making the difficult decisions (observations and example)

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sign marking a dead end, end of the road, metaphor of a difficult problem or tasks with an unclear path to proceed

sign marking a dead end, end of the road, metaphor of a difficult problem or tasks with an unclear path to proceed

“Begin at the beginning, and go on until you come to the end: then stop.”

—-

Alice in Wonderland

<King of Hearts to Alice>

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Well.

 

 

 

We in the business world typically suck at a number of things.

1. How we view trends.

  • we confuse fads with trends and attitudes with behaviors.

2. How we view … well … decisions.

decision right wrong post it– we make the small big.

– we make the big ones look insurmountable … and treat them like we are planning DDay.

– we too often view things in hindsight <trends look obvious and decisions look smaller and clearer … albeit we like to label them BIG>.

I state all that because this suckedness formula tends to make all decisions pretty difficult and the truly difficult decisions almost impossible. And yet I will point out one made by Starbucks recently that kind of takes all the things we typically suck at and shows how you can weave your way through the suck minefield to reach the difficult decision that has to be made … and should be made.

Let me explain our typical suckedness <because it is fairly explainable>.

  1. Trends.

Far too many businesses want to CREATE a trend.

Far too many businesses want to FOLLOW a trend.

Not enough businesses look deeper inside a trend and find the sustainable element <the human insight>

Suffice it to say creating or following a trend looks an awful like reading tea leaves. You may get lucky <and call it some brilliant insightfully smart strategic thinking afterwards …note … few & far between but lauded as something uncertain decisions acteveryone should aspire to> but in general if you try and CREATE a trend, or lead one, no one <or not enough> follow to make it a trend <other than one you have in your mind that others should be doing but are stupidly not doing> … if you FOLLOW a trend <not the insight within the trend> it’s like being a surfer trying to catch a wave too late. You’ll paddle a lot within the trend without the thrill of riding the crest or ride the pipeline. Now if you can actually spot a trend <not a fad … which is different> and dig into the core of its energy  that’s where success resides. Most businesses misuse trends <assuming they use trends at all>. They use a trend as rationale for decisions instead of using a trend to find a relevant product <innovation or usage or connection point> insight.

But mostly businesses misuse trends from a timing perspective – wanting to create <a crap shoot>, wanting to follow <you are inevitably behind> or wanting to lead <which almost always means you are looking over your shoulder all the time>. I could write a whole article on how brands & branding people misuse trends, but suffice it to say most businesses just suck at how they view trends.

 

2. Decisions <small, big, inconsequential, consequential, monumental & insurmountable>.

We in business always want things to be really important and really big so that we can showcase our value in the decisions we made within these important and big decisions.

This creates a variety of issues.

We make the small decisions look big. starbucks small drinkThis is bad because … well … businesses are rarely driven by any truly big decision but instead a massive quantity of smaller decisions.

Most leaders know & understand that.

Most middle management kind of knows that but hates admitting it.

We make the truly big decisions look like frickin’ Mount Everest. This is bad because … well … they take on a rich & royal hue of insurmountability. Middle management does this to pass responsibility on to the shoulders of those who get ‘paid to climb Mt. Everest’ and bad leaders do this to cover their ass <I mean, c’mon, how many people really can climb Mt. Everest?>.

All in all this makes decision making tough. Especially the bigger ones that need, and should, be made

In addition there this this weird thing we do with decisions … past sight. Because all decisions take on more importance than their actual value we seek things to create some comfort. In other words, we seek out things done in the past. We use past sight to reflect upon ‘big important decisions.’

Uh oh. Let’s be clear … in present sight many of these decisions were just decisions … not insurmountable not monumental nor were they even ‘too big’ and they may not have even been a ‘big important decision’ <with the larger repercussions that past sight is now showing>.

uncertainty decision makingThey were decisions. In past sight we have sifted thru the chaff and uncovered the wheat. Metaphors aside I would suggest that time is better spent sifting thru the chaff today than using past sight.

But this is about where business people typically suck so suffice it to say while we mismanage most decisions we certainly misidentify the bigger more difficult decisions to a point where they can often be insurmountable <and therefore no one makes the difficult decision>.

Okay. The Starbucks difficult decision. Well. Starbucks is a lightning rod for positivity and negativity.

coffee and successIt embodies everything that is good and bad about capitalism, marketing, positioning, good business and poor decision making.

