Why Starbucks’ Howard Schultz’s Presidential Hopes Will Fail To Inspire A Movement

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DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann (Flickr)

Kicking off with an appearance on 60 Minutes, Howard Schultz seems poised to be running for President in 2020. He’s put together an elite team that includes Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign, as well as former Obama advisor Bill Burton. Working with both sides, Schultz hopes to build a movement from the middle out.

It is unlikely to succeed. As I explain in my upcoming book, Cascades, successful movements share certain traits that allow them to prevail. Although change leaders all start out with different personalities, philosophy and objectives, they end up with common principles that drive their success.

First, movements always start with a deep sense of grievance, whether it is about voting rights, marriage rights or something else, there is always an underlying injury that motivates people to take action. In much the same way, successful insurgent candidates throughout history, such as Strom Thurmond, Ross Perot and Bernie Sanders, drew their strength from anger among its most ardent supporters.

It’s hard to see how Schultz, the billionaire founder of Starbucks, can tap into those same passions by running as a third party candidate against the extreme wings of both parties. Is the two party system really anything that people feel passionately about? Unlikely.

Second, is that movements thrive on networks of small groups, loosely connected, but united by a shared purpose. In their book length study of the Tea Party, researchers Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson found that the movement had been incubating for years in a wide ranging assortment of small groups that met in local cafes, churches and coffee shops. It only needed Rick Santelli’s now-famous on-air rant to connect those groups together and give them purpose.

It’s hard to see how any grassroots movement lies in waiting for Howard Schultz. Even more importantly, he hasn’t done anything to create one himself. There has been no “listening tour” of town hall style events, or even a mass online campaign like his fellow billionaire Tom Steyer has been engaged in for the past two years. The raison d’être of the campaign doesn’t seem to be anything more than a rich, successful man’s idea of what the vox populi really wants and needs.

Third, is the lack of institutional support or even outreach to relevant institutions. Successful movements mobilize constituencies to influence institutions, such as community organizations, religious groups, public sector unions and others, to drive change through. Yet aside from eschewing political parties, these types of organizations don’t even warrant a mention from the Schultz camp, much less a serious effort to win their support.

As Martin Luther King Jr.’s biographer, Clayborne Carson, put it, ““A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.” It is clear that Schultz wants to revolt against the two party system, but not so clear what kind of revolution he wants to bring about or what would come after it.

Finally, every successful movement for change is built on values. Barack Obama’s message of “hope and change” was bolstered by his value of empowering the middle class. Bernie Sanders’ built his movement based on justice for the downtrodden. Even Donald Trump’s historic campaign represented his preference for common sense of “regular guys” over an elite technocracy.

What values does Howard Schultz represent other than a sort of milquetoast middle-of-the-roadism and the ego of a rich man? The answer is clear: nothing, which is why his efforts are sure to fail.

And that’s a good thing. The 2020 election will determine far more than choosing a president. The American people have important choices to make. How will we ensure equality of opportunity in an age of technological automation? How will we educate our children for the 21st century? How will we make healthcare economically feasible for both families and the nation as a whole? How do we see our place in an increasingly multi-polar world?

Our country is at a crossroads. We need a debate, not a compromise.

Greg Satell is a popular author, speaker, and trusted adviser whose new book, Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change, will be published by McGraw-Hill in April, 2019.

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Bestselling Author of Cascades and Mapping Innovation, @HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com — note: I use Amazon Affiliate links for books.

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