This podcast is the second of two installments featuring Howard Behar, former President of Starbucks International and Starbucks North America and author of the book, It's Not About the Coffee.
In this installment, you'll hear Behar share his thoughts on:
- Ways to overcome fears and doubts.
- The value of celebrating failure.
- The keys to his success.
- Creating a culture of, "Yes."
- Why he's hopeful.
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Curt Rosengren's M.A.P. Maker Podcast: Howard Behar, Part 2
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Hello, and welcome to Curt Rosengren’s M.A.P. Maker Podcast. I’m Curt Rosengren, and my focus is helping people create careers that energize and inspire them. It’s all about answering the question, how do you put your passion to work to make a difference that inspires you, in a way that lets you thrive?
In this series, you will find insights and inspiration from thought leaders and trailblazers – people who are crafting a life of Meaning, Abundance, and Passion.
Today’s podcast is the second of a two-part series featuring Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks International and Starbucks North America, and author of the book, “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks.”
While Behar has had a career many only dream about, he acknowledges that had his share of fears and failures along the way. Which, as he see sees it, means he’s pretty much just like everybody else. I asked him to share his perspective on the bumps and bruises on the road to success.
One day I was watching a television program and it was about Ted Turner. This was 20 years ago, 15 years ago. He had formed CNN. Of course, he was successful. It was interesting. I didn’t know much about Ted Turner. And somebody was interviewing him and, evidently his father committed suicide when he was young, and he said, you know, I was so afraid of displeasing my father my whole life. It’s what drove me. Here’s a man who’s a billionaire. Created CNN. And here he’s talking as a human being. “I was so afraid of displeasing my father. I’ve lived my whole life under that fear.” Even after his father died.
So we all have it. It doesn’t make any difference. Everybody does. Everybody has fears of failure, fears of success. Everybody does fail, makes mistakes. And the way I have dealt with them, if you came into my office, you’d see sayings on my office wall, and one of the sayings is, “There’s no stressful situations, only stressful responses.” I can’t tell you how many times that I have had to re – I’ve had that on my wall for twenty, thirty years. I still have to read it when I’m struggling with something. Or when I’m upset about something.
And I have lived with all of that stuff. Fears. I still have it. You know, one of the great advantages of getting older is that it’s happened so many times now, when the anxiety comes up in me, I identify it so quickly. Oh! Oh, there’s my buddy. Anxiety. You know how we all have these little people on our shoulders, these little voices. I probably have hundreds of them.
And one of them is that anxiety one. “You should be anxious about this.” So I recognize it. I say, I hear you. I acknowledge you. I’m not dealing with you now. It’s ok. You’re my buddy, because there’s times when I need you.
And then I have all sorts of those voices. And so I think it goes back to understanding yourself, and feeling the feeling. So when you’ve had a failure, stop and say, how do I feel right now? Talk to yourself. Talk to yourself. Right? How do I feel? I’m anxious. I’m mad. There’s just lots of stuff going on. Somebody’s not going to like me. I’m feeling rejected.
Ask yourself a question. How do I feel? And then acknowledge. Just say, it’s ok to have all of those feelings. Say it to yourself. Out loud. People will think you’re nutty, but that’s ok. And so, we all have it, and so from kings to presidents to famous scientists to great athletes – it doesn’t make any difference. Just human beings. We all have the same stuff.
Rather than hurrying past our failures and doing our best to pretend they never happened, Behar advocates the seemingly contradictory idea of celebrating them.
I think that celebrating failure is key because it – I mean, most of us live our lives with lots of failures, and those failures are usually – a lot of people say this, but not many of us believe it, but they’re all pretty much learning experiences. We don’t usually learn very much from the successes that we had, because we’re so joyful about them, and people are patting us on the back, and it makes you feel good, but they’re not – there can be lessons to learn from successes too, I guess, but
I think you learn much more from the mistakes because hopefully when you do make those mistakes, you become a little introspective about those mistakes and you try to figure out, OK, what could I have done better? What did I do wrong? What changes could I have made? Etc.
A great example at Starbucks, we made lots of mistakes, but one big one we had, we wanted a bottled beverage. We had a joint venture with Pepsi. And so we worked on creating what we thought was a fantastic bottled beverage called Mazagran. Mazagran comes from the French foreign legion, and it was basically, it was kind of sparkling coffee. Cold coffee. It was a drink that they would drink. So we tried to create this beverage that would fit into that category. It was kind of like a coffee cola. And we tested it, and we drank it, and we thought it was fantastic. And we get it out there and the thing was an abject failure. I don’t know how many bottles it sold, but there were no repeat customers.
