Excerpts from an interview with
Michael A. Goodman, author of
The Potato Chip Difference

Q.  What made you decide to write this book?

A. There was a period of about eight months during which I had an unusual number of people asking me for help finding a job or making a career change. Because each of them was in a unique situation, I considered their individual circumstances and offered whatever perspective or insight I could to help them out.  After the fifth or sixth person, I realized that for all the uniqueness in their individual situations I was basically asking the same kinds of questions, suggesting the same reading materials, and offering the same fundamental advice.  Thatís when it occurred to me that most of what I was doing could be generalized and captured in a book.

Q.  Do a lot of people come to you for career advice?

A.  It depends what you consider a lot.  Because Iíve been a professional management consultant for the last 22 years, with another 11 years in line management at some pretty big and well-known companies, I have lots of friends, clients and contacts in corporate America, and Iíve interviewed or considered hundreds of prospective employees.  I think thatís why people usually include me in their network when they are looking for  a job or considering a career change.  Itís probably a combination of hoping that Iíll be able to introduce them to someone who might hire them and thinking that I must be pretty effective at getting senior-level decision-makers to say yes.

Q. And have you been able to help most of them?

A.  I think so, but probably not the way they expected.  I tend to go into my management consultant mode, and instead of trying to solve their problem for them I try to bring some objectivity and structure to their career planning process, hoping that theyíll then be able to solve their own problem and learn some valuable lessons along the way.  Itís been quite effective, and itís really the basis of The Potato Chip Difference.

Q. So is The Potato Chip Difference more about good strategic marketing or about career planning?

A. Itís really both.  I think of it as Marketing Strategy 101 with an individual being the product.  If all youíre interested in is finding a job, the book will give you some very solid, proven  approaches to developing a strategy that will work for you.  If youíre more interested in learning about marketing strategy and strategic planning, the book will give you that too, but the product thatís being marketed (in the book) isnít a widget but an individual.  The basic principles are the same either  way.

Q.  How did you come up with the name The Potato Chip Difference for the book?

A.  Thatís explained in some detail in the book, of course.  In a nutshell, itís a concept I learned when I was director of  marketing at Frito-Lay early in my career.  When I first arrived, I was amazed that the senior management of the company could tell so much about a potato chip by just looking at it.  They could invariably tell you what part of the country it came from, often the specific manufacturer, the frying temperature, what kind of oil was used, the salt level, and perhaps even the number of days since it was processed.  Eventually I even learned to do some of that myself. 

Even more remarkable is that consumers do it every day.  They may not know the technical terms or the detailed criteria, but they know the difference between the various brands available to them, and they know what they and their families like. Thereís a reason why Layís brand potato chips is number one, and while most consumers might not be able to list all the specific parameters by which they do their evaluation, they know they prefer Layís.

The lesson is that there is no such thing as a commodity.  Consider that all potato chips are really just sliced potatoes, fried in oil and salted.  That sounds like a commodity, doesnít it?  Well, itís not.  Not any more than Star-Kist tuna, Mortonís salt, Uncle Benís rice, Dole pineapple, or any one of a dozen other product categories are commodities. Thereís a long list of brands that have distinguished themselves by being different from and better than competitive products in what most people would think of as a commodity category.

The connection to career planning is that from an employerís perspective every applicant may look like a commodity -- just another  resume crossing their desk.  The challenge for the applicant is to communicate a specific positioning, or ďbrand image,Ē that will distinguish him or herself in a positive way from the host of other people who have behaved as though they are commodities.  They need the same kind of ďpotato chip differenceĒ that makes Layís the preferred snack for millions of consumers around the world.  They want to be the preferred applicant in a category of otherwise commodity competitors.

Thatís where The Potato Chip Difference got its title, and thatís really what the book is all about -- distinguishing yourself from your competition -- and communicating a distinctive positioning or image that will be attractive to a prospective employer.  Thatís a ďpotato chip difference.Ē

Q.  One last question.  Do you get into specifics in the book, so that a person can simply read the book and implement a  plan?

A.  Yes, and no.  The book does go  through all the steps necessary to develop a strategic plan for finding the next job.  In that sense itís complete. What it doesnít do is tell you exactly how to implement every facet of the strategy.  There are plenty of books that tell you more than you need to know to prepare your resume, conduct yourself at a job interview, etc.  This book doesnít get into that kind of detail.  It would be a  mistake, however, for someone to begin the implementation without first getting the strategy down pat, and thatís where The Potato Chip Difference fills a void in the available literature.

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Last updated: Monday, November 03, 2008