I'm a cake guy. I once spent two hours wandering the streets of Manhattan in search of the perfect slice. I found it on a sea of chantilly cream and it was transcendent. Last week I showed up for a miniretreat with a group of four entrepreneurs, one of whom is a long standing client, and I asked to be paid in cake. One slice. It was worth it.
We all trade our time for payment of some sort. You have a job and do something every day. Your "product" could be an investment opportunity or the chance to join your team. It could be your sage advice or a way you use your training and skills to solve a technical problem like clean teeth, write contracts or handle the year-end. Maybe you train others to do the same. Maybe you code software, do research, build spreadsheets or financial models, write marketing plans, or manage social media campaigns. Maybe you write emails or answer the phone. Even in being a parent, a friend or a community volunteer you deliver something to someone. Everyday we all produce something. Will what you create be a transcendent experience for the recipient? Or just another day in the grind?
When I started public speaking years ago, I didn't want to show up and read powerpoint slides. I wanted my audience to have an experience. I had two bags of coffee beans and asked everyone to pick a bean from each bag: one a premium Starbucks bean and the other from a bright yellow "no name" brand. I asked people to study the two beans and pick their favourite. Of course the exercize was at some level ridiculous–they're just beans–but it was very interesting listening to why people picked one or the other. Invariably a large majority of my audiences picked Starbucks; and their explanations had nothing to do with the observable traits of the beans themselves. They were essentially branding statements about Starbucks. People could not, it seems, evaluate something outside of the brand context, outside of their relationship with the company. The beans meant something to them and it coloured their perception of value.
I estimated that in a typical five dollar latte ("FDL") there was maybe 19¢ of cost. That's a lot of margin and the bulk of the value does not come directly from the bean. The bean is a commodity–an undifferentiated item–just like the basic thing you and I deliver everyday. The real question and the real value comes from something else and that something else is relational, not technical and not transactional. Based on what I have read about the founder of Starbucks, the real value-add is something like "community". The social impact of a "space to connect" is the source of the premium.
The contribution you make is quality of life to someone. We can either be in the daily grind of a coffee bean business or the more transcendant "five-dollar-latte-with-friends" business. I use "cake" as a metaphor for this contribution. (I know I am mixing metaphors but coffee goes well with cake). When I say something is "cake" I am saying it offers that premium value.
The guy who got me the cake offers premium value. Brad was one of the four guys I worked with in the workshop. He's a guy who doesn't just show up to things. He goes beyond. He got his ass up early Saturday morning after a big snow storm to get to the best bakery in the city, to get my cake before it sold out, which it routinely does because this cake, takes the cake. That move itself was "cake" and yes I ate the cake and it was transcendent, but the real joy was the love I felt through his gesture. That duty of care is what Brad's people feel from him everyday. It's that love that makes the time in his business more than just the daily grind.