or add an ingredient that might be missing. And that’ll be how the recipes work, and how you take the plan, and you alter it. And you continue to improve it and you continue to make it better.

And Mom, there is a gorgeous Wüsthof utility knife headed your way, as a great thank you for doing this for me today. I know you’ll love it. Great knife. Tell me how you like it. And I’ll get you a block and we’ll build out a knife set for you once you got that up and running. But today, you’re going to get the first of many knives, which will be the utility knife as a thank you for doing this for me today.

So that’s my story about potato salad, and how potato salad relates to business. Which is you know what? Sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing. Sometimes someone will give you a bit of directions. Sometimes people can give you a lot of directions. The more you push for specific direction. And the more confidence you get about how to do something the right way, the more easily you can alter it in the future. And the more easily you can execute with confidence. And so you can never plan too much you can never execute too thoroughly and you can never ever have too much potato salad.

For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and I’ll see you next time.

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