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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you stand by your principles?

Today is October 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you stand by your principles?”

People who navigate the chaos often rely on a strong set of principles to help guide them along the path. S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, is one such person. Cathy began tinkering with boneless chicken at his hamburger haven, the Dwarf Grill (now Dwarf House) in Hapeville, Georgia which opened in 1946 largely to serve nearby Ford plant workers.

He spent four years devising the ingredients for his famous sandwich, which he began selling in 1961 before the ultimate formula was settled.

After finding a pressure-fryer that could cook the chicken sandwich in the same amount of time it took to cook a fast-food hamburger, Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in 1967 at Greenbriar Mall in southwest Atlanta.

Noting his belief to remain closed on Sunday so employees could attend church and spend time with their families, the Greenbriar Mall at first was hesitant and informed Cathy that he would have to rethink his position. Cathy stood firm and told the mall management that he would make more in six days than anyone else would in seven.

That first Chick-fil-A restaurant, approximately 360 square feet and about the size of a two-car garage, did indeed outperform its competitors. As a result, the principle of being closed on Sundays has been a hallmark of Chick-fil-A ever since.

In November 2021 Andrew Truett Cathy succeeded his father, Dan Cathy, as chief executive officer of the company. According to its 2022 financial statements, the Atlanta-based chicken sandwich chain generated $18.8 billion in U.S. system sales last year, up nearly 13% over 2021.

Perhaps the most notable number, however, is just how much money a typical Chick-fil-A generates. Standalone locations outside of malls, which now number more than 1,900 locations, generated median sales last year of $8.6 million per unit, up nearly 8% from the year before, according to the financial statements.

Another Chick-fil-A principle is known as deliberate expansion, an approach where management believes in fewer, carefully placed locations, often with double drive-thru lanes, rather than more restaurants closer together. That approach, coupled with the company’s continued popularity, has equated to the industry’s strongest unit volumes.

For instance, Chick-fil-A last year developed just 100 new locations, finishing 2022 with 2,800 U.S. restaurants. That’s unit growth of just less than 4% according to an April 5, 2023 article in Restaurant Business by Jonathan Maze.

There is an adage misattributed to Abraham Lincoln that reads “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

To further clarify how it stands with those who are right, Chick-fil-A announced in November 2019 its charitable foundation would set aside $9 million for 2020 that will be split between three initiatives: promoting youth education, combating youth homelessness, and fighting hunger. Those funds will be distributed to Junior Achievement USA, Covenant House International, and local food banks in cities where the chain opens new locations.

Additionally, in 2020 the Chick-fil-A foundation announced it would not give any money to charities taking an anti-LGBTQ stance. In an interview with real estate publication Bisnow, Chick-fil-A’s president and CEO Tim Tassopoulos made it clear that the company’s new donation strategy is related to a rethinking of its previous policy on donations following protests. “There’s no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are,” Tassopoulos told Bisnow. “There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message.”

Principles evolve just as people do. Some principles, like remaining closed on Sunday, are paramount to Chick-fil-A. Other principles, however, like the types of charitable organizations that receive donations, have evolved over time.

Billionaire Ray Dalio knows quite a bit about principles and detailed his thinking in the 2017 best-selling book Principles: Life and Work. Dalio focused on what he termed “hyperrealism” and defined it as “accepting the reality as it is rather than wishing it was different.” Dalio also created his “5 guiding principles for work”:

  • Working for what he wanted, not for what others wanted him to do

  • Coming up with the best independent opinions he could conceive

  • Stress-testing his opinions by having the smartest people finding the flaws in his thinking

  • Being wary about overconfidence, and good at not knowing

  • Embracing reality, experiencing the results of his decisions, and reflecting on what he did to improve.

For Dalio “While most others seem to believe that having answers is better than having questions, I believe that having questions is better than having answers because it leads to more learning.”

When you have questions and get comfortable thinking about them, you can better leverage your mind, body, and spirit as you look to maintain or develop your principles.

  • How often do you stand by your principles?

  • Are you even aware of what your principles are?

  • Which of Dalio’s 5 guiding principles do you practice?

  • Do you have the self-awareness to recognize when the nuance involved with a situation calls for a reflection, and perhaps change, in your principles?


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