The continuing goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.
This week, Tom and KC start out by discussing the high-profile departures of Dave Clark (from Amazon) and Sheryl Sandberg (from Meta) and their impact on the companies where they spent so many years … move on to chat about Marc Lore's new food delivery business, Wonder … and wind up talking about how retailers will. and should, deal with current economic stresses. Will they delay investments in innovation and put the emphasis on "returning to fundamentals?" Or will they use the moment to find new and innovative ways to get closer to customer needs and desires?
If you'd rather download and listen to The Innovation Conversation as an audio podcast, click below.
Today, I have a conversation with Sterling Hawkins, co-CEO and co-founder of CART-The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, and the author of new book, "Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What."
The book posits that embracing and dealing with discomfort is critical to achieving transformative change in business, and in this extended chat, Sterling and I discuss how the premise is similar - and sometimes different - for individuals and companies … why future rewards almost always depend on being able to endure discomfort —- the value of a symbolic (or real) tattoo … the difference between inspiration and motivation (and why both are important) … the importance of building your own Street Gang … and the value of being able to jump out of a plane (both literally and metaphorically).
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Sterling Hawkins…
If you'd like to listen to this conversation as an audio podcast, click below.
"Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What" will be available starting Tuesday on Amazon, at the iconic Portland independent bookstore Powell's, on Bookshop.org, and wherever books are sold.
Not strictly a retail story, but one of the more intriguing stories of the week…
There is a senior software engineer at Google named Blake Lemoine who has come to the conclusion that artificial intelligence (AI) developed by the company is, in fact, sentient.
Merriam Webster defines "sentient" as "responsive to or conscious of sense impressions." ScienceDirect defines it as "having the capacity to have feelings. This requires a level of awareness and cognitive ability. There is evidence for sophisticated cognitive concepts and for both positive and negative feelings in a wide range of nonhuman animals."
In other words - if a computer develops sentience, it is a big freakin' deal.
Think Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Or, more malevolently, the title character in Terminator.
And so what did Google do when presented with this conclusion?
It placed Lemoine on paid leave.
The New York Times writes that "the company’s human resources department said he had violated Google’s confidentiality policy. The day before his suspension, Mr. Lemoine said, he handed over documents to a U.S. senator’s office, claiming they provided evidence that Google and its technology engaged in religious discrimination.
"Google said that its systems imitated conversational exchanges and could riff on different topics, but did not have consciousness."
“They have repeatedly questioned my sanity,” Lemoine tells the Times. “They said, ‘Have you been checked out by a psychiatrist recently?’"
I have no idea if Lemoine is right nor not … but I also have a question: If, in fact, Google created AI with sentience, would it tell us?
I don't have a lot of confidence that it would … the idea that a technology company could create a kind of life would have the potential of rocking our culture to its core, creating a broad philosophical debate that I'm not sure we're capable of having.
Still, the whole thing is fascinating, and makes me think that if AI has not achieved sentience yet, it is inevitable that it will happen. Some day. And it will be Eye-Opening.
It is the placing of Lemoine on leave that strikes me as offering a business lesson, because it seems to drip with denial and epistemic closure - two things that no business should practice.
I leave you with a clip from an episode of the second season of "Stark Trek: The Next Generation" entitled "The Measure of a Man," in which there is a court hearing to determine whether the an droid Data is, in fact, sentient. Enjoy.
The Dallas Morning News reports that "North Texas residents Joon Choe and Mohammad Qasim will operate a new Ghost Kitchen Brands storefront inside a Walmart in North Plano. The kitchen will make food from Quiznos, Cheesecake Factory, Saladworks, Wow Bao and other established brands, then sell it to-go or for delivery … The restaurant will also serve as a to-go restaurant for Walmart shoppers."
According to the story, the two men "picked Walmart because the store already has a built-in customer base — and because there’s room in the market to shake up the food-and-drink scene at big-box stores. The Walmart in Plano will be a pick-up spot for delivery drivers but will double as a grab ‘n go lunch or dinner stop for shoppers."
Opening is expected to happen this summer.
I'm sort of fascinated by all this is going to work. Choe and Mohammad Qasim apparently have their own Dallas restaurant, Public Taco, and it remains to be seen whether they'll incorporate that format into the ghost kitchen. For the time being, they'll be partnering with Ghost Kitchen Brands to operate the Walmart-based kitchen, and making food from various chain formats.
Maybe I'm in the minority on this, but as much as I love the ghost kitchen concept, I'd prefer that the food being made reflected smaller and independent purveyors, as opposed to food from all these chains, of which, IMHO, there are plenty.
I think mainstream supermarkets ought to use the ghost kitchen concept to bring in culinarians and chefs who can add variety and excitement to the store … and maybe they can rotate them in and out.
Think of it as choosing the music you want to listen to. It can be Muzak. Or jazz.
• Food ordering and delivery platform Grubhub said yesterday that is partnering with technology startup Cartken "to bring robot delivery to college campuses. This delivery was piloted at Ohio State University this spring, and a full roll out is expected when students return to campus this fall."
