Popcorn passion: an anecdote of the hidden costs behind convenience

Convenience has always been one of the strongest drivers of human behaviour and lifestyle trends. Making things more convenient generally implies streamlining processes and cutting out waste, which is inherently good. But, being the convenience-seeking animals we are, we may be just a little biased when it comes to weighing up the pros and cons, especially when the pros come in the form of short-term gratification.

Your favourite food, delivered home with just a few swipes on your phone, is dangerously easy compared to putting in the effort to cook something yourself – even though you know it’ll be more expensive and probably unhealthier to order in. Similarly, the coffee pod machine works with just a push of the button, compared to filling up the coffeemaker – to say nothing of the tedious chore of grinding the beans yourself and brewing them in a complicated machine. And one more unrecyclable pod won’t make a difference to the environment, right?

Eventually your sense of perspective disappears, little by little, as you get used to your new habits. The things you used to contemplate deeply become instant decisions, and you forget about the alternatives and their benefits. This is why I believe it is important to sometimes take a step back and re-evaluate your habits to ensure you don’t find yourself stuck in sub-optimal loops.

Let’s take popcorn as an example (I could write a blog post about the health benefits and cool properties of popcorn, but I’m afraid that would stray even further away from the topic of strategy). I’ve always liked popcorn, and have also consumed my fair share. For quite a while, I used to microwave my popcorn, and knew precisely – down to the second – how long the different brands should be microwaved before they were perfect to my taste. I had a naive perception of popcorn perfection back then.

Nowadays, I’m spoiled to the point of no return by stovetop popcorn, and have naturally also perfected this slightly more complicated process. It has got so bad that I find it difficult to enjoy microwaved popcorn anymore. Popcorn at the movie theatre is acceptable, but it also leaves a lot to be desired compared with my present posh standards.

Making stovetop popcorn used to be the norm, but has become something of a forgotten art due to the invention of microwavable popcorn, which will reach its 35th anniversary this year. Guests are often sceptical when they realize the popcorn I’ve offered to make won’t come from the microwave. But, as the easily superior taste of handmade popcorn becomes apparent, their apprehension turns into curiosity. By the second batch, they want to watch and learn more about the secret tricks involved.

There’s surely room for many different ways to make popcorn, and, even though stovetop popcorn is the clear winner for me, I concede that one size seldom fits all. As with all things in life, there are pitfalls that can turn otherwise great ideas into minor disasters, if you’re unprepared. Great stovetop popcorn requires appropriate equipment, skills and experience. (My best advice is to avoid oils with low smoke points and strong taste – and to steer clear of extra virgin olive oil and go for peanut oil.)

My point is that you shouldn’t necessarily be doing things like you’ve always done them, even though it’s convenient and perhaps the norm for your peers. A re-evaluation of the hidden costs behind old habits and beliefs could surprise you, and is something I think everyone should do more frequently – even when it comes to trivial things like making popcorn.

Streamline your production or service delivery process, but keep the big picture in mind and cut only the right corners. Challenge entrenched notions you’ve grown accustomed to, and try new (or old) ways to find out whether your current cost of convenience is a good deal for you or your business, or whether it could be optimized further.

If you would like to discuss the forgotten art of making popcorn – or anything else relating to strategizing – I’d be happy to hear your ideas and passionate about sharing my hard-earned experience.