Fear of Missing Out (F.O.M.O.) can be a powerful motivator...no one wants to be left behind; everyone wants to have the newest and best. In a rapidly changing, constantly evolving industry like specialty coffee if you can't keep up with the Joneses you're screwed right? Lets hope not.
Like any other industry specialty coffee is not immune to trends and fads. In reality because of our industry's relative youth we're probably more prone to rapid swings in trends than other more established industries. While rapidly changing tides are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, they seem to lead to a bit of unhealthy behavior for quite a few coffee roasters and retailers.
Everyone is <em>way</em> too concerned about what everyone else is doing, and for all the wrong reasons...in a nutshell: everyone has F.O.M.O. Although I'm sure there are numerous negative side effects of this keeping up with the Joneses mentality,
<strong>F.O.M.O. is most damaging to the specialty coffee industry because it prevents pure and true stylistic exploration and development.</strong>
F.O.M.O. kind of sneaks up on us...no one sets out to be just like the next guy. We don't put our whole financial future at stake to be a carbon copy of someone else. That's kind of like putting it all on the line to be the world karaoke champion...no matter how well you sing Dark Horse you're still not Katy Perry. F.O.M.O. starts to rear its ugly head when we've had a few successes...when we know people are starting to see us as industry leaders so we better make sure we're doing what the other (bigger, more established, more popular, etc.) industry leaders are doing. This is the beginning of the end. It's the point at which you start focusing on other people and what they're doing more than you're focusing on yourself.
We all want to have successful businesses and careers. We all need to make a living. But that's not why we do what we do. We do what we do because it's an expression and an extension of who we are. We do it because we have to, and we love it. Every time I make someone an espresso or send out a bag of coffee I've roasted in the mail, I'm leaving my stylistic calling card. Whoever receives that is getting a small little piece of me...they get to have a taste of what I think the most amazing coffee experience can be.
Is my interpretation of the perfect coffee experience the be-all and end-all of specialty coffee? Absolutely not. Do I have incredibly strong opinions about coffee; why I like what I like, and why I do what I do? Yes. Does this mean I can't enjoy coffee from people who completely disagree with me, or have an entirely different stance on what the best expression of specialty coffee is? Hell no!
We should embrace these stylistic differences. Be happy that we can choose to be more than just a bunch of lemmings following each other off the nearest cliff. Be happy that we have a variety of options to enjoy that are all a little bit different. Be happy that we are different than whoever the biggest, coolest kids on the block may be at any given moment. Popularity and trends will come and go, but pure expression of craft is timeless. The most pure expression of your craft is going to emerge when you stop giving a shit about what other people are doing, stop caring about what other people think is cool, and start being yourself.
So if you're going to spend all of your time and energy keeping your finger on the pulse, just make sure the pulse you're feeling is your own.