On Corporate Culture & Coffee

January 9th, 2010

I just finished reading a book called Starbucked, A double tall tale of caffeine, commerce, and culture, by Taylor Clark. The book is a 296 page dive into the world of coffee and how it came to prominence in the shape of a square green store with a mermaid logo, maybe you’ve heard of it?

Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Starbucks. I love the coffee – tall soy no-whip mochas are my drink-indulgence preference, with a maple-nut scone if I’m into treating myself extra special. I hate the idea of patronizing a chain store that is sucking culture out of America and recently the whole world by sticking exact replicas of itself on every side of every street. I love the idea that when I’m traveling in India I can have a sip of something that reminds me of home, and I hate the idea that what comforts and reminds me of home is Starbucks. I love the fact that when I’m working out of the house or in between meetings I can sit in a comfy chair and catch up on email or read a book with free internet, with access to a clean bathroom for a $3.00 price-tag.

So there are clearly plusses and minuses. And I am not the only one noticing the two sides of this mermaid-faced coin.

The question the author asks however, is how much is too much. Starbucks was founded by a coffee-loving fanatic named Howard Schultz who was obsessed with quality and the creation of a third place - a safe, comfortable place where people could just be that wasn’t a bar. Now that sounds like a good idea – kind of like afterschool programs. But somewhere along the way he flipped from creating spaces to making money. The chain went from being a coffee connoisseur with well-informed baristas (Italian for bar-tender) to a drive-through spouting fast paced media add for Akkelah and the Bee with a little bit of coffee in a great big cup of milk, sugar, and caramel syrups. Whip cream on top optional.

Starbucks now operates in every country around the world, with the exception of Israel (where it opened and was forced to close). There is often an outcry when Starbucks begins it’s construction of a space. I was living in Berkeley, CA when the Starbucks on Telegraph by the University of Berkeley announced its grand opening. We all talked about how we would never let that happen. Protests and letters ensued. Three weeks later there was a line out the door and around the corner. Not protestors as you might hope, but caffeine-craved hippies waiting for their fix.

The author asks the question – is it the responsibility of Starbucks to decide it has enough stores around the globe, and to stop Americanizing every place it goes, or does Starbucks pop up around the globe because people keep showing up in droves to buy it’s product? What comes first – the supply or the demand?

The danger of course is that we can easily fall asleep to our values and what’s important. Small towns in America often contain no personality at all – filled with Pottery Barns, Starbucks, Home Depots and Macaroni Grills. What do we lose when small town local businesses consist of one street with 8 boutiques and independent coffee shops? I would like to believe that a place like Berkeley can hold onto it’s unique flavor and character, but it can’t do that without a consciousness of a community. The ability to reflect on what we want our communities to feel like, the quality we demand, and the personal discipline to act on our values become controllers of our future. In an economy where the conscience of businesses are driven by profit and stakeholder return, our only hope is to play the one card we have left – to stifle the demand for those services. It’s hard to make a point in a picket line when folks have a sign in one hand and a tell-tale starbucks cup in the other.

The Seven-Fold Path: A Framework for Personal and Organizational Change

June 12th, 2008

Finding Tension and Space1.Finding tension and space

For any change process to be effective the first step is to bring awareness and intention to the aspects of your work that bring tension, and those aspects that invite creative energy. Every work scenario has both. Our goal is to alleviate the tension caused by the negative aspects, and expand the space, time, and energy given to the positive aspects. This can be brought out through a reflective, introspective process or a group simulation and dialogue.


2. Identify Triggers

We all have triggers- lots of them. Some triggers move us from feeling good to feeling bad. Other triggers work the other way, and move us from bad feelings to good. Triggers can be any type of stimuli that our brain responds to. It can be a thought or memory, a person we see, a conversation or phone call, or an email. Every person has their own triggers- things that tip them from one emotional state to another, based on their personality and life experiences. Through a careful observation process we can identify our most powerful triggers.

Ideal3. Define the ideal and move towards the real

Author Steven Covey said “the first creation begins in the mind”. We cannot create a new reality without a clear understanding of what this new reality should look and feel like. In this phase we create a crystal clear, detailed “ideal” scenario, and prepare to move towards it.

New Pattern

4.Start a new thought pattern

There can be no change without new thoughts. By re-framing our thoughts about a particular event we begin to step into our personal power to control our emotional and mental state. An agitated mind cannot produce creative organizational results, so it is important to empower every individual with the capacity to connect to their creative centers. Using techniques of neuro-linguistic programming and visualization we feed our minds with new thought patterns to produce the ideal vision we have defined for ourselves.

