w: ajleon

Deliberately Small.

Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.
– Vincent Van Gogh

The latte was immaculate.

Certainly one of the finest I have ever tasted.

And for a guy who has caffeinated himself in almost half of this planets’ countries, that’s saying something.

But.

For some reason that I couldn’t quite explain, the shop was relatively empty.

I mean, there were a couple of folks in there.

Seriously, I think there were actually two. And judging from the amiable banter, they were most definitely locals.

I remember thinking … this is Stratford-on-Avon. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people that sojourn here each and every year to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace and this dude’s shop is two doors down from it.

It’s as if he doesn’t even notice he’s in a tourist town.

So a few perfect lattes later, I’m standing at the counter chatting with Ben, the barista-in-chief at Box Brownie as a group of 150 hurried Japanese tourists race by the window. A few of them nervously walk in and ask if they can have a quick takeaway. Ben replies with a large grin, we don’t make quick coffee, we make good coffee. They glare at him curiously. Smile. And walk out the door.

Already confident of the answer, I flat out ask him.

So why does it seem like you don’t even care about getting those tourists in here?

I don’t. 

But why? 

Because those people aren’t my customers.

But they could  be.

No, they really couldn’t. 

And of course, he’s right.

The difference between Box Brownie and the Dunkin Donuts these tour-groupers were looking for is like the difference between a bar tender at Applebees and a cocktail sommelier at PDT.

The reality is that Ben could sell three times as many cups of coffee if he were just willing to concede. To serve quick takeaways of slightly average-er coffee to hasty visitors. No dosing. No tamping. No latte art. No love. Just liquified caffeine in a cheap styrofoam cup.

But my friend Ben is not in the business of selling as many cups of coffee as possible. He’s in the business of selling the best coffee on earth.

Coffee may indeed be the way he pays the light bill. But coffee is also his art.

And that solitary fact changes everything.

__

In an age when everyone seems to be worshipping at the altar of infinite scalability, it’s difficult to envisage why we wouldn’t want to try and deduce our work to its most copacetic form and sell it to as many people as humanly possible.

Do a little market research.
Find out where the median lies.
Round off the edges.
Taper off the crazy bits.
And just sell a decent cup of coffee in a shitty cup. Or a decent website in a shitty template. Or a decent magazine on shitty paper.

Sure, we won’t remember it.

Your work will devolve into an unexceptional, undistinguished version of what it originally was when you actually cared about it. But you’ll sell it to more people. And make more money. And everyone knows that making as much money as you possibly can is the ironclad passage to a meaningful existence.

__

Last night, I was having a very dignified glass of post-supper Port with my dear friend Bryan Miller.

Bryan is one of the most brilliant third sector communication and marketing strategists I know. He, Melissa and I were bouncing about maintaining craftsmanship in client work and he essentially said, I’m not interested in landing every client, I’m interested in doing work that truly matters for a handful of clients that will actually be altered by it. 

__

You can sanitize your work. You can sell it as a commodity if you’d like to.

Or you can hold the line.

And decide to be cherished.

Not by everyone.

But by a happy few who will actually treasure your work.

__

Here’s the bad news. This will most likely not make you a billionaire.

But here’s the very good news. You just might be able to make a living by producing meaningful and memorable work that only you can do.

From Leyas Café in Camden
Your fellow Misfit,
AJ

704 words

11.6.13

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