Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Recommended reading: Let My People Go Surfing

Last week, I mentioned Yvon Chouinard's Let My People Go Surfing in my a post entitled "What I learned on my summer vacation." I checked the book out after reading about it on AdPulp, a blog that says a lot of things I like about advertising, marketing, and life in general. It's no surprise, then, that I enjoyed Let My People Go Surfing quite a bit. It's not for everyone, but if you're looking to make your work life more meaningful, become a better marketer, or learn more about some the most pressing environmental and political challenges we face, it's definitely worth your attention. It covers a lot of ground, and it's not your average business book. But that's what makes Let My People Go Surfing so worthwhile.

Instead of writing a review, I'm going to excerpt a few of my favorite passages. If you like what you read here, I'd encourage you to check out the rest of the book*.

I've been a businessman for almost 50 years. It's as difficult for me to say those words as it is for someone to admit to 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 being the 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 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. That's what this book is about.
Everything we personally own that's made, sold, shipped, cleaned, and ultimately thrown away does some environmental harm every step of the way, harm that we're either directly responsible for or is done on our behalf.

All the more reason, when we consider the purchase of anything, to ask ourselves, both as producers and consumers: Is this purchase necessary? Do I really need a new outfit to do yoga? Can I do well enough with something I already have? And will it do more than one thing?
People who aren't in the clothing business can count themselves lucky not to have the problem of fit. The way a company sizes clothes--what you call a small or a medium, whether you design for physically fit people or those who aren't--will always satisfy some customers and distress and turn away others. At Patagonia we pattern our sizes to our core consumers, who are active and in better shape than the average snowmobiler or bait fisherman. This may mean we lose potential customers in order to keep our core customers happy. So be it.
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 it merits. I'd be competing head-on in the cola wars, on price, distribution, advertising, and promotion, which would indeed be hell for me. I'd much rather design and sell products so good and unique that they have no competition.
I don't really believe that humans are evil; it's just that we are not very intelligent animals. No animal is so stupid and greedy as to foul its own nest--except humans.
It's no wonder we're no longer called citizens but consumers. A consumer is a good name for us, and our politicians and corporate leaders are reflections of whom we have become. With the average American reading at only an eighth-grade level and nearly 50 percent of Americans not believing in evolution, we have the government we deserve.

With our winner-take-all, nonproportional system of government in the United States and with all branches of federal government and major media under conservative, antienvionrmental control, a lot of citizens are left disenfranchised. Now more than ever we need to encourage civil democracy by speaking out, joining up, volunteering, or supporting these groups financially so we can still have a voice in democracy.
*If you don't, there's always Who Cut the Cheese? or Great is Good or whatever the hell they're called.

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