I sat down on the second day of January to outline my word of the year, something of a lighthouse for Summit and me to keep in our sights as we navigated an inevitably busy time. Curiosity, I chose, and opined that it was our thirst for what we don’t know, rather than sharpening what we already do, that would determine whether 2019 was a success.
I continued: “We’re certain to mess up and miss opportunities in 2019, too, but it won’t be for a lack of curiosity. Because if we approach our work, and if I approach my daily life, with more curiosity, there will be more opportunity and more knowledge and more awareness. There will be fewer assumptions and less judgment. If I reflect on January 1, 2020 (that seems weird to write), that I was genuinely curious for 12 months at the expense of judgment and assumption, I will be a better leader. And Summit will be a better Summit.”
We’re halfway through this year, and on the eve of our 1st all-staff summer get together and a week before our six-person advisory team gathers for a 2-day summit in the mountains, it’s prudent for me to reflect on 2019 and if, in fact, I am doing what I set out to do.
“We’re certain to mess up and miss opportunities in 2019” | In reflection, I am fascinated that this is how I started. A premonition, of sorts, that the year was going to start with turbulence. And it did. We have suffered more turnover in 2019 than I would have anticipated, and while I can speak genuinely about the chance for new ideas, a fresh start, there’s no denying that losing employees sucks. I’m hesitant to equate employee turnover with messing up, because in most cases it was more a story of holding firm to our company values. But in some instances, we pushed too far and asked for too much while offering not enough in return. We’ve also hired people that weren’t a great fit — more than once — and waited to long to recognize it.
“but it won’t be for a lack of curiosity” | Here’s a (very) non-comprehensive list of things we’ve put on the proverbial table this year, taking them from things we know to things we could do better: training, education, orientation, pricing, branding, company structure, food offerings, bar flow, speed of service, the definition of hospitality, our macro goals, the Outpost, live music, wine, non-dairy milks and cold brew. A lot of curiosity, I would argue.
“there will be more opportunity and more knowledge and more awareness” | Here’s a story. I wrote a blog this spring about failure — one of the most-read things I have written for our website. And the editor of Barista Magazine got wind of this blog, which I threw together in some 30 minutes like most of my stories, and said, “Hey, come write about failure for us.” So I started researching failure, and talking to other great people who HAVE ALL FAILED, and wrote 2,600 words on failure for the coffee industry’s leading magazine. All because I wrote a blog, which came from the idea to write 52 of them this year, which came from the curiosity of if I shared our story, would anyone read. The answer, at least in the micro case, appears to be yes.
“There will be fewer assumptions and less judgment” | Candidly, this has been the hardest part of my opus. As I stated in April, when you’re a leader, or in my case sometimes the leader, there’s an inherent expectation that you know things. That you know answers. For me (and I can’t be alone here), part of being the boss is making decisions based on assumptions — that is, being efficient by following trends and studying analytics. As in, we assume Friday nights at Basecamp are going to be bonkers so we’ll pay for six employees. The challenge with assumptions, however, is how to be motivated in spite of them. As in, Friday nights at Basecamp are going to be bonkers … but can we make them even more remarkable? This segment is a work in progress.
“I will be a better leader. And Summit will be a better Summit” | So, 190 days into 2019, what’s the verdict? It’s hard to see the forest, as they say, when you’re living among the trees. Are we smarter? No doubt. Have we made worthwhile changes? Definitely. Have we also neglected some things that we shouldn’t have? Did we make some (significant) mistakes? Yes and yes.
I’ll tell you, some days are hard, some weeks are harder, and some months just suck. Today was one of those days, when I just didn’t have it and my lens started to filter far too much for “what’s not working” rather than for the optimistic viewpoint I preach about to everyone I work with. But this, the blog, the curiosity to get outside myself once a week, to sit down and write something between a journal entry and a story, has been valuable yet again. This has reminded me not only to be curious, but to stay curious. To ask a question, then ask a better one, and then try some things and ask some more questions.
I’ve told my team this a lot lately, and I think it’s worth sharing with all of you: we’re better than we were, and not as good as we will be.