5. Expand the Space

ExpandChanging thought patterns to focus on what you want (versus thinking about what you don’t want) creates psychic space within our minds and bodies. This results in a feeling of expansiveness in our physical world- in relationships with others, in how we approach our work projects and in our ability to creatively solve problems.

6. Be CompassionateBe Compassionate

As you move forward with new knowledge of your self and organizational culture, and begin the work of creating a new reality for yourself, there will most definitely be setbacks & regression. People don’t change over night, and organizations are comprised of people, so organizational change does not happen overnight either. The real work happens here, in this phase. With this in mind we define ways to keep yourself and your organization stretching toward the ideal when it seems like you’re slipping.

7. Keep Stretching

    Success in one cycle of change will fuel motivation to bring change to other areas as well. New learning and experience with the possibility of alleviating stressful conditions within your organization will provide the space

    7 Innocent Gestures That Can Get You Killed Overseas

    June 5th, 2008

    I read this really interesting article on cracked.com about hand gestures that have innocent meanings here in the US, but can be really offensive outside of the US. I really resonated with the one about using your left hand- I tried to eat something with two hands once when I was in India, and people FREAKED!

    If you’ve ever had your penis cut off and/or been executed while on holiday, you’ll probably know that it’s easy to offend people from other cultures. Unless you learn the ways of the place you’re visiting, even the most well-meaning tourist can regularly find his oesophagus stuffed with burning goat. But surely just plain common sense and good manners will save you, right?


    Extend Your Hand, Palm Outward in Greece

    What you think you are saying:
    “Phew! That was a heck of a moussaka. I’d eat another portion, but I’m completely stuffed.”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Phew! That was a heck of a moussaka. I’d eat another portion, but I’m too busy rubbing handfuls of shit in your face.”

    What the hell?
    In Greece, the “hand out” gesture is known as the moutza, and it dates back to the time of the Byzantine Empire, when criminals would be paraded through the streets on horseback, their faces blackened to indicate their shame. If they were lucky, the blackening agent would merely be charcoal. If they were unlucky, it would be a substance much, much worse …

    SHIT, is what we’re saying here. Their faces would be covered in SHIT.

    If you really want to piss a Greek person off, you can go for the double moutza, which features both hands splayed above your head. However, this will also make you look like a backup dancer from Cats, so it’s your call.

    Give the Thumbs-Up In The Middle East

    What you think you are saying:
    “Ayyyyy! I’m the fuckin’ Fonz!”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Ayyyyy! I’m going to jam my thumb in your anus!”

    What the hell?
    It’s not just the Middle East. This seemingly universal gesture is also hideously offensive in West Africa and South America, whose citizens would doubtless get really confused if they ever watched Ebert and Roeper. “This movie is great, Bill! So great that I’d like to anally rape it with my thumb!”

    The thumbs-up sign has been confusing people for thousands of years. Contrary to Hollywood legend, Roman gladiators were not spared by a thumbs-up, but by a hidden thumb. If the origins of both gestures are linked, we can only assume this meant, “Do not kill the prisoner, he seems the perfect solution to the emperor’s arthritic finger.”

    Finish Your Meal In Thailand / The Philippines / China

    What you think you are saying:
    “This is a delicious meal. I mean it. I’m not the kind of guy who would lie about something like this. In fact, your meal was so fucking fabulous that I am going to finish every last morsel and then lick the plate so bright that it reveals the face of God.”

    What you are actually saying:
    “You call yourself a host? I came here for a meal, not some Lilliputian hors d’oeuvre that wouldn’t satisfy a mouse after a sizable brunch. Look at me. No, in the eyes. You disgust me.”

    What the hell?
    It is always important that the host provides you with tasty food. However, in countries where steak in bleu cheese sauce costs approximately the same as a lung transplant, it is more important that the host provides you with enough food.

    In China, if you finish every last bite of your meal, you are implying that you weren’t given enough. Therefore, even if the meal is the most sexually delicious thing that has ever slid down your throat, you should still leave one last morsel on the plate to stare up at you mournfully while you eye it with ill-concealed resentment.

    That said, the Orient isn’t as uptight as this example suggests. In China it’s considered perfectly good manners to talk with your mouth full and to burp after your meal. Farting seems to vary according to the situation and your current company, so ask ahead of time. Lighting the fart is frowned upon in almost all provinces.

    Say “Hi” to a Member of the Opposite Sex in Saudi Arabia

    What you think you are saying:
    “Hi Steve! How’s things? Fancy getting a decaf latte?”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Hi, Steve! How’s things? Fancy booking a hotel room so that I can do immoral sex acts on you in the name of Satan?”

