Review: It’s Not About the Coffee

I knew from the moment I opened Howard Behar’s book that I would not find it amazing or life-changing. Fortunately, an Amazon buyer has picked it up, so I managed to at least make $1 or so on the resale.

While it is surprising to know that some business owners wear their hearts on their sleeves, most of the points made in this book are duplicated in every business philosophy book from Carnegie to Mandino to Ziglar. The 1990’s and 2000’s books seem particularly keen on blending the best and worst of the East and West, to get an unholy mishmash of gooey feel-good nonsense that doesn’t translate into any part of the struggles we encounter on Planet Earth.

On The Journey Without a Clue

Quote: “If each of us is on a lifelong journey to find our hat, to know who we are, then by implication we are all on a journey to somewhere.” Brilliant, Behar.

Counter-Quote: “To attempt to climb – to achieve – without a firm objective in life is to attain nothing.” [Mary Roebling]

This is after Behar explains that he took 20 years to find out that he really wasn’t that passionate about furniture – he was passionate about the people. Does that mean that 20 years of his life attained nothing? Not at all, he considered it a great stepping stone.

Be True to Your Heart – Except When It Lies

Quote: “Only the truth sounds like the truth.”

Counter-Quote: “People who feel good about themselves produce good results.”

It is a curious truth that criminals tend to feel very good about themselves and their right to do the illegal and downright wicked things that they do. They feel good when they are getting away with something (theft), or when they get one over on the lawman (copping a good plea deal). They don’t feel good about obeying the law, or doing anything that is required of them by an authority figure. I have this on good authority, from Aesop to Jesus, that human nature is particularly keen on hiding the truth and hiding from the truth.

In fact, on your way to finding your own very personal truth about those things that stir deep oneness in your soul, I have an agreeable insight from Behar:

Counter-Counter-Quote: “I also know from firsthand experience that there’s a large gap between the wisdom of knowing what’s right and the wisdom to do what’s right. The principles I’ve learned and taught sound simple because they are based on basic human truths. But putting them into practice is hard because it is human nature to avoid the truth, both with ourselves and with others.”

No Rules, Just Therapy

So, the personal truth that I am gleaning from this book is that if you throw a bunch of high-sounding phrases together, eventually you’ll hit one that agrees with both Eastern and Western ways of thinking. Everyone goes home happy. But you don’t have to worry about providing any sort of structure other than “people are important” and “creativity is necessary for growth”, even though no one’s asking about where this growth is going.

Quote: “We need to get rid of rules -real or imagined – and encourage the independent thinking of others and ourselves.” If that were true, nobody would use a timer on the coffee, Howard.

Counter-Quote: “Listen to your inner voice of confusion, loss, disappointment, hope, or fear. Give that voice courage and share it with those around you. That small inner voice has a place.” Surely it doesn’t have a place at team meetings? Or else the meetings would be full of inner richness and sharing, and no one would figure out a plan for the marketing or dealing with the landlord. But then – you’d be obeying rules, wouldn’t you? Like putting words of wisdom on your walls, as “guardrails for my journey”.

Yoda Meets Tangled Underwear

This is my favorite Yoda-esque tidbit: “Let quiet be your guide.” Your guide into where? Wouldn’t that require a firm objective, as Mary Roebling just pointed out a few pages ago?

I hadn’t heard this earthy phrase before: “it’s easy for people to get tangled in their own underwear.” Really?! Do you have Starbucks team meetings about this problem too?!

East Meets West, and the West Wins

But this is the real kicker. So after interviewing people about the tangible feeling of malaise, Howard realizes that the “we” had shifted back to “me”. He pumps up the team with an impassioned plea to get back to the basics (i.e. nurturing the human spirit), and reaching for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. “This is where tactics came into play. I pulled a plan out of thin air…I had no idea how we’d meet this target.”

You’d think the word ‘tactics’ and ‘plan’ would have a bit more structure to it, or at least be an achievable goal. But no, that’s not how the human spirit works. When your employees groan about a made-up goal that you came up with on the spur of the moment, this is your kind and caring response.

“I have never felt that friendly competition in the service of the greater purpose takes away from the individual or greater good. We need to live by our values and produce results. We don’t get to choose. At Starbucks, the people who got the best results and helped us to meet our goal would get the most resources.”

So when your team calls your bluff about the “we” nonsense, when you suggest a big goal that means the departments will be competing against each other….you don’t tell them to let out their hurt and frustration. You tell them – there’s no choices. Put up or shut up.

Looks like Western pragmatism won over Eastern philosophy. I’m still happy to drink the coffee, just not the philosophical Kool-Aid.

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