Binary Startup

I wanna talk (type?) about a binary I've noticed. Everybody loves a good binary. You know, that thing where one thing is absolutely one thing, and the other thing is totally the opposite? Binaries. No confusing grey in the middle. Some folks that use binaries, like pro wrestlers and racists, have an overarching need to prove themselves right. Binaries themselves exist more as boundaries than standards. Breaking down entire methodologies to a binary is often inaccurate and largely unfair.

That typed (said?), there are two ways to tell a story, and the same philosophies can be applied to running a business.

Optimism or Cynicism.

This is in regard to neither critic nor accountant, but to the audience (customers). An optimistic storyteller has a thought or a feeling, and wants to share that feeling by telling the best story possible to describe or recreate that feeling.

A cynical storyteller knows that a statistically safe number of people have responded positively to a certain type of story, and sets about telling the easiest, most cost (time?) efficient version of that story.

An optimist assumes their audience cares about every aspect of their story, and rewards audiences with details, minor resolutions, and easter eggs. A cynic hits the bullet points and makes sure the runtime is industry standard.

As previously mentioned, businesses play with the same see-saw. Burrito slingers Chipotle made a pretty optimistic video recently

 For those who can't bear to watch, here's the official synopsis: 

In a dystopian fantasy world, all food production is controlled by fictional industrial giant Crow Foods. Scarecrows have been displaced from their traditional role of protecting food, and are now servants to the crows and their evil plans to dominate the food system. Dreaming of something better, a lone scarecrow sets out to provide an alternative to the unsustainable processed food from the factory. 

Now I know this video is an advertisement for an app that is itself an advertisement for burrito bowls, but did it have to be so artful? It certainly didn't have to tackle such relevant subject matter.

I played the 7up Spot (Dot?) game on my cousin's Genesis, and it was just about a dude who was a walking red dot and hated hermit crabs. He wasn't doing battle with high fructose corn syrup monsters or anything.

Chipotle made a solid statement about the type of company they are and what they think their customers care about. Most restaurants would rather their customers stay uniformed about what goes on in their kitchen. Look at the creative ways NYC eateries have been getting around posting health code ratings

The easiest way to gauge the quality of a takeout spots is by their napkins. Really, check the napkins at your local greasy spoon. Are they paper, or that weird thin plastic that never gets anything off your hands? Everything on the menu has gone through the deep fryer, and you're expected to wipe that off with the least absorbent material around? 

Worse, if these grub huts are buying the cheapest napkins ever invented, regardless if they work or not, what kind of compromises are they making with the food? Napkins tell the story. Cynical spots never get my money, but they count on there being enough people who don't notice (or care) to get by.

Chipotle doesn't just use paper napkins, they have a whole page on their website dedicated to the grease engulfing power of their 100% recycled 1800 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. Okay, they're paper, but it's nice to know they gave it some thought. Details for the people who are looking for them, like in a good story.

Chipotle could still be an Evil Corporation (as the folks of will tell you), but they sold me on their story, partially by assuming I would care that they had a story at all. It's more profitable these days for a company's story to be a series of platitudes, rather than anything resembling an identity.  

Cynicism in business means stories are replaced by buzzwords. What's Taco Bell's story? "All our marketing is kinda offensive, but our food isn't even really Mexican so who's the racist now?" As to be expected, it comes down to money. Chipotle wants to sell you burritos, and make enough money to make more places to sell you burritos.

Taco Bell wants to make all the money ever, and they don't care if they sell you tacos or Doritos or hand held rifles. They just want to do whatever it is that will make them as much money as humanly possible. Being indistinguishable used to be a death sentence to a fast food chain. Burger King and McDonald's once went to great lengths to be different, now everything's a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

Colleges are full of their successors. I asked a cynical business student what he wanted to do when he graduated, and his reply was "Be CEO." Of what? "Whatever pays the most." 

This type cynicism can be found in the business of telling stories. Corporate types hate that stories are judged subjectively, and make for unpredictable yearly projections, so they bring in math guys to mitigate risk. They bring in the same types of statisticians that work for non-creative businesses. There's even a company with software that reads screenplays and determines the statistical likelihood of it being successful. Their reports provide valuable insights like "Don't have a bowling scene." This is the wrong type of math.

A friend told me that Market Research can tell you that a song made a lot of people cry, but it can't tell you why. Stories are math, but they're symmetry and rhythm, a pattern of numbers that may not make sense by themselves but in the context of the whole resemble a feeling. All of the explosions and one liners in the world mean nothing if they don't help the audience remember a feeling. 

Does any of this matter when there's profit to be made? Depends on how creepy you care to be. Corporations and market researcherers aren't the only folks who rely on cold statistics.

You know the creepy guy at the bar? He's hitting on every lady in sight. He's obtuse, and crass, and he stinks, but guess what? He's getting laid tonight. He's going to play the numbers. Eventually he's going to run into someone who wont care (notice). Some of the stuff he's saying aren't even words, just grunts and gestures. He probably gets laid more than you. He might have hooked up with someone you wanted to hook up with. In reproductive terms, he's a success.

On the real though, would you ever in your dryspell-havin' life want to be That Guy?