States Coffee in Martinez, California: not afraid to charge $8.75 for a cappuccino and a blueberry muffin ($9.75 with tip). They’ve carved out a strong reputation in a relatively short time. Quality, quality, quality. Servers are happy and present.
It’s very simple, when you think about it: the world is full of mediocre experiences. We are swimming in them; and we wish we weren’t. Further, most people can’t create remarkable experiences, because they don’t care enough. And we’ve mostly been trained to be unhappy in our work, so that means we’ve been trained to think it doesn’t matter how we feel about that work… so it naturally follows that we’ll be willing to do mediocre work.
Therefore, remarkable things are rare. And it’s not just that something like States Coffee develops a following because it’s better per se; I think it’s more like a pilgrimage. We like to do a pilgrimage, where for $9.75 we can have an experience of some kind of transcendence, to rise above the mundane. It elevates my spirit, so it elevates my attitude, my feelings, the rest of my day. It becomes a highlight.
And humans have sought transcendence for as long as we can remember. People fermented grains or grapes; they chewed on cocoa leaves or betel nuts; or, ground up coffee beans. Because we want transcendence of our consciousness. And we have created ritual around sacred rivers, sacred stones, sacred buildings, and sacred dances.
We crave the magical. We want to turn the ordinary into the transcendent. And in a culture where many forms of transcendence were lost, we will find new ways of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, not just because we like nice things, but because we crave the rituals of transcendence.
And as hard as I might try to get my mind to think that the increase in quality for a States coffee and blueberry muffin wasn’t worth the 200% price hike over what I can get at the grocery store, I am not going to go for it, because what I actually want is the ritual. I want to go to the coffee shop, and I am, actually, paying alms in return for a sacrament, as funny as that may sound.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched myself pay more for something because it has more meaning, not just more utility. A growing body of research (known as behavioral economics) has begun to show us that we do not behave in purely rational ways, we behave (and spend money) emotionally. And this is fine!
From a business point of view, we’re always trying to get a little bit more out of the same amount of time, resources, and smarts that we were given; isn’t that the game? Well, people are always going to pay more for transcendence. Because they want to. We really want to have special things, that we can pay more for, and that let us rise above the ordinary. And that’s why fancy coffee has taken off, because just about anybody can afford to pay more for that (whereas fancy cars, fancy homes, maybe not).
And, when we do what we really love and care about, we are making our lives a sacrament. We are, in fact, bringing more sacredness in the world. And there is a virtuous feedback loop between loving what we do, and being good at it (this is a key component of The Passion Economy idea). From a business point of view, this is how we will get greater returns on our efforts, because they will rise above the ordinary. And this is how you can squeeze more out of your moments.
Everyone’s transcendence isn’t the same. So, you are going to have a far greater chance of meeting the needs for transcendence if you pick a small, focused audience who “gets” your idea of what brings it about. And then, your margins will be much higher. So if you want to bring it down to “dollars and cents,” you can do that too. Although the synergy between economic rewards and the personal rewards, of doing what you love more, is part of that virtuous cycle I mentioned a moment ago.
So, where are you helping your customers find transcendence, in some way or form? How can you increase this? Through the quality of your ingredients? Or in little touches within your service delivery? Or by letting go of some component of your business that—let’s all be honest here—is mediocre, easy-to-reproduce, and feels more like an old-school, watery styrofoam cup of java with a plastic stirrer and three spoonfuls of non-dairy creamer, and not the luxury cup of fine, hand-crafted coffee? Whatever it is, think about how you could move your work more towards joy, fun, and giving people more of a transcendent experience.
(That is what our Fit process is about, by the way….)