Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Some brands believe there are certain unchangeable essences to their offering.

If you walk into many clothing stores, a floral perfume wafts over everything, enticing you to believe you're in a glorious garden where you're free to pick the flowers. 

For a few hundred dollars each, that is.

And when you go to Starbucks, you know that you'll be asked your name in order to make you feel that this is a personal experience, rather than the most overpriced coffee you've encountered this side of Venice. (The one in Italy.)

Sadly, the occasional barista putting your name on your cup can incite unintended consequences.

Or, perhaps, entirely intended consequences.

In recent weeks, Starbucks has endured two embarrassing cup-writing incidents.

In Philadelphia, a man walked into a Starbucks and gave his name as "Aziz." 

Yes, the man -- full name Abdul Aziz Johnson -- is Muslim and was wearing traditional Muslim clothing.

The second incident was in London. The one in the (soon-to-be) formerly European country known as England.

Nadia Khan ordered a cookies-and-cream Frappuccino. The Starbucks barista adorned her cup with "Hippo."

To many, both incidents may seem malicious. 

Yet Starbucks decided only one, in fact, deserved censure.

A company spokeswoman told me: 

The incident in the U.K. was not indicative of the welcoming environment we aim to provide in our stores, and we have apologized to the customer directly. We are working closely with the store team to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Not welcoming? It's heartening to see that PR euphemism isn't dead.

The company wouldn't be drawn as to whether the barista was fired.

As for the Philadelphia incident, the Starbucks spokeswoman said: 

After investigating, we don't believe this was a case of discrimination or profiling. The customer approached and provided the name Aziz. The barista mistakenly spelled it incorrectly. We have connected with Mr. Johnson and apologized for this regrettable mistake.

Some might find this explanation a touch jarring. 

What sort of halfwit, they might think, would imagine someone -- that someone -- was called ISIS? 

How great a lack of awareness does it take to write that in precisely those circumstances?

Especially in a city that not so long ago was the site of two black men thrown out of a Starbucks for, it seemed to many, being black.

Or could it be that the Philadelphia barista was, indeed, a malicious little person who spends too long bathing in the seamier parts of Reddit?

Yet, you might choose to give Starbucks some credit.

It treated each incident individually, rather than emitting an instant, draconian response to both.

These are the days of knee-jerk shaming, after all. 

I have no idea if the Philadelphia barista is heinous or merely desperately ignorant. 

I have a feeling the one in London may be both and doesn't work at Starbucks anymore.

Starbucks, though, offered a valuable lesson. 

Before making a decision, it's worth delving into the people and the facts, as many as you can muster.

It appears Starbucks at least tried to do that and, in each case, reached different conclusions.

And by the way, the company doesn't have any intention of changing its cup-writing policy.

Its spokeswoman described it as "a longstanding tradition of connecting with our customers."

As long as the barista is in the mood, wants to make a connection and doesn't have another agenda, that is.

Published on: Sep 6, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.