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APPENDIX B - Work and Pleasure: The Example of Patagonia

My experience of power, from the time I was very young, is that of a monk. I would like to share with you the story of someone who came to understand spiritual power through the world of business. Yvon Chouinard entered the business world in the 1950s, when he was a champion rock climber and began designing,

manufacturing, and distributing rock-climbing equipment. In 1964, he produced a one-page mail-order catalog for a business he named Patagonia. The catalog advised people to expect very slow shipments during the rock-climbing season because he’d be out climbing.

By the mid-1980s, his company was doing $20 million in sales, and by the mid-1990s it was doing $100 million.

Today, Patagonia has sales of more than $230 million annually. Yvon Chouinard is still the owner of the company, and he spends much of his time testing equipment around the world—hiking, kayaking, and climbing. Fortune and Working Mother magazines named Patagonia one of the hundred best companies in the country to work for. In 2004 Chouinard began an ocean initiative to support the health of the oceans.

Patagonia has donated more than $22 million since 1985. In his book, Let My People Go Surfing, he talks about how Buddhism and mindfulness enhanced his business. “As it turns out,” he writes, “the perfect place I found to apply Zen philosophy is in the business world.”

Like Yvon Chouinard, each of us has, at least for an instant, experienced awakening: a moment of clarity, insight, and liberation. It may have come to you on a walk in the woods or on the beach, or in a quiet moment with a friend or a child. It may be a simple moment when you go back to yourself and drink a cup of tea mindfully: “Drinking my tea, I know that I am drinking tea.” This is already awakening. You are awake to the fact that you are drinking tea and sitting with friends. If you continue to practice awakening, you’ll have a greater awakening. You’ll begin to figure out something that you hadn’t been able to understand in the past, and you’ll say, “Ah, I see.” The highest awakening, which makes you a buddha, is made up of small awakenings that we all can realize in our daily life.

Awakening is not the business of bodhisattvas and buddhas alone. Awakening is everybody’s business.

With mindfulness and community, we can transform ourselves, those close to us, those in our work environment, and our workplace itself. We can be in the business of producing awakening every day—for our own sake, for our own well-being and happiness, and for the well-being and happiness of all living beings.

Here is Yvon Chouinard, in his own words, on how compassion and mindfulness can make our businesses a pleasure for ourselves, and a gift for our employees and for the world:

I’ve been a businessman for almost fifty years. It’s as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit being an alcoholic or a lawyer.

I’ve never respected the profession. It’s business that has to take the majority of the blame for beingthe enemy of nature, for destroying native cultures, for taking from the poor and giving to the rich, and for poisoning the Earth with the effluent from its factories. Yet business can also produce food, cure disease, control population, employ people, and generally enrich our lives. And it can do these good things and make a profit without losing its soul.

I’m a very reluctant businessman. I’m a kid from the sixties and I rejected all of that stuff. And so because of that I feel a bit like a samurai businessman. If you wanted to be a samurai, you couldn’t be afraid of dying, because if you flinch a little bit your head gets cut off. Since I never wanted to be a businessman, I could take a lot of risks and I could break a lot of rules because I didn’t care whether I lost my business or not. That gave me a lot of freedom.

I took a trip to Scotland in the winter one year, and when I was there I bought a rugby shirt.

This was around the mid-sixties, and at that time active sportswear for men was basically gray sweatshirts and sweatpants. Men didn’t wear the colorful sportswear that they do now. But I hadthis rugby shirt with blue and red and yellow stripes. And I thought it made a great climbing shirt, because it had a collar and so your hardware slings didn’t cut into your neck, and it was made out of real tough material. So I started wearing it climbing, and everybody would come up to me and say, “Wow, where’d you get that cool shirt?” So, you know, the entrepreneurial lightbulb came on in my head, I imported a few from England and they sold straightaway. So I got more, and pretty soon I started making shorts and…that’s how I got into the clothes business.

