Let my people go surfing

November 18, 2006
tags:
by js

Let My People Go SurfingI finished Let My People Go Surfing recently, it’s one of the best books about running a business that I’ve read. It offers keen advice that transcends the business of Patagonia; it’s a guide for running a successful business that serves just as well for living a good life.

In defining their business, Patagonia created a checklist for determining the quality of their products. In brief the questions they ask include:

  • Is it functional?
  • Is it multifunctional?
  • Is it durable?
  • Does it fit our customer?

These questions resonate in everything Patagonia produces. And while they seem obvious in some ways—who wouldn’t want to produce functional or durable products?—the reality is that few companies really care about these questions or take the time to ask them. My experience is that many companies and organizations are satisfied with a product being just fine. These companies don’t strive to make the best, don’t seem to care if they will still be in business in 20 years (let alone 100 or more years), they’re in business to make money.

Social responsibility? Most people agree to the notion that it’s important, but few have time to make it happen. By stating that a product needs to be durable, Patagonia not only focuses on making a great product, but also one that will last for a long, long time in rugged conditions. In turn, that helps keep their products from becoming landfill that damages the environment. That is what makes this true story so interesting and unique: Chouinard found a way grow a business that satisfied his mind, body, and soul.

There are many great quotes. Here are just a few:

“Doing risk sports had taught me another important lesson: Never exceed your limits. You push the envelope, and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but you don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. The same is true for a business. The sooner a company tries to be what it is not, the sooner it tries to ‘have it all,’ the sooner it will die.”

“Our mission statement says nothing about making a profit. In fact Malinda and I consider our bottom line to be the amount of good that the business has accomplished over the year. However, a company needs to be profitable in order to stay in business and to accomplish all its other goals, and we do consider profit to be a vote of confidence, that our customers approve of what we are doing.”

“In many companies, the tail (finance) wags the dog (corporate decisions). We strive to balance the funding of environmental activities with the desire to continue in business for the next hundred years.”

“When I die and go to hell, the devil is going to make me the marketing director for a cola company. I’ll be in charge of trying to sell a product that no one needs, is identical to its competition, and can’t be sold on its merits.”

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