What’s it all about, that ‘black coffee’ principle?

By Svend Jacobson

Every company has its ‘crown jewels’ and at inno.com they are the people. Why? Because time after time I see a good mix of perseverance, pragmatism and humanity in my colleagues. Not that I have never come across this at other companies, but at inno.com this blend is a basic requirement. During my job application – more than nine years ago – I myself first had to ‘survive’ four interviews before I could see the big boss. Just before I was about to sign the contract, he just wanted to check: “Are you sure, Svend? At inno.com you always walk on the tips of your toes, like a ballerina.” No other words could have convinced me more that I had to sign immediately. And fortunately, I still haven’t had to wear a pink tutu.

At inno.com we put everything into our customers’ projects to ensure they succeed. This means we make a crucial difference. With this in mind, we often talk about the ‘black coffee’ principle. As soon as you add even a single drop of milk to black coffee, it will never become truly black again. No matter how much coffee you keep adding. So the corresponding principle is really a story about pledging loyalty to yourself and never deviating from this.

Doubting means constantly improving yourself

I myself have often doubted whether the coffee I served my customers was sufficiently black. A doubt that I know my colleagues also experience. Something that is to their credit, because this is essentially the ongoing quest for excellence. But for those who spend a long time searching, the doubt can turn into despair and even cynicism: “Black coffee? Weak tea, more like!”

Black coffee goes beyond the big bang

I always thought that black coffee was about making a spectacular impact, in which large, long-running problems were finally resolved decisively and structurally. Looked at this way, much of what a typical consultant does is indeed comparable to weak tea. But recently I have realized that to really make a difference you need to build on the already existing solid foundations of the current organization and processes and to continue growing gradually, working with the management team and at the pace they set. You have to appreciate what already exists and help this to develop further by sharing some of your expertise. In this way you transfer your knowledge and the organization can operate independently of you.

So black coffee has more to do with ‘enjoy in moderation’ than the ‘kick’ of caffeine. I first had to grow myself to understand that. Just like I now appreciate an Italian cappuccino so much more than three mugs of strong coffee.

What’s it all about, that ‘black coffee’ principle?