There’s a coffee shop somewhere that I recently read about. I don’t have any more details than that, other than the unique way this coffee shop goes about its business. Instead of having electrical outlets strewn throughout the building—as most coffee shops are wont to do—this particular shop has none. You would have zero way of charging your laptop, phone, or other electrical device whilst sipping on your fair trade cup of joe.
At first glance, this sort of business practice seems incredibly silly. Why would you want to alienate potential customers that are looking for a place to shack up and get some things done? But that’s just the genius behind this plan. Nobody is telling someone they can’t shack up and do their work. They’re just relegated to however long their device lasts. Once your computer dies out, you’re going to have to go somewhere else with your freeloading. We’ve all seen (or in my case, been) that guy who spends hours in a coffee shop, using the WiFi, but only buying one drink. Not possible with this place.
In spite of this odd business practice—or perhaps because of it—this shop has seen business grow at a steady pace, keeping itself in business and able to offer its customers a stellar product and experience.
All over the world, we are seeing businesses take to strange and extreme methodologies. Well, strange and extreme in the context of the lens we’ve been given to look at how a business should be operating. If you know anything about the recent history of our culture and the economy it has operated within, you know the following:
1) The 1980s were a time filled with corporate greed and self-aggrandized posturing. Status was huge, and it was a good thing to seek material wealth in a way like never before.
2) The 1990s were more or less the twilight years of consumerism and materialistic thinking. The internet was just taking off, and so was our economy. With little foresight to the eventual problems to come, we had set ourselves up rather nicely to enjoy the fruits of our labors.
3) Then the 2000s happened and it all went to shit. Our proverbial chickens had come home to roost, as a once seemingly healthy and robust economy was destroyed by the corporate greed that helped build it.
We are in the rebuilding process in a lot of ways. The world is smaller due to communications options never afforded to humanity before, and the goodness of people is starting to shine through a little brighter. Yes, there is still greed, as there always will be. But no, we’re not going to take it anymore.
A little less than a year ago, I began the process of starting up a business with a former coworker of mine. We wanted to build an urban farm in the heart of our community, and provide the residents with a healthy and sustainable option for their food, as well as foster an environment that encouraged interaction and ownership. While that farm eventually did not work out, the response we got from the community in the beginning stages was phenomenal. There is a massive desire from consumers to not just consume, but to take part in the process and story of what they’re consuming. There’s no getting around the fact that much of what we do is material, and that’s ok. However, we have a moral obligation to not only ourselves, but to the rest of humanity to operate in a smarter, more intelligent fashion. We have seen the negative long-term effects of choices made in the past, and we don’t wish to repeat them, lest we leave the coming generations with little to nothing.
Because of this—and back to my original point—businesses are beginning to employ tactics never before considered, because compared to what we know about business, they wouldn’t necessarily help the company’s bottom line. One of my favorite companies, Patagonia, offers up a perfect example of this. They provide ethically made outdoor clothing that is built to outlast and outlive the actual person using it. Because of this immense high quality, their products are rather expensive. In the run up to the Christmas shopping season, the company ran a brilliant—and savvy—campaign encouraging consumers to consider their purchases, and get only what they needed. (All I have is the mobile link for that, sorry.)
The tagline for the campaign?
“Don’t buy this jacket.”
The whole point was to foster this idea of smart consumerism and ethical business practices. Most of what we buy is built to fade and diminish over a short period of time, so as to force the purchaser to get the next product coming out of the pipeline. This is called “planned obsolescence”, and it’s at the very foundation of almost everything we consume; be it clothing, computers, etc.
We live in a culture that once would have responded to this with, “So what? That’s what capitalism is all about.”
I’m proud to say that our culture, for the most part, is beginning to remove such a short-sighted and selfish perspective from itself, and push for a more wholistic approach to providing an experience to its consumers that in turn makes them a community. It’s an exciting time; one filled with opportunity. Don’t let any politician or naysayer tell you otherwise. We have the tools and options at our disposal to disrupt so much more in this world than ever before. One of the greatest ways we can continue to fight against the unregulated corporate greed that pervades our society is to be smarter consumers, choosing more ethically and letting our purchasing habits reflect a greater trend in our culture; a trend that is moving toward community and sustainability. No greedy corporation can withstand a community of smart, savvy consumers.
To do your part, find those businesses in your community and within your lifestyle that reflect these values. Find the ones that do things so differently, that you almost tilt your head in wonder at how they’re still in business. And then give them your business.