    What the hell?
    According to sharia religious laws, it is deeply immoral for a woman to greet a man in public, or associate with any man other than her husband without an escort. In February 2008, one American woman openly conversed with a man in Starbucks, and was promptly arrested, strip-searched and forced to sign false confessions.

    Though, perhaps this is nitpicking considering women are not allowed to drive, vote, own shops, testify in court or ride bicycles there. Bizarrely, it’s perfectly fine for women to fly high-powered jet planes, although they’re clearly fucked if they feel like taking a bicycle to the airport.

    The point being, if you’re a woman and are planning a move to Saudi Arabia, offending them with the whole public greeting thing is probably the least of your problems.

    Give an Even Number of Flowers in Russia

    What you think you are saying:
    “Darling, this week has been the most wonderful of my life. Since I first felt the sweet joy of your caress, I have truly come to know what it is to love and to be loved. Please accept these half-dozen roses as a symbol of my eternal tender devotion.” (Lean forward for kiss.)

    What you are actually saying:

    (Lean forward for kiss.)

    What the hell?
    In Russia, even numbers of flowers are only ever given at funerals, and such a gift is seen as inviting death, which you obviously don’t want to do unless you’re banging a goth chick.

    Choosing the right gift seems to be a minefield of morbidity everywhere you go. Never give a clock to a Chinese person, as the word “clock” is almost identical to a word for “death.” Don’t wrap your present in white paper there either, as this suggests funerals. And for God’s sake, don’t give anyone in Bangladesh white flowers or they will presumably be obliged to buy a spade and bury themselves while muttering at you reproachfully.

    You know what, screw giving a gift. You may come across as a selfish douchebag, but at least no one will hail you as the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.

    Give a Gift With Your Left Hand, Pretty Much Anywhere

    What you think you are saying:
    “Thank you very much for letting me marry your daughter. She is very beautiful. In gratitude, please accept this dainty, yet tuneful instrument. Did I mention that I’m left-handed?”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Thank you very much for letting me marry your daughter. She is the most worthless heap of dog vomit I have ever encountered, and I dearly wish that she would die. In gratitude, please accept a generous portion of my own effluence. Did I mention that I hate you?”

    What the hell?
    Toilet paper may have been around in China since 589 AD, but for much of the world, it remains a prohibitively expensive luxury. In places such as India, Sri Lanka, Africa and the whole of the Middle East, doing anything with your left hand is seen as unclean, as it is (as least symbolically) your ass-wiping hand.

    Eating out? Don’t even think about using your left hand. It’s better to come across as some kind of retarded monkey child than to imply that you rate your host’s food on the same level as a lightly-steamed assburger.

    Of course, poop is not the only reason left-handedness is bad. According to the Qur’an, Satan himself was a southpaw, which is why he was able to successfully fool the right-handed batter that is mankind.

    Give the “OK” Sign in Brazil

    What you think you are saying:
    “Hi Brazil, I’m US President Richard Nixon, and I’m feeling terrific!”

    What you are actually saying:
    “Hi Brazil, I’m US President Richard Nixon, and I’m feeling that you should all go fuck yourselves!”

    (Note: The above examples are only valid if you are US President Richard Nixon)

    What the hell?
    In Brazil, the “OK” gesture is roughly equivalent to the finger in the US, which means you should not use it when your hotel manager asks you how your room is, unless you want to tell him that it’s purple and velvety and recently molested his wife.

    The most famous incident of a misapplied “OK” sign was, in fact, Nixon’s visit to Brazil in the ’50s. While alighting from the aircraft, he lifted both hands to the cameras and double-fingered the entire nation. Nixon went on to greet the Brazilian Prime minister with a savage kick to the testicles, and concluded his visit by urinating from the window of a moving limousine.

    If you’re visiting Brazil, you should also never touch any food with your fingers. Even stuff like pizzas and burgers should be eaten with a knife and fork. Not that you’ll ever need to apply this knowledge, because after reading this article, you’d be insane if you ever travel abroad again.

    Tim Cameron is a recovering gaming addict. His blog, The Silly Addiction, catalogs his ridiculous struggle to go straight.

    Playback Theater & Cultural Competency

    June 3rd, 2008

    I have been taking an intensive 3 month workshop on Playback Theater, and it is blowing my mind. Playback theater is an improvisational performance format where an ensemble of trained actors act out live stories told by the audience. The purpose of playback is to provide the teller with colorful imagery and literally play back their own words in a series of stage pictures. A skilled playback ensemble will draw out the high and low points of emotionality in the story, search for the complexity of inner voices and the range of feelings the teller holds.

