The New Wave of Organizations


Yesterday I visited together with my colleague Sofi Kurki one of the most remarkable company in the world, global outdoor clothing  brand Patagonia. Their headquarters are at Ventura, California.  What is groundbreaking with this company is that they have done enormous effort in stripping off everything that makes companies today the leaders in squandering our precious natural resources, while at the same time misusing people by setting up hierarchies that creates an organization set-up equivalent of kindergarten, however without the fun part of being able to play. Patagonia stands out as a true example of those companies that  show through their own practice the way towards  future.

Companies are pretty much like human beings: they love to be purpose driven. The purpose that has a meaning, larger than person/company itself.  In the best case, purpose gives people meaning that they are a part of something greater, something that does genuinely good in the world.  The mission statement of Patagonia, shown above in the picture, is clearly of that category.

Patagonia was founded back in early 1970's, when Yvon Chouinard, and outdoor activist, realized that he has to earn living from somewhere . It has grown now to be company with remarkable size and impact. The whole thing started with climbing equipments, now it is mostly about clothes/apparel, tomorrow it might be more of food.

Everywhere Patagonia tries to set new standard for business: they use raw materials that are as little resource demanding as possible. All the cotton they use is grown organically. All garments are recyclable. You can always bring your old Patagonia garment to the shop, they will reuse it. They advertise their own products with title  "Don't buy this jacket" , meaning that we should all consider not buying things that we don't really need. They are constantly educating their customers.

Socially, they are really progressive too. When we stepped in to their headquarters, we saw a kindergarten just off the entrance.  That is where employees can have their kids and meet them during the day. The young guy behind reception desk had spent his early years in that kindergarten. Hierarchies in the companies are lowest possible. Even if working, people are encouraged to lead a life which has a strong human touch and is closely connected to nature. The founder even wrote a book with the title "Let my people go surfing".

In our research project "Human Value in the Sixth Wave" we are looking after the most progressive companies of the world. We started off by closely observing earlier this year how the Finnish company Reaktor has done a tremendous job in building a more human-respecting organization with the culture supporting basic human values: integrity, creativity, responsibility and respect for other people. The end result is fascinating: people enjoy their work, customers are really happy, company's economic performance very solid and their reputation is brilliant.

Now, with Patagonia, we see a company that has taken even one more step. They act fully as inhabitants of this world, fully recognizing that the key challenge for the humankind at large is to solve the problem with our relationship with nature. It means, we have to stop plundering it.  As we get more of these companies to do their best to be a solution rather than a source for the problem, we start to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Ultimately, it is about taking systems level thinking into practice. How do you assess the impacts of your own deeds? What is the scope of your world? As Viktor Frankl once wrote, in whatever circumstances we are in (and his was once concentration camp), we, as human beings, have always possibility to make inner choices. It is in our attitude where we are always free, in principle. It is up to us to make the choice. This is how every one of us can make the difference.

My anticipation is, as the time goes by, we see more and more people taking action based on using their capacity to choose. In Turku region, business people and us have set up to build a more resource efficient and environmentally friendly solutions for the region by founding Bastu. These kind of initiatives are springing up everywhere. Let's cultivate them wisely.