I don’t write as much about coffee brewing as I used to, mostly because (if I am honest) I don’t brew as much coffee these days. Work demands time and attention, and my specific role has drawn me to many and varied topics that my inexperience has shown to be gaping holes of knowledge.
This has led to a fascination with the idea of “cross training”. Cross training isn’t quite the right term, but it is basically the idea of looking at other businesses/industries and their solutions to challenges that we might share. For example, I’ve recently become interested in the ideas of Lean Manufacturing. You could argue that making cars is a very different world to roasting coffee, but I think that these ideas have applications all the way to the coffee bar level. If you read the summary of the Toyota Production System (the ideas upon which much Lean Manufacturing theory is based), it doesn’t take great leaps of imagination to see how this kind of thinking could be valuable to a coffee shop.
We have a relatively simple production line at work, and what looks like a simple workflow but reading about this stuff has led me to better understand our weaknesses and also give some direction to the conversations we have about how to increase our productivity and efficiency to give us more time to do cool stuff at work.
I thought about trying to write-up ideas like this like I used to with things like the Maillard reactions or Foams, adding a coffee industry focused twist on there but I think I’d quickly be way out of my depth. I do think that there would be some great events/conferences based around this kind of idea mashup. I’d love to hear someone a major clothing retail company talk about staff retention, and progression. They face different challenges around staffing, but there are enough commonalities that their solutions may be applicable or at least push an attendee down a line of thinking that could be extremely fruitful. I worry that most coffee events I attend have a lineup of speakers from the coffee industry. I think we have some great thinking within the industry (if you’re not paying attention to what people like Colin Harmon are doing and saying then shame on you), but I think we’d benefit from external speakers on the condition that we ask them the right questions (an entirely different subject I guess.)
I’ve tried the generic business books, and they bore me to death. I find specific stories much more interesting – reading Derek Sivers write about CD Baby had more inspiration/idea generation for me, even though so little about his and our business were in common. I think this is what pulls my interest into the world of design and tech so much, and I admit to being jealous of the amount of those industries for the amount of peripheral thinking and writing they generate. Granted, there is a lot of ridiculous, wasteful, linkbait nonsense around those industries too but there are some great writers who make me interested and involved in the innovations, the direction and the meaning of events in industries that are nothing to do with mine.
I’ve gotten off topic a little here, but I just wanted to throw this idea out there. I’d be interested who people would like to see talk at an event, and about what – as long as it has nothing directly to do with coffee. (It doesn’t have to be a specific, named individual – you can make it a generic position of a generic company like my clothing retail example above.) If you have an idea then tweet it to me and I’ll put together a top 10 list of my favorites and add it to this post. Maybe we could even make it happen one day!