    The amazing thing about playback is how therapeutic it can be for someone who has experienced something difficult that they need help processing. I saw a playback show as part of an “isms” conference at UC Berkeley, and it was astounding. It was by far the most profound experience of cultural competency or diversity training I have ever witnessed, because it captured the complexity of one person’s story of marginalization. Our stories of hurt are never as black and white as he-said-she-said. They are complicated, with many shades of gray. There are people to be educated, personal triggers to be dealt with, peace to be made, transcendence to be sought out. And playback theater allows for some of this work to take place with the teller, the audience, and the ensemble all together.

    If you have the opportunity to witness a playback theater show, I highly recommend it. I am working on bringing playback theater into some of the organizational psychology projects I do. I think it will be a fascinating and informative experience.

    Baa Baa Black Sheep Have You Any Sacrificial Flesh

    December 24th, 2007

    My brother in law just came to visit us from London, and his gift to me was a book on Al Qaeda- because he thought I should know everything about “their” culture. While I don’t think that’s exactly the kind of literature that will help me feel like one of the gang here, I must say that I think I’m getting there.

    I say this because we just celebrated Bakr Id in full form here. With the Qurbani (sacrifice) of two goats right below our balcony. I must be getting used to India because it didn’t phase me quite as much as I thought it would. Or maybe I’m actually becoming Muslim.

    2 days prior to Id our family started to arrive. Akbar’s grandparents, his aunt and uncle and cousin. It’s interesting when family comes. On one hand, the amount of work that has to happen is quadrupled. With just a few extra mouths to feed there is suddenly an extraordinary amount of effort that goes into preparing lavish meals from scratch. So everyone (especially and mainly the women) are exhausted the whole time. When Akbar and I first got here our mail focus was to lessen the work load. We made simple suggestions like toast and herbal tea for breakfast instead of idlis or dosas made from scratch- for which my mother in law spends an entire day washing grains and grinding them into batter to use for 3 days. But these suggestions went unheeded. Quality of life here is directly measured by the food you eat. And that means nothing less than lavish full course meals that cause back pain and fevers for 3 days afterwards. On the other hand though, without any work the women in my household have nothing to do. Their dedication to full time motherhood and wife-dom leaves no time for dabbling in personal interests or hobbies. Low levels of formal education means reading or writing are out. And not having much disposable income leaves them pretty much tied to the house. So when there is no work they alternate between watching tv and just sitting around, mostly re-telling the same stories.

    So anyway, we were prepared to be exhausted by this holiday. The celebration of Bakri Id starts from the tenth to the twelfth day in the Islamic month of Dhu’l Hijja, and marks the anniversary of the day when the Quran was declared complete. On the Id day, all the men in our household go to the mosque. Akbar’s grandmother makes her prayers in the house, starting at 6 am.

    After the Namaz, Qurbani (sacrifice) is performed. The animal sacrifices made during Bakri Id are mainly to provide food to the poor and to commemorate the noble act of Ibrahim.

    During the week of Barkr Id the streets of Hyderabad become lined with sheep and goats for this sacrifice. Only the wealthiest of households can afford to participate in this ritual. The animals are painted yellow or green and their horns are decorated. They range in all sizes. Obviously the bigger the animal to sacrifice, the greater the blessing. Akbar’s uncle in Bombay performs this Qurbani with 4 goats that cost 40,000 ruppees ($1000) each. That is about what a middle-class family could live on for 4 months. These goats are brought up from birth specially to be sacrificed. They are fed milk and yogurt every night and sleep on a bed with silk sheets. They are fattened and groomed for years to be worth the prestigious status of Qurbani. The ones Akbar brought home for us weren’t as fancy, but they were BIG. Two large goats were tied to the post in front of the downstairs apartment, where we normally park the car. A large tent was put up to give them some shelter and grass laid down on the ground for them to munch on.

    We went down to look at them that evening. I think they knew they were going to die the next day. They were both very still. They made no sounds, showed no fear, and would not look at us, no matter who approached. They gave no signs of a nervous animal in a new place. It was like they were resigned to their fate.

    It is said that every true Muslim who possesses wealth equal to or more than 400 grams of gold or is capable of affording two square meals a day, is expected to sacrifice an animal. A goat or a camel or a sheep is slaughtered during one of the three days of the festival and the meat is then distributed. One third portion of sacrificial animal meat is given to poor, another third to relatives and remaining for self and family. The story behind this ritual is that apparently God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child to prove his love for the lord. Not willing to back down, Abraham lifts his knife to sever his child’s head, and just as he is swinging his arm God replaces the child with a goat. And so now the ritual is to sacrifice goats. We can argue if it’s right or wrong or barbaric, but it sure is better than sacrificing your own kids.