Book Review: Solve for Happy

Recently I finished reading a book called “Solve for Happy” by Mo Gawdat, former tech executive, writer and advocate for helping 1 billion people find happiness.  The premise of the book was intriguing – Mo was a highly paid executive for several well-known high tech companies, had a beautiful family, nice house, cars and other stuff, but was not happy.  This by itself is not an unusual story.  What was unique was that Mo, with his engineering and mathematics background, thought that maybe he could figure out a mathematical equation to solve for happiness, and started working on a theory and sharing it with friends and family.  In the midst of this endeavor, Mo’s son dies and suddenly the equation he has been working on is put to the test.

The book is analytical, emotional, spiritual and at points, breath-takingly beautiful.  Coming from a scientific and analytical background, I appreciated the approach.  One simple message from the book that resonated was, “We are not our thoughts”.  Oftentimes, believing we are what we think can lead us to feel bad about ourselves.  Getting caught up in our thoughts can distract us from finding what truly makes us happy.  If you have not read Mo’s book, I’d encourage you to check it out.  I’m re-reading the book and absorbing even more the second time around.

Teri Danielson is the owner and co-founder of Northwest Food Solutions.

Learning from Crisis – Building a Robust Supply Chain

By Dileep Kulkarni

During the Covid crisis, many companies have experienced supply chain issues.    This current recovery period is an opportunity assess the lessons learned.   Here are four “do it yourself” assessments that will help you build a robust supply chain that gives you competitive advantage.

Identify Critical Supply Chain:

Many companies procure large numbers of products and services, but not all of these have the same criticality.   It is important to assess and document your Critical Supply Chain.     Critical Supply Chain consists of components or services needed to build and ship products.  Most of the us think of the bill of materials when we imagine our Critical Supply Chain, but other services such as logistics and consumable products like gloves, etc. are also part of the Critical Supply Chain.  During this crisis – Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) has become a Critical Supply Chain component.   The rest of the supply chain is important but offers more leeway.

Take stock.  What does your Critical Supply Chain look like?

Availability and Flexibility Assessment:

Once the Critical Supply Chain is identified, the next step is to assess its availability and flexibility.    The first consideration is to understand which of these components or services are custom made – unique for the company, and which are commodity items.

Custom products normally have longer lead times and are likely to be single sourced.    It is good to have contractual agreements for upside volume in case of spike in demand (as seen by some food manufacturers), and downside flexibility to minimize financial exposure in case of sudden downturn.   Many businesses are shifting from their overseas suppliers, where the lead times including transportation have been more than three months, to regional suppliers with shorter lead times.

Even in commodity products, many companies have no backup suppliers identified.   This crisis has resulted in longer than normal lead times and lack of availability of certain items.  It is important for all the critical commodity items to have alternate suppliers not only identified but validated.  Validation may require small changes internally (machine setting etc.) to accommodate alternate supplier products as well as ensuring that quality is acceptable.

Take stock.  Does your Critical Supply Chain ensure availability and flexibility?

Supplier Risk Assessment:

Periodic reviews of the suppliers delivering critical components is a key aspect of supply chain risk management.    Supplier quality procedures and remediation processes are important to ensure that you get quality products every time.  When exceptions occur, you need to know your suppler can take fast, corrective action.   Supplier risk assessments includes understanding their ability to do rush orders, move production between different facilities, and their potential bottlenecks and remediation plans.    These supplier assessments need not be complex.   Most major suppliers already have these plans in place; you just need to understand and assess them.

Take stock.  Do your suppliers meet your performance needs and risk management criteria?

Cost Assessment:

With supply chain costs making up one of the biggest operating expenses at many companies, clear focus in this area is essential to maintain the competitiveness of your products.    Some commodities and markets fluctuate often – such as freight, paper, and tech products.   Other components and services are more stable but even there, the competitive landscape can shift between the major players.    It is important that companies periodically assess market and supplier costs.   Additionally, companies should evaluate their custom components and services to see if they are providing value – as invariably there are both hard and soft costs of these customizations.