One day I saw my friend Doug Tompkins wearing a brushed wool pullover. And I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. If that could be made out of a synthetic, so it’s more practical in the outdoors, it would be a great product. So my wife went down to the Cal Mart in L.A. where you buy fabric, looking for synthetic fleece. And she found some imitation fur stuff that they were selling for people to use for toilet seat covers. It was this awful looking stuff. But we made a jacket out of it, and it worked. It really worked great. You could fall into a river in the winter, take it off and shake it and all the water would run out, and put it back on and it would save your life. We gradually improved the product, until the mid-eighties, when we came out with a really nice-looking fleece product. It wasn’t just functional, it actually looked good too. And we called it “synchilla.” Suddenly our business took off, because everybody wanted to buy synchilla. So we were selling the stuff to everybody. And we were growing the business fifty percent a year, we were opening up lots of wholesale accounts, we were opening up our own retail stores, we were sending our catalogs to mailing lists, to people who didn’t request it, but we were sending them the catalog anyway. We got caught in this trap of growth, never really thinking of what we were doing—this growth was coming to us and we were accepting it.

In 1989, we had planned to do another fifty percent increase in business, we had hired one hundred new people to support all that growth, we’d bought all the inventory. And a recession hit.

We only grew twenty percent. You know, itdoesn’t sound like bad growth, twenty percent, but when you’re ramped up to do fifty, it’s a disaster. And at the same time our bank was in financial trouble, so they were calling in their loans.

So as you can imagine with an estimated fifty percent growth every year, we had some real cash flow problems in the beginning. I was desperate for loans. My accountant even introduced me to some Mafia connections who wanted to loan me some money for twenty-eight percent interest—which is, ironically, what you have to pay with credit cards these days. Anyway, it was a real crisis for us; we almost lost the company. And I realized that my company was unsustainable.

Right in the middle of the crisis, I took ten of our most important people, and we took a walkabout down into Patagonia—the real Patagonia, in South America. We’d walk around for a half hour or so in the wilderness, then we’d all sit down in a circle and we’d talk about, “What are we doing here anyway? Why are we in business?” None of us had wanted to be businesspeople—not one of us had a degree in business—and yet we were. And so we started talking about what our values were.

And the first one that came up was quality.

We really took pride in making the best climbing equipment in the world. Not “among the best,” but the very best. And so it was important to us to also do that with clothing. We really were committed to making the absolute best; and we were committed to putting all the principles of industrial design into designing those clothes. We wanted to make really functional, hard-wearing, yet good-looking clothing. My designer at the time said, “Well, we can’t make the best clothes in the world.” I said, “Well, why not?” He said, “Well, the best shirt is made of hand-woven Italian fabric, the buttons are hand-sewn, it’s a Giorgio Armani one-of-a-kind shirt and they cost $300.00.” I said, “Well what happens if you take that shirt and you throw it in the washing machine?” “Oh, you can’t do that; it’ll shrink.” And I said, “Well, that’s not good quality.” We were our own customers, and I knew that we wanted to wash that shirt in a bucket or a sink or the edge of a stream and have it dry and put it on in a couple of hours and get on the airplane. So we had to identify what we meant by quality. And there were no books on what is quality in clothing. We had to figure out our own criteria for quality.

Something else we really valued was flex time. When I had a partner in the climbing equipment business, he’d take off to do an expedition to Annapurna in the Himalayas and he’d be gone for four or five months and I’d run the business. And then he’d come back and I’d take off, drive down to the tip of South America from California and climb for six months, and he would watch over the business. That’s why my book is called Let My People Go Surfing. We have a company policy that says: you go surfing when the surf comes up. Pretty simple, isn’t it? But you know what? Most people go surfing next Tuesday at two o’clock, because that’s when they have time off. You need to stay home to take care of your kids when they’re sick. It’s a different attitude. If you’re a really serious surfer, you make sure you have a job, you have a life that allows you to go surfing when the surf comes up.

The other thing we wanted to do is blur the distinction between work and play and family. We wanted to continue making stuff that we used. We wanted to have our families with us. We didn’t want to disappear for eight hours a day. So in the beginning, we had new mothers with their babies in cardboard boxes on their desk. That worked a little bit for a while. We have open offices—we don’t have any cubicles, it’s all open offices—so that contributes to really good communication. But one time somebody had a baby that was a screamer and that became a real problem. The mother had to go out and sit in her car with this kid that was screaming like crazy. So my wife said, “I’ve had it, we’re going to start a child-care center.” We started one of the first on-site corporate child-care centers in America. That’s ethics; and it’s just good business. Eighty percent of my employees were women. I didn’t want to lose them. They say when you have to replace an employee it costs you $50,000; it’s much better not to lose a good employee.The other thing we wanted to do is we wanted to continue hiring friends. No one in my company had an MBA. Everybody had a degree in anthropology, biology, sociology or, like me, had a degree from John Burroughs High School in auto mechanics. We always had an attitude that instead of hiring people who studied business in school, we’d much rather hire passionate people who’d be interesting to go to dinner with and who did the sports that we were making stuff for. And then we’d teach them business. We’d all learn business together, because we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. It’s much better than hiring a businessperson and trying to get them passionate about kayaking or climbing or something. We wanted to make the best stuff.

