February 26, 2009
1. There is such a thing as bad press.
2. You will recover from it.
3. Your competition for 2012 is not Governor Palin, as delighted as Democrats are by the prospect. You’re now competing against the version of you we just met, the party hack with bad advisers and worse comic timing.
4. Americans can handle the complexity of your thinking. We can handle the scary part of “scary smart.” Risk it.
5. Your intellectual curiosity is an enormous public asset. Come out as the Brown University-attending-Rhodes-scholarship-receiving-McKinsey consultant that you are.
6. A great gift to the nation would be a serious fight over who gets to be the “Party of Ideas.” You could lead that fight.
7. The country watched in horror as public incompetence destroyed communities and lives across the Gulf Coast. The mainstream media has moved on, but the rest of us are still paying attention to what happens next. Your career depends on getting it right.
8. Earnest, we like earnest, but you need to calibrate it slightly. More Eagle Scout, less kindergarten teacher.
9. You’re right to wonder about all the boas and wigs around you this month. They’re not all being worn by imports from West Hollywood — you’re representing a lot more queer, tax-paying Louisianans than you may realize. Consider the wacky idea of granting them full citizenship.
10. Natural disasters – even the volcanic variety — are never a good punch line.
February 11, 2009
The bankers will be scolded today. The theater of it all will be familiar and ridiculous. The lawmakers will climb up onto the stage, tap the full depths of their moral authority and deliver judgment as the cameras roll. It will remind us of similar performances with auto executives and baseball managers – and the current news cycle, which still has A-Rod by the scruff of the neck, will remind us that oversight without teeth is a very possible outcome.
As a taxpayer, the whole thing makes me tired. I’m numb to the show. I don’t want to know which plane, train or automobile delivered these guys to the gallows. I don’t want to hear the carefully scripted claims of disbelief that investment bankers were motivated by profit. I feel like Mary J. Blige, ready for a life of “No More Drama.”
I’m craving a technical solution, not a public hanging, as gross as some of the behavior may have been. There’s certainly enough blame to go around the hearing room for creating a system that made this moment possible.
I just have one piece of advice, and it goes for everyone in the room today – channel the Pottery Barn, a company that’s inspired public leaders in the past, despite its crass interest in wealth creation. You broke it. You own it. Fight the temptation to strut and fret and focus on putting it back together again.
February 2, 2009
Starbucks’ early success was the result of a lot of very smart, new thinking, including creating a market for higher-end coffee drinks and tapping into consumers’ need for a “third place” outside of work and home. For many years it thrived as it competed on its innovative business model, a relatively focused positioning. Starbucks delivered a specific experience to a specific set of customers (think Southwest not United).
For all its breakthrough thinking, its status as a public company meant that it still had to tame the growth beast. And then it came to an inflection point that most focused competitors reach, how to continue to grow after the first wave of saturation. It’s here where I think Starbucks stumbled. The company had two choices for growth — continue to expand its focused service offering at the risk of diluting the Starbucks brand or creating a new brand that would allow Starbucks Inc. to grow and learn outside of the constraints of its original offering.
The company chose the former – all too many focused competitors do – and has suffered the consequences. In doing so, it’s made a classic mistake, essentially trading off quality for growth. But this is a false tradeoff that can be overcome in creative ways that do not require abusing the brand. Yum Brands is a good example. Yum is a collection of five quick-serve restaurants. The overall Yum organization has ambitious growth expectations, but it doesn’t rely on any one brand to get there. Yum reveals that it’s possible to have a multi-focused organization. For the sake of my tall skim, extra hot, no foam latte with an extra shot, I hope Starbucks gets this message soon.