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June 28, 2010

News & Opinion: Tough Love interview with John Moore

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:18 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

As announced last week, we've launched our first digital book over at ChangeThis.com. Tough Love, by John Moore is a business inspired screenplay, and follows his straight-up business book Tribal Knowledge. Both deal with an industry the author knows well - coffee. After years of marketing for Starbucks, Moore has seen a lot of changes and struggles both from inside and outside perspectives, and tells great stories about how people's relationship to coffee has shifted and developed over the years.



Particularly, Tough Love is a prime example of Moore's storytelling ability. Written in true screenplay style, what appears to be fiction on the surface ends up feeling more real than non-fiction as you begin to 'hear' the character's voices, and identify those voices with the accompanying sketches of each person involved. A great new format, revealing a powerful way to absorb the complexity of a multitude of business issues - leadership, marketing, teamwork, and much more.

Here's a Q&A I did with the author about the book and his experience. Great stuff all around, and of course we recommend checking out the book in full.

Doing and thinking differently is a common theoretical approach, but you've applied this within your writing by creating a new genre - the business screenplay. How did the idea come about?

I’ve always been one who looks to gain inspiration from concepts outside of my comfort zone. Last year I sought to improve the flow of my presentations and decided to learn how screenwriters craft a story. Ended up reading “SAVE THE CAT: The Last Book On Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need” by Blake Snyder. Great book. It’s like PURPLE COW for aspiring screenwriters. Meaning, Blake breaks down the art of screenwriting and arranging a story into easy-to-follow ways.

As I was reading SAVE THE CAT, I learned some tips to improve my presentations but I also became inspired to follow his structure to write a screenplay. But not a Hollywood script, rather a screenplay as a business book.

After reading hundreds of business books, and writing one myself, I’ve grown tired of the typical business book. They are too long, too pedantic, and too boring. A screenplay, on the other hand, is a different way to tell a story and I became excited about the idea of sharing business lessons inside a screenplay.

Then I thought with all the drama Starbucks was going through in a rough economy, it would make for a great screenplay story. That brings us to TOUGH LOVE, a story about Galaxy Coffee and its struggles to manage its brand growth in good times and bad.

One of the issues within the screenplay is how a company manages its brand, or what's at the core of it's purpose. How does the title Tough Love relate to that?

A problem I’ve experienced first-hand working inside brands like Starbucks and Whole Foods is there are too many company cheerleaders who refuse to challenge ideas. People who wear, in classic Edward de Bono ideology, the “black hats” and offer judgmental critiques during meetings aren’t seen as team players. These “black hats” can love the company they work for but they should still feel comfortable in offering “tough love” feedback.

There’s a scene in TOUGH LOVE where a company cheerleader chides a former employee for criticizing the actions of Galaxy Coffee. This former employee responds back that no business is perfect and the reason he is critiquing the company is because he loves the company.

There is also an entrepreneurial side to the screenplay. What is the main lesson for the entrepreneurially minded you hoped to communicate through the characters?

At Starbucks I knew a lot of smart and die-hard company loyal people like “Vivian Kane.” Vivian is a main character in TOUGH LOVE, she’s a classic company cheerleader—probably to a fault. She suppressed her entrepreneurial aspirations to take the easy way and stay at a company she secretly is losing faith in. The lesson being... gain experience and confidence at some company and then scratch your entrepreneurial itch, if you have one.

Because of the format, readers get a sense of the personal perspective of the characters. Talk a bit about one example of personal success that's revealed in the story.

An important storyline revolves around David Pearl, Galaxy Coffee’s charismatic CEO. Many years ago, David scratched his entrepreneurial itch to leave a string of sales jobs to eventually become the driving force behind Galaxy Coffee. The public image of David is one of confidence and competitiveness. However, the private image of David reveals his lack of self-confidence. David masks his insecurity by being revengeful and overly competitive. He will go out of his way to prove doubters wrong, even if it costs him dearly.

By the end of the story David’s life is turned upside down. What he thought was right, turned out wrong. He ends up learning, the hard way, life rewarding and business saving advice. David becomes a better man and a better businessman from all the trials he faces in leading Galaxy Coffee through its growing pains.

From the story, and of course your own experience at Starbucks and Whole Foods, what is your overall advice for companies to better understand and adhere to their mission AND remain profitable?

When I talk to businesses I ask them if they have a “Do Not Compromise List.” I ask this question because every business makes compromises as it grows. The trick is not to compromise anything sacred. But to know what’s sacred, a business needs to first write it down.

For example, Whole Foods maintains “Do Not Compromise List” of all the artificial and chemical ingredients it finds unacceptable in food products. Under no circumstances is Whole Foods to sell any product that contains ingredients on their “Do Not Compromise List.” This list acts as a compass for Whole Foods to follow as it grows.

I recommend businesses maintain a “Do Not Compromise List.” And more importantly, I recommend businesses continuously refer to this list every couple of months to keep them on track to grow with purpose true to their beliefs.