Don't Focus on the How

My wife, at times, has accurately pointed out that I can become the killjoy of ideas in our family by focusing on the obstacles that must be overcome to complete the idea.  Sometimes I view life as a series of obstacles to overcome and in doing so, can take the wind out of the sails for a great idea.  I have had several instances when the people around me needed encouragement to go for it, rather than a picture of all the mountains that need to be scaled. 

Many who see all the obstacles just give up.  The world does not belong to those who are the brightest and smartest who can sit and analyze everything.  No, the world belongs to the C and B students, who have an idea and are dumb enough to try it because they do not see the obstacles.  Andy Stanley once said that when ideas are presented in our family or organization, we need to stop saying “How?” and start saying “Wow!” as our first response.

In 1971, Starbucks was founded with a passion for good coffee.  It remained a small store that caught the eye of its current CEO, Howard Schultz.  Schultz joined the company in 1982 to direct retail operations and marketing.  In 1983, Schultz travelled to Italy, and became inspired by the coffeehouse atmosphere there.  He came back to Seattle and tried to convince the owners that Starbucks should not just be about good roasted coffee, but that it should sell the social experience of a coffeehouse.  The board put up a resistance with the questions of “How?” but allowed the first Starbucks coffee house to be opened in downtown Seattle in 1984.

This coffeehouse was a success and Schultz founded a new company called II Gironale in 1985 to make drinks from the Starbucks coffee beans and sell them in the coffeehouses.  The original owners of Starbucks focused on bean roasting. 

In 1987, Schultz bought all the assets of the original Starbucks, changed the name to Starbucks Corporation, and opened stores in Vancouver and Chicago.  By the end of the year there were 17 Starbucks coffeehouses. 

We all know what has happened to the company since then and all of us have been in a Starbucks at least once.  For some reading it is a daily visit.  Why?  The atmosphere and good drinks.  But in case you did not realize, here are some of Starbucks accomplishments in 2015.

Launches Cold Brew iced coffee and Evolution Fresh™ handcrafted smoothies.

Announces sixth two-for-one stock split.

Commits to hiring 10,000 opportunity youth by 2018.

Expands Starbucks College Achievement Plan to offer full tuition coverage for all four years of an undergraduate degree for qualifying U.S. Starbucks partners. Commits to 25,000 partners graduating by 2025.

Reaches 99% ethically sourced coffee milestone.

Opens stores in: Panama (now, this was the 68th different country where a Starbucks was located)

Total stores:  22,519 (as of June 28, 2015).

Cleary Schultz was one who did not let the “How?” take the wind out of the sails.  Most landmark changes in an industry begin with understanding what are the one or two things that if mastered, will result in a complete paradigm shift in the industry.

So how many of you have heard of Handy Dan Hardware Stores?  In 1978, the CEO and CFO of Handy Dan tried to convince the rest of the leadership that they needed to abandon the small mom-and-pop hardware store concept and create a big box hardware store to grow the company.  This had not been really tried on a grand scale and the rest of the board focused on “How?” to the extent that they fired the two leaders, Bernard Marcus and Arthur Blank. 

Marcus and Blank were undeterred by the firing and kept focusing on their idea as they started up a new company.  Today that company, housed in Atlanta, now has 2,274 locations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.  The company now has 385,000 employees and had revenues over $88 billion in 2016.  You probably have not seen Handy Dan, but you probably have been in at least one of Marcus and Blank’s stores, The Home Depot.  Oh, and Blank also owns a little professional team called the Atlanta Falcons. 

Again, this is another case of a clear dream that focused on a key obstacle, that once overcome, would create a paradigm shift in the industry.  Personally, when I have to go to the hardware store, I will visit a large box store 95 out of 100 times.  These guys were dumb enough to ignore the obstacles the Handy Dan owners saw, and just focused on the “Wow!” of the idea.

So, the take-a-ways here are to identify the key obstacles in your industry and know if these are overcome will result in a paradigm shift like Starbucks and The Home Depot.  Encourage ideas.  When the ideas come, have your first response be a “Wow!” and not a “How?”.