You could learn a lot over a cup of coffee. I learned recently, for instance, that my former coffee shop is closing. It was right there in the newspaper: One of my hometown's first and hippest java houses would soon close its doors forever, a victim of urban renewal and, to hear the owners and employees tell it, of corporate greed. Not their own, of course, but that of a dastardly chain of green-and-white coffee shops out of the Northwest (you know whom I'm talking about). A purveyor of McCappucinos. The Wal-Mart of coffee. I learned all this, of course, from a table in my current coffee shop, one of the green-and-white ones. It's not the first or the hippest, but the staff is friendly and well-trained, the service is prompt and attentive, and the tables and restrooms are clean -- all attributes my former coffee shop had in short supply. Most importantly, my Venti skim latte has the same excellent taste and temperature regardless of when I visit. I learned that the owners of my former coffee shop seemed angry that their customers could be so foolish as to prefer cleanliness, politeness, and quality over hipness. They could not believe that their customers would stop coming just because a rival offered a better alternative, so they assumed that their competitor must have an unfair advantage. I learned that all of us have a tremendous capacity for self-delusion when it comes to why our customers stop loving us. That it takes a tough ego and a tougher stomach to listen to what our customers really think about us -- or even to ask. And that when we start believing our customers are confused or mistaken or postponing purchases because they've stopped buying from us, it's probably because they're buying from the guy next door. He may have a better cup of coffee, or he may just smile as he pours it. Either way, you need to get out and visit the shop next door. You could learn a lot over a cup of coffee. But you have to wake up and smell it.