Take stock.  Do you understand where price shocks are most likely to impact your cost structure and what you are doing to mitigate them?

This crisis has shone light on many supply chain shortcomings.   As you move to the recovery phase, these assessments will strengthen your company’s competitive edge.


Dileep Kulkarni is a former director of supply chain at Intel and currently consults with Expense Reduction Analysts.  If you would like to add some external leadership to improving your supply chain Dileep and his ERA team are here to help you.    He is   committed to making regional middle market companies more competitive.   Please do not hesitate to reach out to Dileep Kulkarni at or by phone 503-781-9367.

Navigating the Future

by Teri Danielson

As we enter week 8 of the “stay at home orders” in Oregon, I have been reflecting on what the future might hold for the food industry, and other industries and businesses in our state and country.  After talking to people throughout manufacturing and other industries about how they are managing during this crisis, I am seeing many companies demonstrating exceptional leadership, engagement and focus.

This got me wondering, given the challenges that COVID-19 is presenting, why are some businesses performing so well, what is it businesses are doing well to address the changing environment and how do businesses keep these practices going as we move forward?

What I would like to suggest, based on my observations:  The exceptional performance many companies are exhibiting is an example of how we are more effective when priorities are clear, businesses are focused and aligned around the work that needs to get done and there are minimal distractions.

When the stay at home orders were first issued, most of Northwest Food Solutions current projects were postponed.  And rightfully so.  Our food manufacturing clients were facing loss of their food service and restaurant volume and larger than normal growth of grocery volume, coupled with resource constraints and general difficulties associated with navigating COVID implications to the workforce.  The food industry is considered “critical infrastructure” and companies have been heads down in triage mode.

As the crisis progressed, I started reaching out to clients to find out how it was going.  I also began attending industry meetings and talking to others in the industry trying to see what companies might need and how Northwest Food Solutions could provide support.

One assumption I made was that companies would need help implementing COVID best practices, and we offered this help pro bono to our clients.  But the clients I talked with had already done this relatively quickly and painlessly.  In fact, during these conversations, clients related some great examples of the creative solutions they had come up with to ensure supply of raw materials, to social distance, to split shifts and protect employees, to find PPE, to share resources with other companies, to prioritize manufacture of products that were selling well in grocery and stop manufacturing products that had low volume.  That concept of focus and prioritization struck me again and again as I listened to industry leaders sharing their strategies and the creative workarounds they implemented.

This idea of focus and prioritization is a common theme in the consulting services we provide to companies.  Usually at the start of a project, when a client has brought us in to help solve a specific problem, we often see that people and resources are stretched thin by too many projects and distractions.  Leaders do not always know how to prioritize, so as a result, their teams are doing everything.  No matter what “project” we work on with a team, we always are working with the team to prioritize the project within the larger scope of company work and help teams figure out how to get the project work done effectively.  It is at the core of what we teach, even though it is almost never what we are hired to do.

So, what is different in the COVID world?  Now, we are all being forced to prioritize.  Some things we have seen change:  The ten new product launches planned for this year…not happening.  The twenty-five low volume skus that consume 70% of the teams resources to produce…shelved.  Sales travel to customers…it’s temporarily not happening or happening via Zoom.  Vendor and auditor visits…they have been reduced or eliminated.  In the COVID world, companies are aligned around a few common goals and those goals are clear to everyone.  1) Protect the workforce and 2) meet the increased demand of the most needed product.  So simple and so clear.

This idea of focusing on the few important things as a more productive approach is backed up by science.  There are a multitude of papers that have been published on the how multi-tasking or working on too many things at once destroys capacity and creativity.  According to Teresa Amabile, who wrote the Harvard Business Review paper “Creativity Under the Gun”, “It’s not so much the deadline that’s the problem; it’s the distractions that rob people of the time to make that creative breakthrough.”

