Enlightened Conflict

the fine line in making a difference

April 2nd, 2015


society blame responsibility

“It’s easy to make a buck.

It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”


Tom Brokaw


“If you believe you can make a difference, not just in politics, in public service, in advocacy around all these important issues, then you have to be prepared to accept that you are not going to get 100 percent approval.”


Hillary Clinton










This is about Starbucks and “Race together” <“stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America”> and businesses making a difference.





hero family of the


In general … brands & companies tend to be rewarded when they align themselves with a cause. Cynically speaking … this is so because people are pleased to have the opportunity to feel self-righteous simply by buying something for themselves.







If when a business does something ‘responsible’ or something directed toward a specific cause or taking some action with an eye toward some issue and it is a true extension of the corporate culture, i.e., authentic, it is powerful. Uhm. But this teeters on a very very fine line … thinner than thin.







It is a cynical cynical world out there these days.




That said.




Let me take a minute to discuss the ‘race together’ Starbucks initiative and how the general population has responded <and of course my opinion>.





Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks, thinks the gourmet coffee chain has a responsibility to address America’s vexed race relations.

After a series of internal meetings at the company, he decided to launch “Race Together”, a co-venture with USA Today, a newspaper, to “stimulate conversation, compassion and action around race in America.”

“Race is an unorthodox and even uncomfortable topic for an annual meeting,”

society fix please

“Where others see costs, risks, excuses and hopelessness, we see and create pathways of opportunity — that is the role and responsibility of a for-profit, public company.”


Suffice it to say the the initiative has created a shitstorm … okay … a fairly significant backlash.

Even by employees.



– Starbucks baristas, who were invited to write “#Racetogether” on coffee cups, responded with derisive tweets: “Being a barista is hard enough. Having to talk #RaceTogether with a woman in Lululemon pants while pouring pumpkin spice is just cruel,” tweeted Ijeoma Oluo.

– Corey duBrowa, a senior vice president of global communications at Starbucks, received such a deluge of angry messages that he temporarily deleted his twitter account.






Beyond the fact I think I would have a couple of choice words for my employees <like … shouldn’t those be exactly the type of people we should be starting the conversation with ? … and … gosh … i know your job is tough but sometimes companies are bigger than the shit we do every day ..> I would be scratching my head a little over the angry response from the genera population.


<and having met Howard I imagine behind closed doors he tore his hair out>



Just guessing here.
I imagine that the general backlash is grounded in some cynical viewpoint feeling that Starbucks was piggybacking on a serious social issue for its own economic gain.


Maybe people perceived that a Starbuck’s interest in racial issues kind of felt like some marketing ploy.



society sheep pigs capitalismAnd then a shitload of people <pontificating marketing & branding experts … kind of like me but smarter> started bringing up practical flaws — how are people supposed to talk about race in a 30-second interaction with a stranger while picking up coffee to go?




And then there are jerks like me who come out of the woodwork making snide remarks about how this is ‘bad for the brand’ poking at all the reasons from a marketing, PR or branding perspective the campaign was flawed or misconceived.




Aw geez … will everyone just shut the fuck up.




Just stop the talking & bitching.



Think bigger picture, people, … bigger picture.



The last thing someone should say., or CAN say, is that this was a stupid business decision.



It was a bold, risky business decision.


One fraught with business peril but with massive moral upside.



Do I think it was a good business idea? I doubt it.


Would I have had the kahones to do it? I doubt it.



What do I like about it?





Someone has to go first.


Or maybe.



You can make a bad business decision for the right reasons.


choices morally right

Right reasons?



Should a business be sticking their nose into social culture issues and shouldn’t they be sticking to making revenue and paying their employees fair wages?






If businesses are not permitted, or don’t even try, to play a role in the development of society issues, values and driving positive cultural dialogue <notice they didn’t offer a solution … simply desired to facilitate the dialogue & discussion> … well … then who will?



Please notice I don’t call this discussion ‘social responsibility’ which I tend to believe has become one of those trite business bullshit phrases of which is being abused and mangled by consultants and business leaders and gobs of useless books.



Far too often the discussion of the role of business in society manages to digress to simple business ‘criteria’ like corporate reputation, innovation, competitiveness and growth.



What bullshit.


If I decide to do something right it is because I want to do the right thing. I want to set aside ‘business criteria’ of reputation, innovation or revenue growth.



And the only growth I am talking about is moral growth. Integrity growth.






I know that this means I am standing up against Milton Friedman and disagreeing vehemently with his point of view as stated in 1970:



The discussions of the “social responsibilities of business” are notable for their analytical looseness and lack of rigor. What does it mean to say that “business” has responsibilities?

Only people can have responsibilities.

A corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities, but “business” as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense.

… and have said that in such a society, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”







I respectfully reject this thought Mr. Friedman.



I reject it with integrity and a belief that someone should stand up and speak when it is right to do so.



I reject t because … well … someone needs to stand up because if no one does nothing changes.






It is possible what Friedman said was true in 1970 but I doubt it. But suffice it to say that in 2015 businesses are in the social crapper <or on the bottom of the moral barrel> and therefore should be the ones to step up.



If not them, then who?



Peter Drucker clearly articulated salvation by society and how business plays a role in the ‘salvation.’ He also clearly outlined the dangerous shifts occurring back in 1990 or so when businesses started focusing more solely on bottom line measurement.






We spend more time working than we do with our families.


We spend more time interacting with businesses in totality than we interact with anyone or anything else.



Why shouldn’t they play a role?


And why should they be chastised for doing so?



In the good ole days barbershops and post offices or corner bars were where dialogue & discussion took pace.


These days?


The coffee shop?





I’m generalizing but you get the point.





small big matters tweak

I am not a huge Hilary fan but she is right … if you believe you can make a difference and actually do something with that objective in mind … you shouldn’t expect 100% approval. You just gotta take the step and start going. It doesn’t have to be a big step like what Starbucks attempted but take the step.



In addition.



“If you’re going to say what you want to say, you’re going to hear what you don’t want to hear.”

Roberto Bolaño


Stepping up ain’t always popular.


And stepping up means that you are at the front of the pack where it is a shitload easier to hear all the crap you don’t really want to hear.


And stepping up means you are gonna teeter on that fine line of making a difference in an authentic meaningful way..




In the end.


I like the fact that a big far reaching business suggested they WANTED a role in the discussion.



I like the fact that a big far reaching business suggested that something may be more important than sales <because if anyone believes this was a marketing gimmick guaranteed to generate sales they have been smoking far too much pot for their own good>.



I like the fact that a big far reaching business suggested that part of their brand ‘value’ wasn’t how much people valued them but rather how much people society live work complexrespected them … or how much self-character they placed on their own value.




A zillion experts will tell you all the reasons they shouldn’t have done it.



This one non expert stands and applauds and says ‘I am pleased you did it.’




Would I have had the balls to do what Starbucks did?


I don’t think so.


But, damn, I wish I did.

Enlightened Conflict