Fast-Food Thinking

Who writes your menu? The menu you eat from? The menu you consume information from? The menu of daily choices you consider free will. The menu of breakthrough business insights that promise a leadership advantage?

Is it clear by now it’s just multiple choice, mostly bad ones? Predetermined options that deliver for someone else — someone you pay with your money, time, physical & mental health, or your privacy? Does it concern you?

Surely you’ve heard a version of “the menu is not the choices/the map is not the territory.” Yet the menu and map are increasingly controlled by consolidated gatekeepers that discourage mental or physical activity beyond buying, watching, or perhaps chewing. A slow, ambiguous, daily grind is the accepted fate for most people. Critical thinking is replaced by a limited menu of mediocre choices. Even “thinking outside the box” has become franchise-speak for something that feels edgy but isn’t.

No one wants to hear this. The degree of resistance (and ghosting) this conversation inspires is high. It contradicts a lifetime of training — of choosing a safe, familiar option from a menu of choices you already know and others seem to know, too. I’ve played it safe for a variety of reasons excuses, more than I care to admit. We’re more franchised than disenfranchised.

Fast-Food Menu Items For Business

Best practices is an example of fast-food thinking. It’s an embrace of organizational laziness and a follower mindset, not leadership thinking. But it’s safe. No one ever got fired for hiring X or taking a page from Y. The appeal of consensus is hugely powerful.

Digital transformation is near-universally presented as a menu of magical technology options that promise salvation to over-extended leaders. The persistent 70% failure rate doesn’t seem to impact the urgent sales pitch, or its effectiveness.

DE&I, when you pull back the top-layer slogans, has an origin story so full of holes, political deception, and fabricated injustice that it leaves one speechless. It’s a single-item menu — do as the social justice mob demands or face the consequences. Interestingly, the menu of demands and consequences is limitless.

Fast-food thinking manifests in business as a collectivist mindset. The idea of central planning instead of independent, critical thinking and free(ish) markets that adapt to needs and solve for reality — an infinite combination of factors and real-world problems that impact individuals, groups, and organizations in every market, culture, and country around the world.

It’s remarkable given its 100% failure rate that an appetite for collectivist governance, both organizational and societal, persists. But it does. It’s so commonplace it feels like the default setting. Recruiting from a competitor for “fresh ideas” is a copycat tactic. “Team-building” is just as often clique-building. “Change” frequently means jumping into a clown car of bad ideas.

I guarantee if you look hard at any company, and any sustained period of innovation and breakthrough performance, you’ll find the opposite of safe, committee-driven, consensus-minded governance. You’ll find risk-takers and rule-breakers. You’ll find decision-making and accountability moved closer to the action, not consolidated power or bottlenecks. Leaders lost this willingness to experiment.

Instead, modern leadership feeds the emotional extraction in American culture that now extends all the way to infancy with the farcical Anti-Racist Baby book from Ibram X. Kendi. I can’t find words in English that express the degree of madness we’ve achieved, nor the degree of remaining headroom for woke convulsions. Enough “leaders” in public & private sector roles are willing to permit an unlimited level of bullshit in exchange for false accolades.

Emotional safetyism and feelings rule business decision making. And when it comes down to it, rather than sacrifice feelings, elaborate decoys (i.e. distractions or indefensible exaggerations as justifications) are deployed in the name of “equity.” So leaders claim the high road while taking the low road and pat themselves on the back. This year, our collective house is on fire because “justice.” Next year it’ll be something else.

There’s a reason it’s uncommon to hear your family, friends, and colleagues talk about having direct exposure to great leadership. It’s because great leadership is not common. Throw away the menus and get reacquainted with the joys of cooking. Burn the maps and lead the way. There’s a lot more room at the table for bold, adventurous, thinking people.

Thomas Irre is the founder of HK5, LLC, Practical Business Technology and Mental Self-Defense for leaders & teams.