Without all the distractions, companies can focus on work that adds the most value to the customer and develop creative ways to manage through the unique challenges they are facing.  Companies are effectively moving mountains to keep their product in stock and their workforce safe.

To be fair, not every company is doing this successfully, but I am heartened to see so many food and beverage manufacturers performing admirably in this crisis using their own resources.  We are going to return to a new normal soon, and it is likely that the way we do business will also be altered as the country opens back up.

Looking to the future, the rules have changed, and things are going to be different for all of us going forward.  With that in mind, I would love to see companies commit time to sit down with their teams, recognize what has been accomplished, how it was achieved, and take a hard look at how narrowing focus and prioritizing has impacted the company operations.  What are the learnings from this crisis that can be implemented into regular operations?   Reflecting on the accomplishments, what made them possible and charting a new path with resulting actions will help all of us in the food and beverage industry continue to navigate and prosper as we move forward.

And of course, Northwest Food Solutions would love to help with this work.  We are in this together and committed to continuing to support the organizational health of the food and beverage industry in the Northwest.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with feedback and questions.

Need Support to Keep Your Supply Chain Moving? We Can Help.

By Cheryl Collins

One thing is certain right now:  we are all experiencing some sort of disruption, and with disruption comes problems.  If you’re like most people right now, you are facing new and unprecedented challenges, and we’re here to help.

Problem solving is the core of our business; it’s what we do.  We have decades of experience working with clients helping them understand root causes of business challenges as well as helping them discover innovative solutions.  A problem solving mentality is needed now more than ever because “business as usual” no longer applies.  It’s time to challenge the status quo and implement solutions that will help with your business continuity.

Here are some examples of questions we’ve received that we can help with remotely:

  • I need help thinking through a reasonable leadership response in this escalating situation. Can we talk this through?
  • My team are scared. How should I lead through this situation?
  • I’m afraid about client continuity and cash flow. What can I do?
  • What do I do if someone my team gets sick?
  • We aren’t set up to work remotely.  What do I need to do to make this happen as efficiently as possible?
  • A lot of people are calling in sick and I’m struggling to meet demand, what options are available to me?
  • I’m trying to implement social distancing in the workplace but can’t figure it out, can you help?
  • My grocery business has tripled.  What can I do to keep up with demand?

We’ve compiled a list of resources for your reference  (here) and are updating that as we find more information.

In an effort to better meet your needs, we’ve also added a remote support service offering on our web page (here).

If you have a problem, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  We’re here to help!

Cheryl, Teri and Amy

Is Your Brand Built on a Strong Foundation?

By Amy Yukas
December 16, 2019

A brand, by simple definition, is a product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name.  As business and consumerism has evolved, so has this meaning.  A brand encompasses much more than just a product.  And yes, of course, it is the qualities, benefits and attributes of the product but ultimately it is the consumer perception that is the brand’s value or equity.

The consumer expectations of a brand are developed through all interactions and communication touch-points the brand has with the consumer.  This includes packaging (all packaging not necessarily just the primary packaging), website or retailer websites, sales materials, signage, social posts/responses, partnerships, advertising and if you own your own retail store – the consumer retail experience. These are all opportunities to talk to and with your consumers and to build long lasting, trusting relationships.

If you are just starting out or are thinking about a brand refresh, here are some key elements to think about when building a foundation for the brand:

  1. What does the brand stand for?  What does it believe in?  How is it different?
  2. What is attitude that comes out in written communication – copy and responses?  Is it humble?  Confident?  Humorous? Straight-forward? Smart? Witty? Reliable? Trusted?
  3. Visual Identity. What is the overall visual communication – logo, color palette, font(s), other visual assets that can be used, packaging, web design, photography? Is it sophisticated?  Approachable?  Whimsical? Clinical? Fun?
  4. Who are you trying to engage with?  Who is your target?  Millennials?  Gen X?  Gen Y?  Female?  Male? Interests? Values? Geography?
  5. What do you want to say to the consumer?  What is important for consumers to know?  What will resonate with consumers/customers?  Focus on 2-3, tops.