We wanted to go to work with friends, surrounded by friends. We wanted to work on the balls of our feet and have our families with us. On that trip to Patagonia, I took those values and started writing them down and they gradually turned into a philosophy of doing business. When I got back, we had to lay off twenty percent of our workforce in order to save the business. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do because these were friends; and I swore that I would never ever go through that situation again. And so we decided to really try to be a more sustainable business.

About the same time, I started getting really concerned about environmental degradation around the planet. We had a mission statement that said: “Make the best quality product.” That was our mission statement. So I added one more part to the mission statement: “Cause no unnecessary harm.” It didn’t say “cause no harm,” because that’s stupid, there’s no way you can make a product, manufacture anything without causing harm.

There’s no such thing as perfect sustainability.

There’s a beginning and end to everything, there’s a limit to every resource. But we wanted to minimize that; it’s a matter of degrees.

I also started taking fifteen of our employees at a time, and we’d spend five days talking about the different philosophies of business. “What are we trying to do in retail? What’s our philosophy of retail? What’s our philosophy of architecture?”I mean, do we go into malls and be next to Sees Chocolates? Or do we try to find old buildings somewhere and restore them and make it a gift to the neighborhood? I did that with every single employee in the company and that got us all aligned in one direction. I had a psychologist do a study of all our employees one time. He said to me, “You know, this is really strange, I’ve got to tell you this. I’ve looked at all your employees here, and I’ve never seen such independent people.

In fact they are so independent, they are unemployable in other companies.” That was music to my ears. When you have all those independent people, the only way you can lead them is with consensus. They have to be convinced that it’s the right thing to do. And that’s what I was doing with this “philosophy class.” I’ve always thought a responsible farmer leaves the land in better condition than it was in when he received it; a forester leaves the forest in better condition, he doesn’t just clear-cut it; and a responsible government makes its decisions as if the society is going to be here, like the Iroquois say, for seven generations into the future—they don’t make these little short-term decisions. But somehow, business is exempt from all of that.

Business can grow as fast as it possibly can. The sole mandate of a CEO of a public corporation is to maximize profits for the shareholders. I decided to try to run my business as if it’s going to be here one hundred years from now, and so we made all our decisions from then on according to that. It means that, even if you grow ten or fifteen percent a year, in twenty or thirty years you’re a multitrillion dollar company—which is impossible, of course. But that’s what everybody else is trying to do. We put our business on a rate of growth that was sustainable. From that time on, we’ve thrived.

We got out of debt, because I didn’t trust the banks. We grew through what we called “natural growth.” We don’t encourage artificial growth by, for example, advertising in urban areas so that people buy our clothes as status symbols and not because they’re actually planning on using them for outdoor activities. That’s not sustainable. In fact, the reason I got in trouble in the first place is that I started selling to people who wanted those fleece jackets but didn’t need them. So whenever you’re making products for people who want but don’t really need them, you’re at the mercy of the economy, and I didn’t like that at all.

The other little mindful lesson I learned is that profits happen when you do everything right.

And so even though some years we have three percent growth, we still make a profit, because my company is set up to be profitable with three percent growth. Most companies, unless they’re growing ten percent or more, are not profitable.

It’s just a matter of how you set the company up.

If you ask me what our profits were last year, or what they’re going to be this year, I have no idea, I couldn’t tell you. I have no interest in it, for one thing. I just know that the process is going well, and at the end of the year we will be profitable.

The last part of our mission that I had to write up was our environmental philosophy. That was the most difficult to write. It’s basically a five-step philosophy.

  1. Lead an Examined Life

I firmly believe that most of the damage caused to the planet is caused unwittingly. It’s caused by ignorance, by people who just don’t ask enough questions. You know, there’s a method of management at Toyota that says when you have a problem, you ask “why” five different ways, you ask five different questions, before you try and figure out an answer. Unfortunately most of society and certainly the government, we don’t ask enough questions. That’s why we end up working on symptoms all the time; we don’t really work on the causes. For instance, one out of eight women in the United States is going to get breast cancer.

Before World War II it was about one in thirty or forty, but now it’s one in eight. It’s not all genetics. Yet all the organizations working on cancer are working on cures. Only three percent of the monies that go to breast cancer research go to finding causes of breast cancer. There are 300,000 toxic chemicals in use today, any one of which, or some combination, could cause breast cancer. But our general society’s philosophy is we’re not goingto get rid of those chemicals, so let’s find a cure.

The traditional thinking is that there’s no money to be made in finding causes, there’s only money to be made in cures.

To lead an examined life—let’s say you want to feed your family healthy food. You have to know where it comes from. You can’t just go to Safeway and buy some tomatoes, because they may have come from Mexico, a country that still uses DDT. You have to know the farmer and you have to ask a lot of questions. We didn’t know what we were doing in making clothing. We had no idea. We’d just call up a fabric supplier and say, “Hey, give us 10,000 yards of shirting in this color or this pattern,” and that was it. We started asking the question, “Okay, of all the fibers used in making clothing, which ones are the most toxic, and which ones are the most benign?” It’s not easy to find the answers to that. But after digging around a lot, we finally found out that the most damaging fiber to be making clothing out of, by far, was one hundred percent cotton. Cotton uses twenty-five percent of the world’s pesticides and it only occupies three percent of the world’s farmland. To pick the cotton with mechanical pickers, you have to defoliate the plant and you use paraquat for that, the same stuff we sprayed on Vietnam. All of those chemicals go into the aquifer, as well as into the workers’ lungs. The cancer rate in cotton growing areas is ten times above the normal. I went to the Central Valley and started looking at some cotton fields, and I was aghast. It was a killing zone out there. There’s nothing alive. No weeds, no birds, no insects. There’s nothing. It’s just dead. And there are big sumps out there, big lakes, where the water comes up from all that irrigation and all those chemicals. They have to hire people to sit on lawn chairs with cannons and shotguns so that when the waterfowl come to land on the water, they scare them away, because if the birds get some of that water in them they’ll have chicks with two beaks and three legs.

I came back and I said, “Okay, we’re getting out of the cotton business. I will not be part of that.” It’s like you’re a little company making land mines, and you’re one of the best companies towork for in America and you’re hiring people, giving them a job—but you’re making land mines.

And you go to Cambodia and all of a sudden you see the results of your work. Now you have a choice: you can either continue making land mines with guilt, or you get out of the business.

I gave the company eighteen months to completely stop using any industrially grown cotton. Thankfully, there’s an alternative. I didn’t have to get out of the cotton business, because there was organically grown cotton. But, I don’t just call a fabric supplier and say, “Hey, you know that shirting I ordered? Switch to organically grown.” It wasn’t that easy. We had to work with the gins and the mills and the spinners and find non-toxic dyes, and it was really hard, but it mobilized the whole company. And we learned finally how to make clothing. The other thing is, when you buy cotton clothing, only seventy-three percent of that shirt or that pair of pants is actually cotton, even though it says one hundred percent cotton. The other is all chemicals put on the fabric, and formaldehyde is one of the most common, and it’s to make that cotton stay pressed and not shrink. So it actually makes a more practical product, putting all those chemicals on.

But we weren’t about to use organically grown cotton and put all the chemicals on it—and toxic chemicals as well. So we had to learn how to do it by construction. You know, maybe use a longer staple cotton and spin it a little tighter, pre-shrink it. So we had to learn how to make clothes. That was all the result of asking one question.

  1. Clean Up Your Own Act

Leading an examined life in business is a real pain, let me tell you. It adds a complexity that most businessmen don’t want to deal with, they don’t want to hear about this stuff. But after you’ve educated yourself, you find out what you’re doing, then you have to act. And that’s the second step, which is to clean up your own act. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a businessman or you’re an individual. The Zen master would say: If you want to change government, don’t focus on changing government; you’re not going to get anywhere.You’ve got to change the corporations, because government’s just a pawn of the corporations.

Well, if you want to change corporations, you’ve got to change consumers. That’s where the buck stops, with us. We are the consumers. We’re not citizens anymore, we’re consumers. We’re the ones that feed the corporations that feed the government. So we’re the ones that have to change.

So once you find out that you’re the one, that we’re part of the problem, then finally you can be part of the solution.

One of my favorite quotes is from Thoreau.

He said, “Beware of any endeavor that requires new clothes.” Do you need yoga pants to do yoga?