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Starbucks & Fine Line in Making a Difference

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For every great thing you can point out about Starbucks someone will immediately <and typically very passionately> point out something they hate about Starbucks. Suffice it to say they built a business empire through one very specific thing – offering a great cup of coffee in a cool environment <which encouraged hanging out>.

Anything anyone can try and convince you of some psychological and marketing mumbo jumbo behind their success is just fluff.

It is simple. They decided to offer something pretty basic & practical and built an empire around it. You can bitch about overextending, too many locations, and ‘selling out’ or any number of ‘they are too mainstream’ type bitches you want to, but they have never strayed too far from what I pointed out.

That said. They have made mistakes. And they have made some business mistakes <as all good businesses who try and grow and do different things will do>.

Frankly, I give them credit for stupid mistakes. A lot of credit. None killed them and at least they tried.

But where I give them the most credit? They make the difficult decision. They quit on a bad idea.

In june they announced “Starbucks to close all 23 La Boulange locations” saying the stores “weren’t sustainable for the company’s long-term growth.”

The cafes, known for their French-inspired decor and menus, and the pink envelopes that now cup pastries sold at Starbucks stores, are favorite breakfast and lunch spots in the San Francisco Bay Area. Starbucks bought Bay Bread and the La Boulange brand in 2012 for $100 million.

The deal was seen as a strategic move by Starbucks to gain a bigger presence in the food business, particularly as traditional fast-food chains like McDonald’s improved their coffee offerings.

“After more than 40 years, we will be able to say that we are bakers, too,” Howard Schultz, CEO at Starbucks, said at the time.

Oh. They are also closing the Evolution Fresh retail location in San Francisco.

Analysts said the closures likely reflect a decision by Starbucks to focus on its extensive chain of Starbucks stores, rather than run two separate operating businesses.

“While they’ve had some success with La Boulange-branded products, running the stores was a distraction,” said David Henkes, vice president at Technomic, a restaurant research and consulting company.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm … they are turning their back on a $100+ million investment.

decision to make decisionThis is a difficult decision. Call it business pruning if you would like < http://brucemctague.com/business-pruning >.

I now refer to my opening quote from Alice in Wonderland <which most likely confused a shitload of people> … begin at the beginning, and go on until you come to the end: then stop.

This is a difficult decision because most businesses and business people don’t recognize ‘the end’ and know when to stop. I tend to believe it is because they have a leader who may not be comfortable making the difficult decisions … but is willing to make them.

I have sat in a meeting with Howard Schultz <he would never remember me> and he portrayed all the positive characteristics of what I would call a “benevolent dictator.” Listens well. Articulates well. Delegates well. Permits others to pursue different ideas and paths. And when he makes a decision or a statement … well … that is the period at the end of the discussion <’that is what we will do’ decisiveness>.

To be clear on that type of leadership. While many people WANT <or desire> this status not many people can actually DO this. Do I think he is comfortable making the difficult decisions? Of course not. No good leader doesn’t feel some discomfort. What the hell. It is a big hairy audacious difficult decision. These are the decisions that SHOULD make someone feel a little uncomfortable.

Now. That doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to make the difficult decision … and that is often what separates leaders.

Good leaders feel the discomfort and feel their way past it to make the decision.

Scary leaders don’t feel any discomfort and make a decision.

Non leaders feel the discomfort and cannot feel their way past it to make a decision.

The Starbucks investment was based on a variety of pieces of information … user trends, people trends, business analytics, all that crap. And along the way they made a number of small, big, inconsequential and consequential decisions … all of which led them from the beginning to the end.
And at the end there was someone who made the most difficult decision … and periods at the endthat really wasn’t ‘to stop’ … the truly monumental decision was to decide they were at the end. It is far far easier to say ‘one more try, one more year, one more season, one more … one more … one more …”

The difficult decision?

To stand up and say ‘we have come to the end.’

Not many businesses and business people can make that difficult decision. Heck. Not many people would use trends correctly to help make good hard decisions. And maybe that’s my point. Most businesses suck at looking at trends at that is related to suckedness in making decisions. Note that the next time you run into a business who has no frickin’ clue how to use a trend.

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Written by Bruce