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Admitting ignorance led to creativity

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

After launching Blue Bottle Coffee in 2002, James Freeman has grown it into a high-end retailer with popular urban cafes. In 2012, he decided to expand the business by revamping its online store.

Freeman met with his top managers to brainstorm about ways to design an online store that would complement Blue Bottle Coffee’s distinctive brick-and-mortar cafes. They began by diagramming how web shoppers might navigate through the online store.

They soon found themselves grappling with an important question: How should they organize the company’s core product—coffee—in an appealing, easy-to-understand manner?

Its customers needed to choose among more than 10 types of beans. In the physical stores, they could ask baristas for help. Initially, the group agreed to organize the coffee varieties based on the region of the world where they were grown. That way, consumers could choose among African, Latin American and Pacific beans.

But, then a manager admitted that he didn’t know what the regions meant. It was a gutsy thing to say, because coffee snobs often claim that beans from a certain region are superior to others. Freeman rewarded his colleague’s brave admission by admitting that he, too, didn’t fully understand the regions.

As a result, Freeman’s brain trust de­­vised creative ways to convey lots of information to online shoppers—and not assume their customers were sophisticated coffee experts. When they unveiled their website a few months later, it proved a huge hit and online sales growth doubled.

— Adapted from Sprint, Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz, Simon & Schuster.

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