Not About the Coffee

You’re not really in the business you think you are.

That’s what I gleaned from my book browsing last week at Borders, after I drank my Starbucks’ coffee. I’m not a big fan of Starbucks’ coffee because I think our local kopi packs more punch. But sometimes, a little indulgence is all right especially if I’m at Borders for a few hours and feel too thirsty to read. Plus it’s not just the coffee. It’s also the expansive view of the Penang Bridge, of Pulau Jerejak. Of comfy wingchairs you could sink in all day. Of the smell of coffee too.

And I’ve always admired the polished way the coffee chain is run and how a meagre 2 to 3 staff can run the entire coffee business on any given day. One point to note: Starbucks calls them ‘partners’ instead of employees…a good tip to learn. It’s a matter of semantics but what a world of difference that can make to the people and how it can make them feel a lot more positive and happy about their work. Starbucks also trains their partners well.

Anyway, Borders on a week day is a good place to be. Less people and more comfy reading chairs!

I was meaning to read some other book at Borders that day when out of the corner of my eye I saw a small hardcover with the signature Starbucks logo, intriguingly titled “It’s Not About the Coffee”.

Written by Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks (not to be mistaken for Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks – yes they share the same first name and work for the same company), I had an idea it was about leadership.

His book shares 10 leadership principles of why Starbucks became Starbucks – a successful, international coffee chain. When he first joined Starbucks, it was only concentrated in North America with some 28 outlets.

I enjoyed this book because it’s not just applicable for business, it’s applicable to life. But that’s what good principles do – they lay the foundation for what’s most important in your life, whether it is a business or living a life.

What resonated with me was his idea that “people are not assets”.

I have always felt it presumptuous of companies which say that people are their greatest assets. Behar says people are not your assets or things like trucks or machinery, you don’t own them. Once you get this concept inside your head, it means you fully understand what people are. People are human beings, not things to be owned. It means they can surprise you. And if they are human beings, it means treating them like human beings. Caring for them, for instance. Treating them with dignity and respect.

I won’t spoil the book for you in case you want to browse it the next time you are in Borders.

But let me just say that yes, just as Starbucks isn’t about coffee, I would like to think that we are not just about web design. For us, we use the Internet and web as a platform to help you tell your great story to the world and in the process, help you gain followers, evangelists and customers.

Behar’s book exemplifies the universal truth about business and life – treat people like people, stay true to yourself and your values, dare to say yes to your dreams, be accountable, caring is not a sign of weakness, encourage independent thought and know why you’re here.

Fantastic reminder of how to be a human being!

Tell me, have you read any books which completely changed the way you used to think? Or books which disrupted your previous thoughts?

To your web success,


PS: Here’s a little bonus for you: I found this book completely free to read online. The Cluetrain Manifesto is a real book which you can find in any bookstore (in fact I think I saw it at the Popular Book Sale last week too!) but you can also read it for free at:

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