That’s kind of silly as far as I’m concerned. My attitude is: consume less, but consume better. The Europeans only consume twenty-five percent as much as we do; but when they buy a coat or a jacket or a pair of pants, they buy the best quality they can and they keep it for a long time. They’re not just consuming, discarding, consuming, discarding—that’s why we’re in the hole we’re in.

So that’s what I’m trying to do with my own business. We’re trying to question every process, every material we use, educate ourselves, and then act on it.

  1. Do What You Can Do

Since we can never be a completely sustainable company and we can never make a completely sustainable product, the third step is to do what we can. In this day and age, if you’re a good speaker, you’ve got to speak out. If you’re a good writer, you’ve got to write. You’ve got to volunteer for organizations. We have to do something, because if we just sit back and be complacent, say like many Germans were during Hitler’s reign, you’re going to lose your soul. So we all have to do something.

Being the owner of a company that employs 1,100 people, and being pretty visible, I feel I have a responsibility to use my company to do some good. We dig into our pockets. We take one percent of our sales and we give that away to environmental causes. The reason we give to environmental causes is, I think practically every problem we have in society can be traced back to an environmental cause. Whether it’s poverty, or crime, it’s an estrangement from nature, whatever it is.

  1. Support Civil Democracy

The fourth step is to support civil democracy. Of all the powerful forces in America, from federal government to state government to local government to religion or whatever you want to name, the most powerful force of all is civil democracy. If you open up the newspaper on any day of the year, you’ll see that every gain we’re making as a society is being made by activists. If you look at the history of America, look at the Boston Tea Party: you know it’s a bunch of activists who dropped the tea in the Boston

Harbor. The Civil War—you think, Lincoln freed the slaves. Well, the slaves were being encouraged to flee the South by the Underground Railroad, which was being funded by Northern philanthropists. They were leaving at such a rate that the South was freaking out. Lincoln just wanted to keep the country together. If you look at civil rights—it wasn’t the government that enacted civil rights legislation, it was Rosa Parks, a middle-aged black woman who just didn’t want to get off the bus. It was a bunch of Black kids who didn’t want to go to segregated schools. That’s who enacted civil rights. Vietnam—we got out of Vietnam because of activism. The government didn’t want to get out of Vietnam. People say Teddy Roosevelt established Yosemite National Park. It wasn’t Teddy Roosevelt, it was John Muir who encouraged Teddy Roosevelt to go camping with him and go sleep under the redwoods and ditch the Secret Service and got Roosevelt all fired up and then he went back and designated it a national park; but John Muir was the man.

Women’s suffrage…you know, if we ever get out of Iraq, it’s going to be because of activism. So that’s what we do with our one percent.

  1. Be a Role Model

The last part of our five steps is to influence other companies, influence other people. We’re not goingto save the world by ourselves. So we have to lead other people into doing the right thing. And the only way to lead is by example. That’s the only way. If I had a business that did all the right things but didn’t make a profit, I wouldn’t get the business world to respect me at all. They’d say, “Ah, those guys can do that, but they don’t make a profit.” So I have to be profitable. I have to act just like a regular business. I can’t be a pseudo environmental organization. Our people who do environmental assessment and ask all those questions are in contact with lots of other companies and we’re sharing information, and when one company finds a better way to make something or a better process that is less harmful, we share that information together.

The proudest thing I’ve done is, I’ve started an organization called “One Percent for the Planet” which is now an alliance with 224 other companies that are all pledged to give one percent of their sales to environmental causes. Each company gives to the organizations of their choice. We don’t give their money away; there’s just a small charge tobelong to the organization. We only check to see that they give the money away. It’s just very small companies. I’ve found that when a company gets to be medium-size or so they get kind of tight with their money. Almost all the charity given away in America is given away by individuals.

Corporations only give away three percent of all the philanthropy. It seems like the richer you get, the less money you give away. So there are barbershops, and mountain guides, and vineyards, and one of the most notable members is Jack

Johnson, the singer. You’ll see that One Percent for the Planet logo on the back of his CDs. A lot of people think: “Great, Patagonia gives all this money away, so, okay, when I get rich, I’m going to start giving some money away too.” But, you know what, if you’re a true capitalist, you’re going to understand that $10 given away today is going to do a lot more good than $100 given away ten years from now, because that $10 starts working right now, and it just accumulates and gets more and more valuable. So think about that.The last part of our mission statement is to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. For me, that’s the main reason I’m in business right now. I never wanted to be a businessman, but I guess I am one, and I guess I probably will be one for a long time. But that’s the reason I’m in business.

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