Building a successful brand means delivering on the brand/product promise and creating a strong emotional connection to the consumer. The result is consumer trust and loyalty.

As an example, look at Volvo – this iconic brand stands for safety, sustainability and luxury.  How do I know that?  It is clearly communicated in everything – from the website to social posts to the information I receive as a Volvo owner via email and snail mail.  It is visually appealing and high end.  They are always reminding me of how safe their cars are and how they continue to innovate on my behalf.  I am a believer and a loyal customer.  I have owned Volvo’s for the last 15 years.  And because I trust Volvo, not only do I drive one, last year, we bought one for my daughter.

With over +25 years of experience building brands – like Hidden Valley Ranch, Tazo Tea Company, Starbucks Coffee Company and Pacific Foods – I have learned the most important elements to building brands are consistency and simplicity.  Building a brand is not rocket science, but it does take a discipline, focus and patience.  The consumer loyalty that results from strong brands is built over time and is a powerful marketing tool.

Please let us know if you need any help with developing your brand foundation. We’d be happy to chat with you and your team.

Amy helps small to mid-sized companies with marketing plans, brand management and new product development processes through NW Food Solutions.  Previously she has lead brand and marketing teams at Smith Tea Maker, House Spirits Distillery, Pacific Foods, The Body Shop, Tazo Tea Company and Starbucks Coffee Company. 

You Don’t Have a Culture Problem

By Cheryl Collins
October 29, 2019

Organizational culture is still the hot topic.  As a culture nerd I love that we’re all talking about it.  But the mainstream understanding of culture hasn’t quite caught up with what it actually is.

The problem with thinking of culture as the cause of a company problem is that it perpetuates the misuse of the word “culture”, and interestingly enough, it doesn’t make much sense.

Most people have accepted that culture is, “the way we do things around here.” This is a nice, simple, easy way to think of culture.  But, it’s not quite accurate.  Culture is much more complex than a simple statement.  Culture is a broad, deep, ever-shifting system that is ultimately driven by our underlying assumptions (emphasis on underlying).

Edgar Schein, long time organizational culture guru, offers this definition, “Organizational culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved problems of external adaptation and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”  There are entire books dedicated to explaining what all of this means, but to make it more understandable here is a shortened version of the same definition:  Culture is a product of joint learning

Think about how that’s different from “the way we do things around here” definition.  “Product of joint learning” implies culture is the result, product, or output of something.  The way we do things around here implies culture is the cause of something.  Culture, by definition, cannot be the root cause of a problem.  Culture cannot be weak or strong, good or bad, it just is.  Your culture exists, it’s constantly shifting, and it’s completely the result of how your teams have learned to solve problems, both big and small.

You might be thinking, if culture is the product of joint learning, then could we just change how we learn to change the culture?  The short answer is yes.   But it’s another example of simple not necessarily meaning easy.  Why?  Because it involves change.  As a species, we humans aren’t wired to embrace change under most circumstances, but that’s a blog post for another day.

For now, just focus on re-framing your understanding of culture.  Remember:  Product of joint learning.  Product of joint learning.  Product of joint learning.  Product of joint learning.  Product of joint learning.  Product of joint learning.

Science suggests repetition helps us learn.

We’d love to hear what you think of this definition.  Does it align with how you think of culture?  How does this definition encourage you to think about culture?

Cheryl helps companies of all sizes with organizational, strategy and leadership development.  Her passion for transforming organization culture and psychological safety comes out of her experiences working with people and teams as the CEO of Ninkasi Brewing Company, as well as her roles at Oregon Community Credit Union and Teach for America.

