Godfather, Coffee in Japan & Elon Musk
The subtle art of having Low expectations
I recently wrote an article for a client, the theme & topic of the writeup was not of my domain but the client wanted me to give it a shot. Though I had great optimism in my writing abilities and so I expected the article to be a top-notch one, it didn't turn out that way, however, the client was over the moon. When I asked him, his point-blank reply was this quote by Alexander Pope “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” and I never expected that you would write so well. I was flabbergasted and it made me think of so many times I had expected too much, from myself and the world.
Godfather 1 is one movie that I keep on going back time and again to watch. Brando’s compelling interpretation of Mob boss or the suaveness of Al Pacino’s character or the dialogues, this 50-year-old movie has a cult following for many reasons. I watched it again last night and then read something more about the movie. I was astonished to know that the movie had all the “expectations” of not happening at all. Have a look at these which the movie had -
A writer who didn’t want to write it [Puzo].
A studio that didn’t want to produce it [Paramount].
A film no director would touch [12 turned it down].
A cast of unknowns [outside of Brando, who was toxic].
A community against it [Italian-American civil rights groups].
And yet, The Godfather succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations, to become one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces in history.”
(From the book: The Annotated Godfather)
So no one had any expectations from this movie, and it turned out to be one of the best movies of all time.
Talking about expectations, I recently read an interesting anecdote about Nestle’s approach in Japan in a book called “The Culture Code” by a famous Marketing Guru and Psychologist C. Rapaille.
While Coffee was first brought to Japan by the Dutch in the 1800s, somehow it didn’t become very popular. So after entering Japan in the 1960s with great expectations of immediate success, even in the 1970s, Nestle was still trying to sell instant coffee into Japan with practically no success. After some rounds of failure, Nestle decided to hire French marketing consultant Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille conducted multiple discussions with ordinary Japanese to try and understand their cultural affinity with coffee. Not so surprisingly, They didn’t have one. Japanese culture is enthralled in tea and it has a strong emotional connection since children from early childhood used to see their parents having Tea only, also most of the desserts were also Tea based/ flavoured meanwhile, coffee had a kind of superficial imprint on the Japanese.
Rapaille later said in his book “Under these circumstances, Nestlé’s strategy of getting these consumers to switch from tea to coffee could only fail.” Due to his excessive work in child psychology, he knew that today’s Children Are the Future and will be the next generation. He suggested Nestle adopt Low expectations but a patient approach for the next generation and “Prime” them to start liking Coffee over a long period without looking for instant success for its instant coffee.
Nestlé immediately agreed and started shifting gears. Instead of persuading Japan to start liking coffee, Nestle started making coffee-flavoured desserts for kids. Most children love candy and dessert, and Japanese kids were no different — no culture issue there. The same coffee flavoured dessert eating Children started to like and love coffee as they grew up. Move Five decades, and Japan is one of the largest importers of coffee and now Japanese spend 22Bn USD every year on drinking coffee. And guess who leads in terms of market share? The company with Low expectations approach, Nestle.
Elon Musk is termed as “Tony Stark in flesh & blood” living in our times. Apart from revolutionising Electric Cars and trying to make Hyperloop a reality, he has transformed Space exploration through his venture “SpaceX”. One of the reasons behind SpaceX’s success is that it has been able to reduce the weight of the SpaceCraft which has brought down the cost of every launch significantly. In one of such efforts of reducing the weight, Musk removed the landing gear of the spacecraft. It was designed that just before the rocket lands, 2 enormously big rods will shoot in the sky from a tower and they will catch the rocket before it touches the ground.
In one of his talks, he said We’re talking about catching the largest flying object ever made on a giant tower with chopstick arms. It’s like Karate Kid with the fly, but much bigger.
And then he so candidly added: “This probably won’t work the first time.
Elon’s other project in news off late has been “Starlink” which has restored internet services in Ukraine which was cut off from the Internet by Russia. Starlink uses a herd of satellites to provide internet services. When the Beta or testing version of Starlink was launched, it was called “Better Than Nothing Beta.” In the email sent to the first set of testing users, Starlink said “As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations,”
One of the most frequently used quotes by Musk is “success is one of the possible outcomes”, whether the question is about establishing a colony on Mars or Starship or Hyperloop.
One of my favourite writers, Morgan Housel recently wrote “I don’t think any of that is casual irreverence or cocky risk-taking. Purposely low expectations are the only way to survive in a world that’s not kind enough to reward every ambitious person with success”.
Brandon Sanderson wrote in “The Way of Kings” — “Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.” My learnings from my own failures in life have been this improvised quote originally by Warren Buffet :
- Rule No 1 — Never have high expectations
- Rule No 2 — Never forget Rule No 1
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