Half a year ago, one of my blog readers suggested me to read a book by Yvon Chouinard: Let my people go surfing. I bought the book right away, but it ended up in queue as most other books I buy, until this holiday.
Yvon Chouinard was a climber and surfer before it became fashionable. He started producing climbing equipment simply to fund his next trip. He believes that the word adventure should describe a journey from which there was a real risk that you would not come back alive. In the text there is a strong sense of authenticity in everything he speaks about.
Let my people go surfing is the one-liner describing the flexible hours policy of Patagonia, the company founded and owned by the Chouinards. The company was (and probably still is) very progressive in its way of conducting business. They essentially want to bring the best quality product forward to the consumer doing least harm. They want to be profitable to do well for nature through environmental causes. They want to become a company which everybody is passionate about and works passionately for.
I worked for 7 years for the LEGO Company, a privately held, Danish company which provides a toy system for infinite play and child development. I sense that the two companies, while working with completely different customers and products, share a common DNA in striving to make the best possible product for their customer. Also, they are both privately held, and their CEOs are not measured by an incremental next quarter’s profit.
Chouinard takes it much further, though, than the LEGO Company. He recommends that you buy used products when available, products of recycled materials as an alternative, and only as the last resort, you go out and buy a new product manufactured of new raw materials. And then you buy the best quality, intending that it lasts for as long as possible.
His management philosophy is “MBA management” – management by absence. It puts a lot of trust in his people, so they are selected with great care. For many years, the whole company seemed to consist only of friends, family and their friends. The values of the company seem to have grown stronger every year, starting with a strong focus on the quality of the product, and taking it gradually to a global environmental level, as we have witnessed nature deteriorate and read the dystopic outlook for this century.
His values are so strongly opposed to the mindless consumerism that most companies run for: Incremental, if not exponential growth, people mindlessly buying products and consuming, with three quarters of purchased products to end in the dump within 90 days. Products are shipped by corporations with CEOs that are measured by anonymous share owners by the profits of last quarter, and expect more every quarter. Those are corporations that have limited liability, and are allowed to continue to operate as long as they can pay their bills on time with no consideration about their long-term impact on the planet.
I’m currently writing a section on leadership in a coming book about digital businesses, and had somehow ended in the bunker in my attempt to describe what true leadership is about. Let my People go Surfing came to my rescue. Having now read it, I can say that it gave me as much clarity and perspective on the passion of building a great company to do good for humanity, as the author Irvin Yalom gave me on the psychology of man.
There is so much more in the book that I could possibly capture in a brief comment, so I urge you to read it and make your own conscious thoughts about your passion for life and for the planet.