The Starbucks Conversations

On Tuesday afternoon Starbucks will close its 8000 stores in the US to conduct a 4-hour unconscious bias training for its employees.

Hooray hooray.

I have watched the public discourse in response to this training with a sort of incredulous amazement. On social media.

 In major news publications like The Atlantic and The Washington Post. I am startled by the undercurrent of cynicism. 4 hours won’t make a difference. It’s corporate damage control. You don’t change anyone or anything in 4 hours. What if they don’t get it right?

Come on, people. Really? Any conversation that starts to move the unconscious into consciousness is worth having. Period. No matter how quick or how long it is. Starbucks has 157,000 employees in the US alone. This is a major conversation that will occur for thousands of people. Cool. Period.

Unconscious bias, says Dr. Helen Turnbell, author of “The Illusion of Inclusion” and CEO of Human Facets, an international consulting firm that helps corporate leaders to address their unconscious biases, really is a series of mental models that we carry and make decisions out of, and we don’t even realize are there, and they’re actually igniting the decisions we make about people, who we hire, who we allow into our affinity groups.And after a pause, Helen adds. Just to make a point, conscious bias still exists and is alive and not well.

A series of mental models that drive our decisions and that we are unaware of. Whew.

I think of corporate leaders whose decisions impact the fate of thousands of employees and entire industries or countries. I think of political leaders. Kim Jong-un. Moon Jae-in. Xi Jinping. Angela Merkel. Emmanuel Macron. Donald J. Trump.

Run by unconscious mental models. Yes, whew.

I have the pleasure of working in the personal excellence and leadership development field. A big chunk of what I do is to help amazingly gifted and successful people become more conscious of who they are, at every level of self, and then channel this consciousness into micro-behaviors that elevate their personal influence and accelerate their company’s business success.

There is a lot I do NOT know, but of this I’m pretty darn sure. Conscious beats unconscious every single time. When I am conscious I am able to make choices based on my consciousness. When I am unconscious my ability to choose has been stolen from me.

  1. More consciousness = more conscious decisions.

  2. More consciousness = more insight into what animates me.

  3. More consciousness = less confusion about “why I do what I do.”

  4. More consciousness = greater ability to grasp complexity and ambiguity.

  5. More consciousness = more confidence that the way I show up in the world is fully aligned with who I say I am or who I would like to be.

Yes, all of that. And while I believe that any sense of control is a hallucination we humans like to fabricate, more consciousness fosters a healthy sense of control, in lieu of being “out of control.” I claim my ability to make wiser and more conscious choices. Situations do NOT feel out of control, even when I don’t like the outcome. I have a keen and conscious sense of why I think and react the way I do

Evolving as a person, maturing as a leader accelerates when we shift from unconsciousness to more states of consciousness or higher consciousness.

The tricky part about unconscious bias? We don’t know what we don’t know. Unconscious bias encapsulates all of our blind spots. The unconscious lulls us into believing that we are fully conscious. Because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Kudos to Starbucks. Kudos to the Starbucks employees who, I trust, to one degree or other all view themselves as conscious beings. We don’t know what we don’t know. We address unconscious bias by entrusting ourselves to skilled guides who have both the tools and the integrity to help us look at our unconscious.

I have some skin in this game, I spent an entire decade facilitating unconscious bias work. Sure, it takes courage. We don’t get rid of every single blind spot in one fell swoop. But you wanna grow as a leader? As a human? Not opening the door to our unconscious biases is not an option.

The reward: Less drama. More self-awareness. An enhanced ability to manage yourself. Wider and better informed personal choices. More consciousness.

I mean, this is a no-brainer, isn’t it?