making lemonade

I have to admit – I’m a big fan of the phrase “when the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

It’s not that I’m some die-hard optimist, nor that I always see the sunny side.  Actually, I might like that phrase because it helps me get through the day sometimes, when I’m being more pessimistic.  But fundamentally, I think it’s a good way of looking at the world, the curveballs that life tends to throw one’s way, and how to come out of things feeling positive and productive.

I have been thinking more about the phrase, though, and how making lemonade can be very different when put into a different context.  In this case, a business one.

Let’s say that we have various beverage producers out there.  To keep up the analogy, different groups and organizations make different kinds of beverages based on their ability to make better quality lemonade than others.  Perhaps great efficiency or even just staff, stuff like that.  I’m going to split off of the actual lemonade analogy now, but stick to the beverage one.

Some groups out there make wine.  These groups are far from those that must remind themselves to make at least lemonade.  They are not only efficient at dealing with problems, but have the skills and/or resources that allow them to produce a high-quality beverage that requires great skill, lots of equipment, land, etc.  They have the machinery, people, and organizational structure to take, say, sour grapes and make at least decent wine.  That’s pretty impressive.  And such organizations are in a completely different league than those trying to make lemonade.

One step down are those that can make, say, sparkling cider.  Not as much skill is required here – there can be a bit of variation in the flavor, perhaps, as long as it still tastes apple-ish, and one can probably use some artificial flavoring to make up the difference.  Equipment and resources are still needed, though.  Skilled workers must be present to operate the machinery to make the actual juice, convert it to cider, and then carbonate it before bottling.  These people likely won’t have the expert-level knowledge of a winemaker or many of the people that work in a winery.  But they are well-trained, and they can make cider.

So where does that leave people who are just trying to make lemonade?  Well, first of all, while this low rung might not be competing with those that can make wine, those that can make sparking cider present a challenge.  When an organization is surprised by something, or has to work with less-than-ideal tools, if one group has the infrastructure to make cider but the other one can only squeeze lemons, perhaps manually and therefore inefficiently, and throw just sugar in there and mix, then something is amiss.  And if the latter group does not move from lemonade to sparkling cider capability at some point, then that group isn’t growing.  And the leader of that group is not doing his or her job.

It’s rough trying to make lemonade in a market where people only recognize the wine, and may, at times, acknowledge the cider…

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