So when you do something like that, you’re forced to ask yourself the question, what did I miss there? And I think that if you can celebrate that – and I don’t mean you go throw yourself a big party and say, “Yay! We were a failure! Isn’t it wonderful?!” I’m not talking about that. But I’m talking about celebrating the fact that we tried something, and it didn’t work, and then understanding what we did, how we would have made it better, and what changes we would have made. And from that product, because it was a failure, of course, we said, well what else could we do? And bottled Frappucino was born, which has been a fantastic success.
When you don’t celebrate, or accept failure with a positive mental attitude, it can stop you from doing other things. Fear sets in – well, I don’t want to make a mistake again – so now you start to become more conservative about the things that you do, in an attempt to only have successes. Once that happens, you pass by so many things that could be a success because of your fear of failure.
And that’s what I think you’re trying to keep from happening, is having your fear of failure get in the way of the ability to take more risk, new risk, and to try new things. And when you beat yourself up too much, or get too conservative, that’s exactly what you do. So celebrating failure is just really critical in your journey in life.
It’s not fun. I’m not here to tell you, heyyy, like I was talking about, boy that was sure fun to blow that thing up. It isn’t. But on the other hand you’ve got to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and say, OK, I screwed that one up, and laugh, and say Ok, what am I going to do now?
Recognizing that approaching failure with a positive mindset runs counter to how we’re conditioned to perceive it, Behar offers some suggestions on how to cultivate an attitude that lets you get the most out of failure.
I think number one, you have to allow yourself to mourn. And you can be mad at yourself. I mean sometimes I get just – my self-talk, you know, I can be really mad at myself. I don’t give myself very long at doing that. What I try to do is I try to set a time limit. I say, Howard, after Friday, you’re done with that talk. Right? I do that. It sounds strange, but I’m talking to myself, and I say OK, you’ve got a couple of days to moan and groan, and then you’ve got to start thinking about what you’re going to do, and talk only about what you learned, not what you did wrong.
So I think that’s one thing. It’s a little trick you play with yourself. Acknowledge it. Give your time to mourn, and to do all those things you need to do. Yeah, it did happen. I’m terrible. I stink. I will never do anything right. And then starting on Friday, OK, what did I learn from that? And how will I take what I learned into the next experiment that you’re going to try?
Another way is, we’ve all had successes too in our lives. Some successes, some smaller, some bigger. Keep a piece of paper around where you can go look at it with all your successes on it. Things that went right in your life, and ask yourself, why did it go right, and what are you proud of, so you get into that attitude again. Any trick that you can think of that will play with your brain to get you back on track again. And we can all think up a zillion things.
We always want people to be totally sincere in their comments about us, or their compliments about us, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to go ask your wife, or someone you trust, tell me something I did good, will you? Pat me on the back, will you? I need it today. It’s OK, right, to ask for things that you need.
That’s all. It’s just not taking it too seriously. You know, most of the things that we make mistakes on are not catastrophic mistakes, where somebody has died.
Looking back over the years, Behar sees numerous keys to his success.
I think number one would be my family. That I had a unique opportunity as a child, as a young child. My father was fifty when I was born. He had a little mom and pop grocery store. A little ten unit apartment above it. He opened the store before the depression. And I had the opportunity to see him work. And I also had the opportunity to have my own little chewing gum stand out in front of the store. So I understood early on and developed that entrepreneurial spirit. Because I was around it. Not everybody gets that opportunity. Most people don’t. So it was a place that I was really comfortable. That’s number one.
Second thing is, I had a brother and sister that were quite a bit older than I was, and my parents were quite old when they had me, so I was always around adults. And because I was the baby, there was just total acceptance of me. Howie could do no wrong, almost, at one level. Had some pluses and minuses to that. But Howie could do no wrong. There was just lots of confidence in me. And aunts and uncles and whatever it was, there was just a tremendous amount of love and affection. So that developed me emotionally with a positive feeling about myself, for the most part. And not always, but I think that was critical.
Second thing. I worked in my family’s businesses for a while, my brother and my brother-in-law, but I had this desire to do something on my own. So I went out into the work world, and I had a series of teachers, mentors, we call them, along the way. And I was thirsty for knowledge. I wanted to be really good.
Where that came from, I don’t know. Probably had a lot to do with, I wanted to be acc – all that love and affection I had in my family, I wanted that to continue on, right? So the way I got it was being curious. Because people would see that and say, he he’s curious, I want to spend time teaching him. And so a series of one after the other people that helped me, and taught me. In many different styles and many different ways.
So I think that was really critical. Really critical in my life. Having an opportunity to learn from others. And to have enough awareness that it was important, and to be searching it out. I was always searching it out.
