They say that “curiosity killed the cat.” Hmm.
Let’s say for a moment that the cat in this blog post will be a symbol for a few things…ignorance, blind superiority, ego, right and wrong, exclusion, authority.
If we let the “cat” embody those things, well then sure…I can get on board with that. Curiosity killed the cat. And we should all be jumping for joy in that case!! Who wants a life filled with ignorance, blind superiority, egotism, right, wrong, exclusionary tendencies, and parent-wagging-finger-at-child-style authority??
As far as I can see, curiosity only ever brought knowledge, enlightenment, discovery, questioning, seeking, thirst, hunger and passion for things. Why would we ever discourage this?? Which inclines me to believe that the age old quote is actually rather misleading…sure, our curiosity can sometimes lead us to things we didn’t expect, and knowledge sometimes can be a scary thing, at times even dangerous. But that should never, ever deter us from seeking to learn and grow and ever-increase our capacity for awareness and understanding.
So what does all this have to do with coffee?
Well, curiously enough, there’s this word I hear a lot about Starbucks, in our press releases, about our position in coffee, the market of specialty coffee, how we want to be seen, perceived, known by our customers, by the world at large.
Admirable? Yes. Of course we strive to be a leader, a trusted and respected authority on our core product, on coffee. Yet I shudder a little bit when I hear it. It just sounds so…condescending. All I can seem to picture is a parent standing righteously over their child wagging an all-knowing finger down in disapproval. I know everything, you know nothing. It implies a stagnation, a final destination on what should be an ever-winding road of coffee knowledge, that really should have no end, no final point, no destination.
Is anyone, can anyone, should anyone, or any entity for that matter, seek to become an ultimate, all-knowing authority? On anything?
The seeking part is fine, but not when it blinds us to the path along the way. It seems to me this is a bit much focused on the destination, losing sight of the journey entirely, and in fact connoting that the journey is not what’s important, that the seeking of coffee knowledge in all its forms is not the point, but that getting to this place where we have become the be-all, end-all know-it-alls of coffee is what we have in mind.
And I’m sure that it’s not. Although Coffee Authority sure makes it sound that way.
So what’s getting lost in this message? What are we sacrificing, what are we excluding, what are we making ourselves blind do when we do this? When we set out to become a Global Coffee Authority?
I think we sacrifice our intent of community, to welcome in and involve customers. Our inclusion and warm, open invitation to people everywhere to seek us out, to be invited in, to make Starbucks their 3rd place between work and home, to pull up a comfy chair and stay a while, discover something magical, about the people, the places, the farmers, the coffee. Think for a moment…does anyone seek out the authoritative parent, who always “has all the answers” when they are in need, unsure of themselves? Maybe, but it probably feels scary to. Or, more likely, do they run to the kind, understanding, equally sure-footed parent that will listen to them, hear them, meet them where they’re at, and provide an experience, specifically for them, that will uplift them and bring enlightenment to their day, their week, their life, without any hint of condescension?
I think we sacrifice our passion, our company spirit that is ever present, which DOES continually seek to find new knowledge, discover new things, grow, evolve, change, constantly…that thirsts, desires, more ideas, information, understanding. We’re an endlessly curious collection of individuals at this company. We embody an entrepreneurial spirit. We have a passion, a love, a connection, to everything we do. And every person I’ve ever encountered here, every partner, has a drive to learn, grow, and evolve every day. Would our partners be so curious to learn, know, grow in all things coffee if we told them that after you complete course A, B, C, you’re now a “Coffee Authority?” That your learning and growth in the area of coffee, your coffee journey, is now complete? Of course not. Which is why, so many partners, years after year, have a continued passion to discover ever-more about this precious, delicious commodity we work in service of.
But more than anything in this, I think we sacrifice our business. We sacrifice our opportunity to connect and inspire people to care about coffee as much as we do, to inspire people to buy and sell our coffee, so that we can continue to give back to the communities who provide it. We draw a box around ourselves that says “we live in here, we are the authority, you live out there, and only if you dare to cross this big scary line will we let you in on our secrets.” But we are not a secret society. We value transparency. We work tirelessly to find ways to tell our coffee story, to make known to the world all the wonderful things this commodity can be in service to, if you source it ethically, care about the farmers and the environment which so painstakingly produce it, if you give back to the places it comes from, if you deliver the end-result beans to customers in a way that is world-class, that connects people to it, inspires them with it. But how many people will cross a line when they come to it? What is there to motivate them to take the risk, take the leap? Their own curiosity, sure. But then they might remember that, supposedly, curiosity killed the cat. And then they’ll shy away. Just like we’ve shied away from establishing ourselves as the seekers of ever-more coffee enlightenment, a constantly evolving, learning, growing entity, just like our customers.
We’ve failed to be vulnerable, to say “Hey, here we are! We know a ton, but we’ll never know everything there is to know about this incredible thing called coffee. We’re learning every day…come learn with us!!”
Instead, we’ve positioned ourselves as the already-existing authority. We’ve essentially killed the curious cat. And as a partner of eight years, as someone who is slightly obsessed with our core product of coffee, I know, I can see in the daily actions of our company, across partners and teams and groups big and small, that to paint ourselves as some condescending, know-all coffee authority was never our intent. It is not who we are. Not at all.
And so I propose a new thought.
What if we let AUTHORITY kill the cat?
What if we embraced COFFEE CURIOSITY, instead?
Curious, isn’t it?