In about 2014, I started to bump into the brand Patagonia. They seemed to keep showing up inside stories I was reading. I don’t climb mountains or surf, I do kayak so that’s something I have in common with their leader Yvon Chouinard, but when I began to seek out more of their story, I found a great deal that I could relate to. They are totally focused on their customer relationships, in the micro and macro, and everything in you see publicly from the brand reflects this.
Inside the mind (and heart) of Yvon Chouinard
NPR’s How I Built This did a feature segment with Yvon Chouinard which you can listen to here but a couple of things really popped for me (and deepened my appreciation for the brand):
“If you want to understand entrepreneurs, study delinquents ~Yvon Chouinard.”
Chouinard, seems to me to be the quintessential rebel; completely unsatisfied with the status quo. He remarks that early in his climbing career he was getting gear from Europe yet, continually felt that he could build it better.
“I learn everything by just taking a step forward, if it feels ok I take another step, if it doesn’t I take a step back.”
Chouinard branched out into clothing after buying a rugby shirt while he was in Scotland. He bought it for its distinct functional benefits that his existing gear didn’t provide and, it was red/yellow/blue striped–completely out of the ordinary for outdoor gear. All his climbing friends wanted one so he started importing those exact same shirts. Eventually he started building from his own version from scratch, customizing based on what he and his climbing cohorts wanted.
“The faster a business grows, the faster it dies also.”
Yvon Chouinard and his team had to make some big choices to limit how fast the company would grow. They decided on a growth program that would create a minimum 100-year sustainability trajectory, which meant saying no to a lot of opportunities. He had the luxury of doing so, in large part because he never took the company public.
“There had to be a different way of doing business and I only wanted to work for half the year.”
This is a perfect example of being crystal clear on how he was optimizing his business; and why having clarity at this level is so vital. He recalls, hearing a woman from Stanford University speak about ant colonies: “ants don’t have bosses yet each of them get their work done”. Compared to the most common framework employed for business today, top-down management and hierarchy; Patagonia hires the most independent people they can find and then leaves them alone.
“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify; everything pulls you to be more complex.”
His whole organization is oriented toward multiple use items, specifically considering why one would buy a ski jacket instead of a jacket you could ski in and snowshoe and, and, and…? He disciplined himself recently to fly-fish with one fly, different sizes but the same fly.
He says this strategy has caught him more fish than ever before. “Knowledge and technique can bring a person more than a plethora of choice that we have in front of us everyday”.
If we choose to go to a more simple life it’s not going to be impoverished, it’s going to be really rich. This is reinforced by Barry Schwartz and his Paradox of Choice.
Chouniard points to one of FIVE foundational shifts that we can expect from a ‘post-crisis economy’…SIMPLIFY. I want to help you do that, strategically and coherently – inside the business & beyond.
Simplify a SOLO business and start creating more, one step at a time inside Recalibrate and become a MORE Coherent U; with diversity and simplicity and the A-Zs of Business & Beyond.