Tales of local heroes

It’s a question of scale. Like Gulliver in Lilliput, it is almost impossible for large organisations to conceive of the impact that they may have on small ones. Sometimes that impact can be devastating.

This thoughtful, mournful article reveals that we are all potential giants in the Internet world, sometimes able to damage without being aware of it.

The article discusses the demise of what was said to be the greatest burger joint in America. It is more than worthy of the investment of time in reading it. While the editorial note that now heads the page adds a further set of factors regarding the demise of Stanich’s, the core theme and tone of the story focuses elsewhere and holds some interesting truths.Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 17.23.23

The article discusses the impact that all those clickbait lists that all internet users love can have — and the tendency that the readers of such lists often have to use them as checklists while ignoring what may be just around the corner.

It talks about individuals who serve local communities and do not want any more than that. It highlights though that the scale of modern media reach is such, and our checklist culture is such, that it is hard for the really good community businesses not to be impacted when their greatness is recognised.

It is impossible not to sympathise with the ceviche chef Jose Luis de Cossio who stopped serving ceviche when a selection as best restaurant made it impossible to serve his community. I personally love ceviche (as so much that comes from Peru), but some of my favourite restaurants have been those just around the corner from home.

We see the same harm from checklist behaviours in the damage that the weight of tourists have on some of our most beautiful places. Barcelona, Venice and Dobrovnik to name but three fantastic cities now struggle to manage the numbers wanting to visit. I’m not suggesting that it was all better when few could afford to travel — and I personally fully intend in due course to make it to the one of these three that has not been marked off my personal checklist. But it is amazing how narrow-minded we are; I am told that the National Trust now limits its core maintenance activities to 100 metres from its car parks because in a bizarre version of the pareto principle 90% of visitors do not walk further than 80 metres. We simply do not look beyond the near at hand or the obvious.

And in the Internet world the near at hand and obvious is frequently provided by clickbait lists rather than the evidence of our own senses. Our willingness to seek out for ourselves is too often supplanted by the ready reckoners provided by others.

In one of my favourite ever Letters from America the great Alistair Cooke began by saying there was something that he ought to talk about and something he must talk about (the delightful Workers, Arise! Shout ‘Fore!’ from December 1974). This blog is written in the same spirit. Having happened across the article on Stanich’s it has worried away at me and required me to share it. While not directly on fairness, it nevertheless seems relevant to some of the ways forward regarding our economic system, and the challenges that we currently face. 

I suspect that localism and appropriate scale will turn out to be part of the answer of having an economic system that works for all. In order to foster the success of local business, the Stanich’s story reminds us that localism is challenging in an internet world — just as the web offers an outlet for small manufacturers and artisans, internet success will challenge production levels and quality standards. Perhaps the challenges of scale was ever with us, but with global reach within easy reach, we may find Gulliver crushing more Lilliputians than he sustains.


Web address for the story of Stanich’s: