I just finished the part personal bio / part company bio /part corporate philosophy by Patagonia founder and major environmental activist, Yvon Chouinard: Let my People Go Surfing: Education of a Reluctant Businessman.
Y.C., as he is sometimes known, is really an amazing guy who really is proof of the power behind finding and pursuing your passion. Yvon started Chouinard Equipment because he loved climbing but found the limited equipment for sale to be poorly built and expensive. So he went to work creating items he would prefer to use on his climbing trips, and in the process created high quality equipment other climbers happily paid to use. As demand grew for his products, he began hiring other climbers to build and test Chouinard Equipment items. His two top priorities for his business were making the very best equipment in the world, and having enough money to pay for his own personal climbing treks. In fact, this is what he encouraged all his employees to do. Work enough to keep the company going successfully, and make enough money to go off and do their own adventures. Despite growing Chouinard Equipment and eventually starting Patagonia from Chouinard into a $300M a year company, this philosophy of “Let my people go Surfing,” still stands today. Work should be part of life, a means to living and adventure, instead of an inhibitor. So if you are on time with your work and the waves are good at the moment, surf’s up!I love this.
There’s many great lessons in this book on business, entrepreneurship, and life. His passion for great products, great customer service, and environmental responsibility are very clear in his story. I’m amazed at his company’s commitment to be part of the world ecosystem instead of sitting atop it. He takes the notion of “sustainability” to a whole different level. He’s not set on keeping his company around for 100’s of years just by consistently generating profits, but he also intends on creating a Net positive effect on the environment to ensure there will be places natural enough and customers healthy enough to use Patagonia’s products. As part of this mission he consistently pushes environmentally positive innovation throughout the company, reducing waste to 0 in their manufacturing process. Patagonia also pays a self imposed “environmental harm” tax of 1% of Revenue, every year, good or bad. It’s not something he does to be good. It’s something he does because he believes it is necessary.
There are many great lessons in this book about building a happy and extremely productive workplace that provides a higher quality of life for customers and employees alike, but perhaps my favorite lesson was his approach to life in general. Like Richard Branson, it’s clear YC is out for the adventure of life. He often speaks of the “zen of climbing” which is all about enjoying the moment. Take note of how your body feels with the current hold, how this point in the mountain or wall feels, smells, and looks. Soak it all up, and enjoy it. There’s more climbing moments than moments of completion. If you keep looking up to the top for where you’re supposed to go, you may make a mistake and lose it all, or even worse you may miss the very best part: the journey. The point of climbing isn’t just to get to the top, after all the top is where you’ll spend the least amount of your time. The point of the climb is to test your strength, have fun, feel the aliveness of each grip and step along the way.
The “zen of climbing” should apply to everyday living. Sometimes we get too bogged down on the peak we’re climbing and how far to go that we fail to realize the value of the moment we’re in. If you focus on the moment, the fun and challenge of the journey, you make life pretty damn good. You will, after all, spend most of your time in the journey.