The Science of Motivation

Motivation – it’s something we all struggle at some level.  Whether it is our own motivation, or we are trying to incentivize others to perform, it can be difficult to figure out how to get excited and create movement in the direction we are trying to go.  Our tool box consists of a carrot and a stick, and we either alternate between them or as more enlightened members of the 21st century, we lean towards the carrot.  Watch this Ted talk with Dan Pink, to get a different take on motivation and how thinking differently about what gets us moving as people can create some astounding results.  What if people are not motivated by the extrinsic, but by the intrinsic?  What if we are driven by an urge to direct our own lives, the desire to get better at something that matters and the yearning to work in the service of something larger than ourselves?  If this were true, how would you motivate yourself and the people who work for you?



Can Continuous Improvement Be a Matter of Life or Death?

With lean and continuous improvement, it’s foundational to think in terms of a problem being related to a process rather than people.  But as much as we teach and reinforce this concept, it can be very hard to internalize and practice the concept of process focus vs. people focus.  I often hear clients express disbelief and frustration over co-workers’ actions, especially when the behavior seems unexplainable and contrary to their own best interests.  When we can’t understand why people act in a certain way, it is easy to blame them for the unexplained behavior and categorize that behavior as “dumb” or “lazy”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

I recently read an article on that really drove this point home.  It was about the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and in the article, Dr. Boie Jalloh talks about a situation where doctors and nurses were forgetting to wash their hands between patients.  The wards in Sierra Leone contained 20 patients each and the handwashing station for the wards was across the hospital grounds, forcing healthcare workers to walk some distance in order to be able to wash hands between seeing each patient.  No matter how many times they were told to wash their hands, there was complacency in doing it, in part, because it was inconvenient.

It is incredible that even in the case of something that is life or death, like becoming infected with Ebola, and despite education level and understanding of the rules, people still were not routinely washing their hands when the act of hand washing was inconvenient.  I don’t believe these healthcare workers were lazy or uninformed.  If you imagine what these workers are going through, making rounds of 20 patients or more, cleaning up bodily fluids, listening to patients talk about their pain and suffering, and spending long hours doing this work, it is understandable how having to walk a distance to wash your hands after seeing each patient, might become a challenge.  It would be easy to say, “I’m going to skip the hand washing, just this once”.  And once could turn into four or five times.

How often as a manager, have we complained about our employees not following instructions, or not doing what we ask?  What we sometimes forget is how powerful a motivator it is to make the job easier and make the work more convenient.  If people in life or death situations are not able to follow instructions when the act of doing the work is difficult, what makes us think our employees will follow instructions in non-life threatening situations if the work itself is inconvenient?

Next time you are frustrated by a job that is not getting done, ask your employees the following questions:

– What is preventing you from getting the job done?

– What makes it hard?

– What would make it easier?

You might be surprised by what you hear, and you might learn that the solution is easy.

In the case of the health care workers in Sierra Leone, Dr. Jalloh reported that they were spending $20 per hand wash station to put at least one in each ward.

Baseball and Genuine Leadership

Lately, I have been reflecting on what it takes to create an atmosphere where people want to go to work every day; where people are inspired to do their best work every day.

There are multiple elements that have to be in place.  One of those elements is something I like to refer to as genuine leadership.  What does that mean?  Leaders who are genuine trust their people.  They understand that trusting people to use their creativity and ingenuity to figure out the best way to get a job done is a powerful way to motivate and achieve success.  These leaders see business goals as an experiment, where you try something to reach a goal, and if that doesn’t work, you adjust and try something else.  To a genuine leader, failure is not scary, it’s a learning opportunity.

Leaders who are genuine put people first, above profits.  Because they know if you put your people first, it inspires immense loyalty and people are willing to do what it takes to get the job done.  Profits and success are a natural outcome of this kind of environment.

And lastly, genuine leaders are good storytellers.  They can rally people around an idea or a goal by telling a compelling, heartfelt story, whether it be about winning games, improving a work environment or selling a brand.

But don’t take my word for it.  One of my favorite examples of someone who epitomizes the genuine leader can be seen in the documentary “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” about Bing Russell and the Portland Mavericks.  This documentary demonstrates how genuine leadership can be used to build a great working environment, and inspire people’s passion around an idea or brand.  Check out this awesome documentary on youtube or Netflix.