Monday, May 10, 2010

Where’s the Beef?

In 1984, the Wendy’s restaurant chain ran a smart commercial about an elderly lady who walked into a competitor’s hamburger restaurant, ordered their “Big Bun hamburger” and was greatly disappointed with what she was presented with.  As she looked over the sandwich that was all bun and no burger, she yelled out the famous phrase “Where’s the beef?”.

As a strategy guy looking over many of the challenges facing us today, the same question comes to mind.  Think of these challenges that are swirling around us these days (and this is just a subset):

Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is facing a dire future as oil continues to spill from the damaged oil well on the ocean floor.  British Petroleum (BP) assured the state and federal officials during the license application process that the potential for an accident was so remote, it almost wasn’t worth thinking about.  However, if an accident did occur, there was more than enough technology available to prevent it from being a problem.  “Trust us”, said BP.

On a personal note, Chevron is about to embark on some oil drilling off the coast of my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.  This drilling will take place in some of the deepest water ever explored for oil production; a place where a catastrophe on the scale of the Gulf of Mexico could obliterate the local ecology and marine-based economy for decades.  Will the Gulf of Mexico be recreated off the coast of Newfoundland?  “Trust us”, say the oil companies and regulatory bodies, “This is different”.

Wall Street

It’s been known by a lot of people for a long time, both on Wall Street and off it, that practices behind mortgage-backed securities and subprime mortgages were totally unsustainable but people did what they did anyway.  Regulators, legislators and some Wall Street management either looked the other way or were assured that nothing catastrophic could happen.  “Trust us”, said the people who created the financial products in question as they relabeled them to be more palatable.

There’s another correction on Wall Street coming in the next 6-9 months.  Leaders will act surprised when it happens.  Then they will say “Trust us” as they set about “correcting” it.

US Public Healthcare

The massive healthcare bill, over 2400 pages worth, with unknown sources of revenue to cover the operating costs and with difficult-to-define impacts on other legislation was passed with an extreme sense of urgency.  Nobody knows if it will work, how it will be paid for or what impact it will have on the long-term debt situation in the US.  “Trust us”, say the legislators who passed the bill.

World Ecology

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how we are rapidly using up everything the earth has to offer and in return, we are giving it some of the most toxic chemicals we can conceive.  Bureaucrats from around the world have been meeting for years to discuss ways of correcting this and continue to produce little of meaningful impact. “Trust us”, say international bureaucrats and people like Al Gore who have discovered that there is more money to be made in promoting the problem than finding a solution.

Iraq / Afghanistan

We are allegedly fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring peace from terrorism and to bring stability to that part of the world.  Whenever anyone challenges why we are really there, we are assured that we are in fact there for all the right reasons.  “Trust us”, say our political and military leaders as heroes from our side and civilians from their side continue to die.

Lately as these and other assurances fall flat, I think of the old Wendy’s commercial and have to ask:

“Where’s the beef?”

Whenever anyone challenges the message of “Trust us” in these or other areas, we are met with a number of reasons (or excuses) why trust is all we have to go on.

Here are some of the ones we are given:

  • National security – sharing what we know will compromise your safety.
  • Confidentiality – sharing what we know will jeopardize corporate confidentiality.
  • Complexity – the problems and solutions are simply too complicated to explain to everyone.
  • Timing – we don’t have time to stop and explain this; we’re off to tackle the next “thing” of an urgent nature.  Other timing related excuses include things such as “if we delay execution too long, a corporation will suffer or a military opponent will gain the upper hand and you don’t want that on your hands, do you?”.
  • Over-estimation of risk – we know there is less risk than you think there is, so there is no need to stop and engage in a pointless dialog about a problem that is not as bad as people think it is.
  • Intelligence – we are experts at this, you are not, so whose opinion matters more?

What some of these leaders need to remember is that the electorate and people at large are a lot smarter than they realize.

Fortunately for these leaders, many people are crushed with the weight of keeping their families above water on a daily basis and so they can’t take the time to stop and say to today’s leaders:

“Where’s the beef?”

Some people who do ask the question are easily intimidated into silence using a variety of techniques.

I think if we could finally get many of these leaders to be totally accountable and transparent around their challenges and intentions, then we would truly see the real risks (or lack of) with many of the things that face us.

When we all have knowledge of the challenges before us, we tap into a much larger group of people who can contribute to solutions.

And then, maybe then, we will truly move closer to our phenomenal potential on this planet.

Have you asked a leader lately “Where’s the beef?”

If you have and you didn’t like the answer, keep asking.

If you haven’t asked the question, why haven’t you?

Regardless of how proactive each of us is in contributing to the world, we all reap the harvest, good and bad, together.

Let’s make it a bountiful, sustainable harvest.

We can choose to correct our behaviors or we can choose to do nothing and eventually, our behaviors will be corrected for us in a process that I refer to as the Great Correction.

I’d rather own the process than be owned by it.

How about you?

In service and servanthood.


For my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Where’s the Beef?”, please click here.

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