And then I had one significant mentor, a guy named Jim Jensen, that really started asking me questions that I never asked myself. I was working in the home furnishings industry at the time, and he was the president of this company, and one day he asked me, Howard, is it furniture you love or is it people? And it took me a while, longer than you would think, to come to the conclusion, no, it’s people that I love.
That was a turning point in my life. Absolute turning point in my life. Because then, instead of being just a student of furniture, I became a student of myself, which was first and foremost the thing we need to do. I really started to be very introspective, and asked myself questions, and read and study, and I’d get every self-help book that was around, and I was looking at all this stuff, and going to seminars and doing all this stuff, and at the same time learning about others. What other people like. What motivates them? How do they live their lives? Why do they live their lives that way? How are they different than I am? Why are they different than I am? What have their lives been like? What have their families been like?
And I got very interested in that. Not just for the learning, but because I thought it would make me a better human being, and a better student of other people, but I was curious about other people and their experiences. And I learned from those experiences. So it was kind of a double benefit. That one guy, with that one question, had just huge impact.
And I think the other thing, not having a formal education, I had to be a lot humbler. I wasn’t a Harvard grad. I couldn’t say, look at this piece of paper. I knew inside of me that I had to pick up the cigarette butts. I saw my dad do it, and everybody else in my family, so I knew that it was OK. It wasn’t beneath me. But I became the best cigarette butt picker-upper there ever was.
And so learning to pick up the cigarette butts – I would take jobs that other people thought I shouldn’t, because I thought I could do it. And I was always open to opportunity because of that. I saw opportunities that other people didn’t see, and I was willing to take – I had lots of failures, what you would call failures. At 44 years old, I had $140,000 to my name. That was it. Total. Including my home equity. Everything. I had lost a million dollars in a business I had invested in, became president of, so we were starting over again.
But I knew I only had one way of doing things. I had to pick up cigarette butts. I had to do things that other people thought may not be so wise. Going to work for this little coffee company. Who the hell is going to pay three bucks for a cup of coffee? Right? And I just looked at it and said, I don’t know where this is headed, quite, but I loved the business. I loved what the possibilities were. I didn’t know. I just finally settled in and said I was going to do something I absolutely love to do, and I love coffee, so it was easy.
For Behar, part of the key to a successful and happy life is simply learning to say yes.
We grow up. We’re little children. We’re babies. We’re ten months old, or eleven months old. We learn to crawl. Everything is interesting to us at that time. There is nothing that doesn’t. We look and – I mean, if you’ve ever watched a baby, they’re looking all the time. The ultimate attention deficit in a baby, right? Because they don’t hold on to a view of something very long. They’re looking all the time. We’re always trying to figure out something we can grab, right?
We’re eleven months old, and we’re up on our knees, and we’re headed across the living room, and headed to the cocktail table. And in the middle of the cocktail table is this beautiful crystal vase with a nice flower in it. And we’re headed there and we get to the table, and we reach up with one hand and we pull ourselves up on our feet, because it’s the only way we can stand, and we go to reach across to grab that little vase.
And from the corner of the room comes this loud yell or scream – with love – no! Don’t touch that. And that’s the beginning of the process of human beings – and it’s in any language, by the way – coming to think that no is the most powerful word in the English language, or any language. Because it’s used by others to influence our behavior all the time, things that we do.
First and foremost it becomes with our parents. Second, we go to school and it’s not just no the word, but no, you’re not capable. I’m not just using the literal word no. A teacher writes on your first little paper all the things that you did wrong. That becomes a no, you’re not good enough. Not that they shouldn’t correct the paper, but the idea of finding things that are right, more important than finding things that are wrong. Because we all gravitate towards that which makes us feel better. All of us.
So then we go get our first job, and we go to work and we’ve got this manual. And it’s got all the things that you should do or you shouldn’t do. A bunch of little no’s in there, right? So we go to serve a customer. We’re excited to go to work because now we’re an adult, and now we get to exercise our inalienable rights. And somebody comes and asks us, can you do xyz, and what’s the first word out of your mouth? No. We can’t do that. And you realize that you have arrived. Because now you can say no.
So I just believe that yes is much more powerful. And I think that we can teach our children about yes much earlier than we do. And we can create a society of yes, which means a society of support, a society of caring, a society of hope, of teaching. And like the guy that wrote the One Minute Manager, he says the key is to catch people doing the right things right, which are giant yeses.
Recognizing that the one thing we each have control over is our own thoughts and actions, I asked Behar for some thoughts on creating a personal culture of yes in our own lives.
Well, all of us have what I call my little board of directors that sit on my shoulders. There’s always four, five or six of them sitting and talking to me all the time. As I sit here talking to you, they’re talking to me. They have a hard time getting through now. But it’s finding one of those voices that is saying yes to you. Saying yes, you’re ok. Yes, you’ll be all right. Yes to others. And listening to that voice more than you listen to the no voice.
