Beer, Wine and Development

I took up a new hobby this year.  So far I’ve produced five batches of beer.  They’ve all turned out pretty good.  But the craft has also made me think a lot about training and development.

See, the thing that makes beer marketable is consistency.  Open any Budweiser, Duvel, Blue Moon, Sam Adams or Kräftig, anywhere in the world, any time of year, and they will taste, respectively, like a Budweiser, Duvel, Blue Moon, Sam Adams and Kräftig.  Every sip, every glass, every case tastes the same.  It’s remarkable.

Why?  We aren’t amazed when Twinkies, Coke or Snickers taste the same each time, right?  That’s because those are refined, processed foods.  Beer is an agricultural product at it’s heart.  Malt.  Hops.  Yeast.  Water.  Each of these four are critical, and each have a million variants.  Even a single crop of hops will have variants based on sun, soil, rain, temperature, fertilizer, or a number of other inputs.  The Xs in our equation are all over the place.

Ask a wine maker (or drinker) about the impact these variables have.  Why are some years superior to others?  Why are wines from Napa popular instead of wines from the Sahara?  The environment.  It’s that important.  The Y depends on the Xs, as we know.  Every year, every field, every plant is different.  Get to know the vintner and the year if you want to know the wine.

But not beer.  Year in and year out, that beer tastes the same.  No one squirrels away the late 2006 PBR for “just the right occasion.”  Beer makers excel at making sure they take all those X variants, and come out of their process with the same Y every single time.  It’s remarkable.

Training and development are the same way, I think.  You go in with a group of a individuals, all of whom think, learn and act differently, and you are trying to produce leaders who behave in certain ways.  You are trying to create a consistent product from inconsistent ingredients.  Right?

The truth is, you can be a brewer or a vintner when it comes to development.  Neither is easy.  But in making beer, there are an amazing number of things that can change the end product.  Not just the ingredients, but how long it ferments, how well you cleaned the equipment, how much light gets to the bottles…any of those can throw off the taste of the final product.  You can easily fail to produce that same beer over and over.  Beer making is hard.

Wine is different by design.  You take the inputs and make the best wine you can with them.  But each batch is different.  You know it going in, and you are prepared for it at the end.  2009 wines taste different than 2000 wines.  And that’s OK.  Heck, that 2009 will taste different in a few years than it does now.  It will taste different with a little air, or if you eat chocolate with it.  All of those are considered “complexity” instead of failure.

The same holds for developing leaders.  You can’t realistically expect each person to develop into an exact replica.  And you don’t want them to.  We value diversity, we treasure individual abilities.  We don’t want everyone to be the same.  We crave variety.  It is what helps our organization be more successful.  That should be our goal.

More wine, less beer.  Trying suggesting it next time you’re talking development with your leaders.

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