• Joseph Callender

What We Need is a Twin Turbo Mash Extractor!

Just like you could not bolt on some high-powered tech onto a brewing system without considering the entire impact on the context of the complex system, you can't apply isolated initiatives and campaigns to symptoms rising up out of malfunctioning parts of beer as a social system.

Who's in control? The system or you?

A recent Twitter thread about the effects of overall alcohol intake has me reflecting on another area of study in my life and it's potential implications for beer.

For the past year, I've been delving into systems thinking as a reflection upon my career experiences in the pharmaceutical industry. Overwhelmingly, the work experience and the outcomes of projects would come up short when compared to organization visions and principles. The Why was there but The How always was lacking. I knew the answers ran deeper than the latest org vision change or digital transformation project.

I have been exploring and developing a "systems-thinking" model for the healthcare setting because it makes sense to apply it to such a lofty objective with a system that is so broken. The thing is, the principles of systems thinking are universal. Today's Twitter thread made me realize how it applies to beer.

I know. I know. It's like staring across the bar at that slow pour of a Pilsner or waiting for the beer fest gate to open. Trust me. The "moment of tasting" is coming.

What is systems thinking and what does it have to do with beer?

What systems thinking takes ownership of is the inherent complexity of a system and incorporating as much of that inherent complex context into a decision-informing model. It aims to work directly within and on the actual context and avoid complicating the system with initiatives and campaigns that result in making the system more complicated.

Beer is a complex system. It's a difficult process to produce it. There are tiers of authority, regulation, and control that simply add to the complication of delivering and enjoying a tasty beer. There is all of the inertia caused by distracting hype and vanity. There are the potential consumers that the industry still does not know how to find or keep the ones on the fence. Too much volume here, too little there.

When beer attempts to address some shortcoming, it attempts to get by with some symptom-mitigating approach based upon some "beyond freshness" data coming out of the very same broken system.

What's the definition of insanity?

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So, if beer wants to get better at what it does, it has to discover what other things it must do to get the right volume of beer in the right places, create a welcoming and inviting aesthetic in all venues, and create a learning system rooted in system user input and feedback. This work requires a mindset shift away from the entrenched practices of a stuck system.

Getting back to today's Twitter thread...moderation is coming for beer and it is not prepared to become the learning system that will evolve along with changing consumer demands. Without a systems thinking model and mindset, the beer industry is likely to continue to attempt short-term symptom mitigating campaigns to make symptoms "appear" to have disappeared. Symptoms always come back or evolve into more concerning symptoms when the source of them is not addressed.

Beer does not currently help consumers gauge moderation or teach them how to apply a moderation mindset. The real risk is without this support to the consumer, consumers simply walk away. Trust me, I was one that largely walked away when it was evident to me that craft beer could not support me in keeping me as a dedicated consumer while desiring to deploy a moderation approach. My beer spend tanked as I could not moderate at venues and events. The industry likely lost thousands of dollars from this single consumer.

I'm back only through haphazardly discovering a few nonalcoholic craft brands in the spring of 2018 and giving them a shot. That discovery along with my concurrent systems thinking learning has allowed me to adopt the mindset I need to reproach craft beer with a moderation mindset.

But I'm just one consumer that has figured it out on his own. There is no reason why this creative and experimental industry could not make a concerted effort to help more consumers and industry personnel pursue and adopt a moderation mindset in order to hold onto or gain greater market share of beer.

The sheer number of factors that can influence a buying decision or taste experience are immense but much of this is not even currently being accounted for. We know that some want hazy IPAs but we don't really know what styles those who have yet to discover craft beer want. And we really don't know what happens after the purchase. Maybe downstream reviews give some idea of what's happening at the beer drinker's home but the whole beer reviewing subsystem itself is missing a ton of tasting context. And it's likely disconnected from the retail data. A sale does not necessarily indicate a positive outcome.

What's my point?

Beer is struggling as a system and a big shift in consumer demand is showing up and already appearing larger than the industry really comprehends. The answers won't come from repeating old thinking patterns and behaviors...or measuring the data resulting from existing practices.

Thus, the actual answers can't be known yet. The new experiments have yet to be run so what will work can't be known. Of course, some tried and true symptom mitigating campaigns can be applied to control the bleeding here and there but true transformation will take a mindset that is willing to explore new models. It starts with fully understanding the problem across all system levers and context of the system before deciding what the solutions will be. This includes shifting any consumer-facing interactions toward co-designing potential new experiences. The beer industry is a proud one that likes to show the world what it knows and what it can produce. But this "knowledge and experience" can impede transformation in a age where the consumer is taking on a significantly more influential role. A co-design mindset will be key for avoiding repeated symptoms.

Unfortunately, like most other systems, those that claim expertise think they understand it better than they really do and leap to creating solutions in search of a problem. We'll have to commit to delaying action until the problem is fully understood and then we'll have to adopt a continuous learning mindset as the context and conditions are revealed and evolve.

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I'm constantly reflecting upon the phenomenon of nonalcoholic craft beer and I'm struck by a thought. There's a systems thinking tie in to something that Garrett Oliver shared with me on his thoughts