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The Chipotle Principle

I am a diehard Chipotle fan. In my opinion, there are few meals better than a Chipotle bowl with brown rice, black beans, veggies, chipotle chicken, mild salsa, corn, cheese, and guacamole...and more guacamole...and maybe just a little more guacamole. And virtually every time I have my bowl prepared in front of me at the restaurant, I come away from the counter with an enviable mound of food and, yes, a glob of guacamole fit for the avocado gods themselves. Yet, whenever I order the same bowl using the Chipotle app and pick it up at the restaurant, I am almost always disappointed not only with the amount of food in the very bottom of the container...way down in there...but also with the 1/16 ounce of mashed avocado that sits perched like a lone cherry on top of three slivers of grated cheese, the resulting anti-mound of food satisfying only those like my late 88-year-old grandmother who ate little more than the equivalent of one jar of Gerber peas and carrots in any one sitting. Consequently, the dichotomy between my in-restaurant and take-out experiences at Chipotle couldn't be starker.

So, what's going on or not going on here? Well, I believe the answer is quite obvious: accountability. When I'm in the restaurant, peering over the fingerprinted backsplash that Chipotle calls a sneeze guard, the server no doubt feels the pressure to satisfy the customer (i.e., me) and, thus, overloads the bowl. Plus, I often don't hesitate to say, "A little more, please." But in the take-out experience, the server has no one to hold him accountable. An under-ladle of chicken here, a smattering of cheese there, or God forbid, a paltry scoop of guacamole, and who's going to know, right? I mean, the customer will be 20 minutes from the restaurant before she discovers the shortage. And, let's be real, few of us are going to return to complain. So, the affront just happens...again and again and again and soon becomes "just the way it is."

Unfortunately, this contrast between in-person and "online" experience extends to more than the food-service industry. Indeed, in higher education, interpersonal communication (read: face-to-face conversation vs. social media), and retail sales, the same thing too often happens; that is, when people are interacting vis-a-vis, there is much more personal accountability than when they are operating through some medium that provides both temporal and virtual distance. The result is typically two vastly different outcomes, one that is satisfying and one that is less so. Naturally, this is not categorical, but I have little doubt my readers can think of numerous supporting examples such as the loudmouth social media instigator who seems so nice in person, the online retail distributor who is quick to deny one's service claim whilst the in-store representatives are always so accommodating, or the distance-learning professor who would never get away with only a single weekly communications exchange with his students in a residential setting. Although it doesn't have to be so, online modalities are plagued by this "Chipotle Principle": the notion that without strict safeguards of accountability, virtual experiences can quickly devolve into substandard, unfulfilling consumer experiences that create apparent or real differences between the in-person "haves" and the virtual "have nots." And in a world that is increasingly going the way of remote technology, the problem becomes more pronounced every day.

Yet, lest I leave you on a note of despair, I don't believe we must needs resign ourselves to defeat. We are under no compulsion to embrace as truth the actual vs. virtual dichotomy and, thus, license inferior performance in one modality as compared to the other. We can establish controls that eschew systemic inadequacies in every realm of business, education, and other venue. Indeed, organizational leaders and customers should demand excellence at all times and object when such excellence is wanting. To do otherwise is merely to give up and give accept mediocrity in a world moving quickly toward virtual virtuality. That is to say, given where remote technologies are taking us, if we don't arrest our descent from accountability now, then we are destined for a very dark age ahead where the things that bring fullness to the human experience will become merely cultural lore and where the things that once brought chipotle-like spice and zest to life will become only lukewarm and bland remnants of a bygone era.

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