In Search of Meaning | Part 1

Repositioning Our Industry for the Future Grandstanding
February 1993 (Reprinted from “In Good Taste” 1983)

Read Paul’s current-day follow-up here: In Search of Meaning Part Two

By Paul Katzeff

In the early days of the specialty coffee industry, we sustained ourselves on the simple, clear objective of bringing great coffee flavor to the coffee lover. Striving to accomplish that made for meaningful work.

However, the early days are behind us now, and our search for meaningful work cannot be sustained by that simple objective alone.

Excellent flavor, great packaging and new product categories are now easier to accomplish and, in fact, the public expects these things from us. Flavor, the initial spark of life of our industry, is now a giant flame. This flame may heat SCAA members, i.e. owners of companies, but it cannot be expected to do much more than warm the 25,000 employees who now occupy the “jobs” our new industry has created.

“Without work all life goes rotten,” said Albert Camus, “but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.” Certainly we owners are still highly motivated and need no reason to come to work. We are at work because it is the best place to be. Work for us is a constant challenge and a constant reward. In a word, it is exhilarating.

But as our businesses grow, they increasingly depend on some form of work that are utterly boring and meaningless. Mechanical, repetitive, and dull, these jobs utilize only the smallest part of a person’s potential capabilities. Yet we depend on these people to handle our products and relate to our customers in ways that reflect excellence.

Money is not enough of an incentive to keep excellence on the job alive. When we add the next 25,000 employees during the next five years, each of our companies will be larger. Can we attract the brightest and best to fill these jobs and join us in presenting excellence to the American public? Not unless we create an atmosphere that provides more meaningful rewards that salary alone.