retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Last week Kevin wrote about the incredibly grotesque story of the New Jersey woman trying to eat her way into the book of records by raising her weight to 1,000 pounds from her currently svelte 600 pounds. Ordinarily, I try to tread lightly on issues of obesity because for many people it’s a matter of genetics, not choices.

Not this time. This woman is doing it for a reason. Egged on by her boyfriend and strangers on the Internet, she has a mission to get even fatter. How wonderful. Instead of common sense dictating that people around her stop her, she gets encouraged and 15 minutes of fame on television.

Later in the week I was at a Red Cross blood donation center where the staff informed us donors that diet soft drinks are no longer being offered for health reasons. Then, without a moment’s hesitation, for irony to sink in, the same volunteer offered us the special treats on hand that morning. Not one of those treats contained less than 450 calories. It makes me think that New York City legislators can ban sugar, spice and everything nice and people are still going to find a way to eat the wrong thing. (Those New Yorkers can merely look across the Hudson River to the 600-pound New Jersey resident trying to gain my body weight many times over. What legislation will stop that?)

The problem is that healthy eating isn’t a simple issue of laws and rules. It requires informed choices, restraint and, dare I say it, common sense. The latter isn’t in big supply these days.

Living as I do near Washington DC, I see the world of silliness play out all the time. For many of you reading this, political discussions seem simple because you see (depending on your opinion) the Republicans or Democrats as consistently taking the wrong side of every question. Sadly, it’s not that simple.

Alan Webber, the founder of Fast Company magazine and a wonderful writer, addressed the complexity of our current situation in a fabulous column for USA Today called “The Future of Capitalism.” As Webber put it, it’s the economic debate our nation needs to have. (You can easily find the article through Google.)

Webber’s thoughtful piece lays out something incredibly sensible: that the current economic climate is so different and so new from anything that has happened before that it defies resolution by using the same old answers. Webber then skewers both political parties for retreating to past positions to address the issue instead of daring to deal with the new realities.

Can the same be said of us in business?

The current economic climate is new and different, leaving companies the challenge of crafting responses that must also be both new and different. Quite honestly, that’s a situation that is both uncomfortable and challenging.

We see the growth of complexity in everything these days. We see shopper emphasis on price promotion growing at the same time they still opt for excess on other items. We see it in the very public decisions at Walmart on how much inventory is too much or too little and on where to strike the balance between national and store brands. (And we see it in the on going debate about how to offer healthier foods to a population that doesn’t seem to know how to make good choices.)

These are the debates we cannot avoid. To follow up on Webber’s suggestion, the current climate demands a level of discussion that rises above what we have done in the past. Within companies and between trading partners, new discussions are necessary to craft new solutions that fit the times. Ignoring the issues or using the old arguments won’t work.

It’s all so simple and so complex.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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