Because we all have those little no voices sitting on our shoulders too. And I think it’s recognizing it. Whenever you hear yourself say the word no, or your actions act like no to others, to your children, to you significant other, to the people that you work with – whatever it happens to be – or even no to yourself, is a good time to ask yourself, is that really what I want to do?
It’s the same little exercise that you have to do. You’ve got to be listening to the voices and rejecting the ones that don’t suit you at the time. I mean, sometimes there is no. I understand that. If I’m busy, and I just can’t do something, I’ll be out of town. I may not say no, I might say I can’t do it right now, this week, but I’m open to another week, or it’s just not something I want to do. That’s OK. I’m not talking about that. I’m not talking about yes to everything, we’ve got to please every other person. That’s not my point here.
It’s kind of the yes, how we live our lives, how we are of service to others, and how we learn. So I think it’s the same thing. How do we do that? By letting those little voices talk, and when the no one comes out at an inappropriate time, ask yourself the question, is that appropriate now? Anything that serves you to just get it up top. Bring it up top.
To bring those two concepts that we talked about before together, listening to your little voices and dealing with all those things, I think one of the things that I like about getting older is that you start to live long enough where you recognize those voices, or you recognize your feelings very quickly.
So I wake up in the morning, and I may have a grey day. I don’t know why it’s a grey day. It’s just grey. It could be bright sun and 70 degrees in Palm Springs, and I’m just feeling terrible. Sometimes it’s physical, but it’s just mental. Maybe it’s a little depression for that day, or whatever it happens to be.
Now I recognize it so quickly. Ohh. Grey day. What’s up? I talk to myself like that. Sometimes out loud. Sometimes people think I’m a little looney. But sometimes, just the voice, what’s up? What’s going on with you today? Why are you feeling the way you’re feeling?
And sometimes I know, sometimes I don’t. But what happens is, as soon as I start asking myself the questions, it starts to dissipate. I say to myself, it’s OK. You don’t have to be up today. Once I do that, it’s amazing what happens. And what’s so crazy about it now even, I can feel the physical difference in my brain, in my body. It’s amazing. I can almost feel the lightness starting to take over.
Never could do that when I was young. It’s a great advantage. I probably could have learned it. I did some meditation when I was young, but I don’t remember – I’ve read a lot and all that, I don’t remember anybody talking to me about it in that context. And it’s the same with the yes. When your instinct, or something says to say no, ask yourself a question. Is that really what you want to do right now, and why?
As parting question, I asked Behar what gives him hope.
People like you give me hope. Young people. There are some people in organizations that want you to believe that there’s no hope. And usually it’s because they’re trying to gain some kind of power to influence what’s going on, and so they intentionally find everything that’s wrong because it’s in their interest to do so. It’s part of a political campaign. Everybody that’s gained power in a country, from time, probably, immemorial, from Hugo Chavez, he creates hopelessness on one level that somebody’s at fault, oh this is terrible, to our political parties that do exactly the same thing when they’re running for office.
But when you really look underneath it all, they’re wrong. They’re just trying to use that to gain something. There’s so much hope to change things. Look what we’ve accomplished in this world. Look from between 1900 and 2000, life expectancy has gone up by 70% in this country and in a lot of places around the world. As many poor people as there may be in the world, incomes are rising.
If you went to Singapore in 1948, it was abject poverty. You go to Singapore today, sixty years later, and you see a country that’s risen. Highly educated people, integrated society. And that’s just one place. It’s going on all around us. Things are happening.
Do we still have wars? Do we still do stupid things as human beings? You bet we do. We always will. But after that happens, things change and we find a new way to do things. Look what’s going on, environmental movement. Lots of great things are happening. Whether the world is coming to an end with all this, or whether we had anything to do with all this stuff – sure, we probably had some. I don’t think we’re quite as powerful as we like to think, but the point is, we can make positive changes whether any of that stuff is true or not. We don’t need to put this stuff in the air, and have all these bad things that we have, right? We don’t. That gives me hope.
I see all these young people growing, challenging the status quo. The advent of the internet. As much negative stuff as there can be on there, it’s a tool for great progress, because all of a sudden the world is opened up. Now, transparency is the word of the day. If something bad happens in a little corner of Beijing, somebody gets it on their cell phone and it’s around the world in fifteen minutes. That gives me hope.
So I’m hopeful. Always. Why not?
Thank you for listening to Curt Rosengren’s M.A.P. Maker Podcast. If you’d like to know more about Howard Behar and his book, “It’s Not About the Coffee,” you can go to www.howardbehar.com. And if you’d like to know more about how I can help you discover work that energizes and inspires you, please visit me online at www.passioncatalyst.com.