According to the announcement, "Cartken’s robots navigate pavements, crosswalks and pedestrian paths within the campus area without human guidance. The robots use Cartken’s artificial intelligence (AI) and camera-based navigation and mapping technology, which the company developed for small autonomous vehicles to safely operate around pedestrians. Human override remains an option if necessary – for instance when a path is blocked – guaranteeing reliable operation and minimizing delivery delays. Cartken’s robots operate at up to three miles per hour on campus and handle various weather conditions, including rain and snow."
The companies say that "Grubhub partners with more than 250 college campuses across the United States to give students the ability to integrate meal plans directly into their Grubhub account and access restaurants both on- and off-campus for delivery and pickup. The partnership with Cartken for autonomous robot delivery builds on Grubhub’s existing campus offering and is a seamless fit for campus environments."
• Bloomberg reports that "Walmart Inc. is seeking UK retailers to join its online marketplace in an attempt to give British businesses another e-commerce alternative to Amazon and EBay Inc.
"Approved British sellers will be able to sell their goods on Walmart.com, which is visited by more than 120 million people every month, the US shopping giant said in a statement Monday. In a bid to attract sellers, Walmart is offering a guaranteed two-day shipping service to the US for much of the year and access to other services to help them generate sales across the Atlantic.
"Walmart is hosting a UK Sellers Summit in London on Friday and said manufacturers and exporters from an array of sectors, including fashion, sporting goods, beauty and entertainment, have been invited."
• MiBiz reports that SpartanNash has formalized its acquisition of three Shop-N-Save Food Center grocery stores, saying that it plans "to rebrand the three locations as Family Fare stores, one of SpartanNash’s marquee brands.Z"
“Shop-N-Save has been a successful family-owned and operated business for decades, and we are honored that the DeVries family is entrusting SpartanNash to build upon their legacy and bring new offerings to its team members and grocery shoppers in Benzonia, Fremont and Ludington through our Family Fare banner,” SpartanNash President and CEO Tony Sarsam said in a statement.
• Bloomberg reports that "this year, Americans for the first time will spend more money on mezcal and tequila, both alcohols made from agave plants, than they will on US-made whiskeys.
"By 2023, the category also will have supplanted vodka, making it the US’s most-purchased spirit by value, at around $13.3 billion, versus $12.5 billion for vodka and $12.3 billion for US whiskey, according to research released this week by IWSR."
The story notes that "the agave alcohols, which originated in Mexico, aren’t just popular in the Americas. The UK, Russia, Germany and Japan are among the 10 largest markets for the spirits. Of those top 10, the fastest-growing is Canada, where agave-based spirits are expected to grow 93% by volume and 109% by value from 2021 to 2026."
The other day we took note of a New York Post report that Juan Carlos Garcia, who was the CEO of Amazon Mexico from 2015, when the company opened its first office there, until 2017, currently is on the run while he is being tried in absentia in a Mexican court. The charge: hiring two hitmen for $9,000 to murder his estranged wife."
I know that this isn't strictly a retail business story … but I'm also pretty sure that based on the headline alone, it will be the one story that everybody reads on MNB this morning.
While this took place in Mexico, it also is important to point out that this is part of a broader trend in which men commit acts of violence, and then the system treats them with benevolence that belies the threat they present to other people. The Post writes that "the mother of three had accused García of beating her with a bat while she was sleeping. He was taken into custody for the incident but released when the judge downgraded the charge to domestic violence."
I really appreciated this email from an MNB reader:
First time, long time. No, this isn't strictly a retail business story and for that I'm sure you'll catch your fair share of flak. But comments like, "...it also is important to point out that this is part of a broader trend in which men commit acts of violence, and then the system treats them with benevolence that belies the threat they present to other people" are why I read MNB daily. As a girl dad, I see this in the world too often and your words hit home. Again, some might say this isn't why they subscribe to the newsletter, but I'm of the opinion that to not use your platform to call out injustices such as this would be even more problematic. Keep it up, good sir!
So, I'm about to take a little vacation … and for the first time in the 20+ years that I've been doing MNB, I'm not taking my laptop with me. I'm going off the grid.
Sort of. I'll have my iPhone. (It is my camera.). But I won't be writing. Anything.
I do this with a certain amount of trepidation. What happens, I ask myself, if Walmart buys Amazon, or Amazon buys Walmart?
And then I answer myself: Well, they're just going to have to do it without you.
I'd like to think you all would have the decency to wait to make any big moves until I return, but that's not the way things work. I have some experience with this - I was taking a few days off when my dad died, and then Amazon announced it was buying Whole Foods, and I came back to write the news and offer some commentary. (As a historical curiosity, I will point out to you that this happened five years ago - tomorrow. Go figure.)
But this time, I'm not coming back to write anything.
I hope you won't begrudge me this time away. I'll tell you all about it when I return, and I think it is a pretty good bet that I'll bring back some videos and business lessons to share.
MNB will be back on Monday, June 27. (When all is said and done, I'm only taking seven work days off.) While I'm gone, the MNB archives are, as always, open for your perusing pleasure. And you can watch years of videos - Innovation Conversations, assorted interviews with authors and innovators, not to mention FaceTime commentaries - here.
I look forward to getting back in the saddle … but I'm not going to lie - I'm also looking forward to getting off the horse for a little bit.