I’ll do Business My Way, You do it Yours

Any man who’s scaled walls of the smoothest rock, driven south to Chile long before a road took you there, or found himself living out of a van, is a man with a story. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, is one of those men. A self-proclaimed dirtbag.

Recently, friends recommended I read let my people go surfing by Yvon Chouinard. I’d seen a small amount of Chouinard in documentary 180 Degrees South, but that’s another story. For this story, anyone who wants to find a leader who’s used business as a way to fight for their beliefs, let my people go surfing is a must.

Here are a few lessons I grasped from a book full of them, with added thoughts of my own.

Conscientious People Commit to the Right Things

Something I found interesting throughout the course of Chouinard’s story was his reluctancy to be a business man. However, after a wake up call with Patagonia it’s clear he needed to be just that — a business man. He says with memory, “I (also) knew that I would never be happy playing by the normal rules of business; I wanted to distance myself as far as possible from those pasty-faced corpses in suits,” later saying, “If I had to be a business man, I was going to do it on my own terms.”

I saw two things from that. First, for a business to become successful, and more importantly what you believe in, it needs to have your full attention. In order for Patagonia to be the quality of product and environmental guardian Chouinard hoped for, he had to be all in. The other thing is his commitment to his terms. I am sure there were compromises along the way, but there is a set of values he’s instilled as Patagonia way. With those values, Chouinard creates a place of confidence, autonomy, and care. It’s nice, and clearly created a phenomenal product.

Philosophies Are the Things That Make You Whole

Chouinard talks forever on the philosophies which guided Patagonia– such as whether or not the decision added value. Or whether or not it was art. It’s necessity to instill values as key questions arise upon growing an idea. Very quickly, it’s what don’t I think about, and what do I do. So with a bombardment of ideas and visions, and a hope to create a brand consistent across itself, it’s important to develop philosophies to guide your way. In a most recent project I am involved with, the three stakeholders sat down separately to outline their “five values” to make decisions by. We’ve since taken those respective values, shared with each other, and outlined our businesses five values. By creating these, we’ve allowed ourselves something to keep true by. The values may change over time, but in present, they’re a guide to growth.

Moreover, while philosophies act as a guide, you still have to look outside your walls to make the best decision. So very simply, what does that mean? Do your homework. Even when the values do line up, do your homework. Make sure the decision being made, whether it’s a partnership, new product, or promotional effort, is aligned with your business values.

But most importantly, be able to break a value if it’s no longer doing what it was meant to do.

Culture Creates Itself

Lastly, in a very culture-happy world, this one is pretty simple. Allow culture to evolve, don’t boast about what isn’t real. Patagonia is willing to post bail for its employees. That evolved as Patagonia realized it’s importance in protecting the environment in which it thrives. I think we all mean well in our endeavors, but too often over promote on the culture of our business or group.

The best cultures are ones that grow over time.

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