050: Disconnecting means reconnecting; Vincent Stanley, part 2 (transcript)
I assume if youâ€™re listening to the Leadership and the Environment podcast that you care about your effect on the environment and on other people through it. Do you still put off acting on these cares because you see them as a distraction, as keeping you from getting ahead in other leadership areas? How would you like to have more time? Because listening to Vincent Stanley you’ll hear that acting on these values gives him more time. Shutting off technology creates for him more time and more creativity. This generally happens with constraints that they promote creativity so you’ll get to hear Vincent talking about how acting on his values has created more of what he wants in his life and that’s the same as will happen with you. We also talk a bunch about introductions of new processes for B Corps and all business sorts of things because he’s a very successful businessman. We also talk about Patagonia and why suing the government is a cultural thing, not a PR thing. So let’s listen to Vincent.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek and I’m here with Vincent Stanley. Vincent, how are you doing?
Vincent: OK. Thanks for having me here.
Joshua: Yeah, and thanks for coming over. People you can’t hear this but he’s actually at my place and [unintelligible]. Mostly, I’m really curious about you have one of the more interesting challenges that you took on and because a lot of people interpretâ€¦ People have been interpreting environment differently for me and I always thought everyone saw the way that I did. One of the joys of this podcast is people interpreting these things differently. And so yours was certainly meeting all the criteria that I was looking for of using less stuff you know polluting less. There’s also much more about your personal environment. What did you do over the past couple of weeks?
Vincent: What we talked about it was interesting because you asked me to do something differently than I’ve done before. And one of the things that when I was looking at my life that I felt lacking was a feeling of overconnection to electronics and to the computer and to the phone. And so what I proposed was to take Friday mornings and not getting open the electronics until about 11 o’clock.
The other thing I wanted to do for about a year and a half was to get back into writing poems and so on that I decided that I would write a poem on those days. And I was not taking the time off. The Friday mornings were dedicated to work but first to the poem and then to reading for a nonfiction book I’m working on.
Joshua: When you say it’s not taking time off, or you’ve written a book at least one book of poetry and so do you mean that writing poetry works for you? Is it Patagonia work? Is it personal work?
Vincent: It’s work.
Joshua: OK. It’s funny because I think of the creative endeavors, everyone looks at the result and thinks, â€œOh, this is prettyâ€ if it’s a painting but it’s work.
Vincent: No, it’s extraordinary work. I have friends who are painters and it’s very hard concentrated work to do creative work. It’s a lot of fun but it’s not the same as taking time off.
Joshua: OK, so the Friday mornings you’re taking time totally disconnected. I feel funny because I just put a microphone on you. Literally you’re wearing something â€¦Sorry. But it’s Friday afternoon so I guessâ€¦It’s funny with all these little challenges. I always have these little like technically I’m following the rules and so forth. And that’s something you weren’t doing before. So what was it like? How did the experience go?
Vincent: I’ve been half successful. So the first thing that I noticed which was really quite extraordinary is the first day, I did this in January, so I think it’s been about 15 Fridays, and the first thing I noticed was how much time I opened up. As a matter of fact, it was a little disconcerting.
Joshua: Less electronics, more time.
Vincent: Much more time. It felt like the longest morning I had in a long time. And I think partly because the nature of electronics I’m susceptible to distraction in the first place and I’ll end up you know starting one e-mail something comes in and I have to respond to something else and then I have to check another file or google something in order to respond to such and such and by within an hour I find myself you know open on seven or eight screens and three different unfinished things going. And so what happened without the computer I didn’t have that. So I was just sitting in my chair. And usually when I write poems I usually write them on a typewriter and I usually have a very pretty hard time with the first draft and then I sit and work them over and over again. And since I couldn’t use the computer what I did was just to write down a poem in a notebook and it came in about five minutes. And although I edited it since it pretty much kept its form. And so, all of a sudden, I had dedicated this three hours to working on a poem and I had a poem within five or ten minutes so I spent the rest of the time reading and making notes for the book I’m working on.
The part that hasn’t worked out so well as gradually that time has shrunk, I’ve allowed it to shrink, I have written a poem every time and they all come rather quickly. There are three weeks that I didn’t do this because I was traveling so I wasn’t in a space where I could sit down and work. But the next step that I want to do is to go back and arrange my time to take that for two and a half hours because I think it’s really worthwhile. I mean it’s one thing to disconnect from working and exercise or go out and look at trees, it’s another thing to actually engage in work but be separate from the electronic world. It’s really a gift. So I thank you for asking me to do that. It’s not something I would have volunteered to do on my own.
Joshua: Yeah. What I try to do is ask people what their values are, this is Leadership and the Environment so environmentally related and then to act on those values and what I hear you describing is what a lot of people get, which is really what I get, which is when you live by your values life is better. Value means like what’s better and whatâ€™s worse. People can debate philosophy about what the value is and things like that. But ultimately if you know your values and you act on them, that improves your life.
Vincent: And I think that’s very interesting and true. You know I can tell you in my own cases I think I mentioned to you that in our household it’s my wife who tends to be the one who says, â€œOK, we’ve got to make a change here.â€ We’re composting in New York. Composting in New York is not very easy to do. She’s the one who says, â€œOK, this is something we have to do.â€ You know ten years ago it was, â€œWe live in California so we had to have cars.â€ This time, â€œWe have to buy a hybrid.â€ Last year when we had to replace the car, â€œOK. Now we’ve got to get an electric.â€ She’s much more engaged in matching her personal behavior to her values than I am. I’m actually much more interested in how my environmentalism has really been related to the Patagonia’s story and it related to what the community has done, to what people have done together to make changes.
And also, I think I have a bias against the idea ofâ€¦ I grew up in the 60s and there’s something called the human potential movement. And the idea was that if you transform yourself, you would be a better person in the world, you would transform communities and eventually everyone would create a better world. And what I saw because my family was engaged with this and a number of friends is that people who kind of work on themselves that they wouldn’t take that next step of actually changing the way they behaved. And what’s interesting to me about this little tiny change that you invited me to do is that was a revelation for me that this was not something where I was acting on my values because I felt I had to because, I felt compelled to, because it was something I wanted to do and it really was quite wonderful to do.
Joshua: I’m glad to hear that. I’m hoping to bring wonder to people and it’s notâ€¦ I’m not bringing it. I think I’m taking awayâ€¦. I’m helping people take away what was getting in the way of it. I’m sure that most people think of their computers filled with timesaving apps you know convenient things and it doesn’t add up to. It’s like all these little pads that every step seems like it’s taking in the direction of saving time and so forth. But if you just keep replacing it with more and more of the same, you just have more stuff. You started getting to the emotion of it. I think the feeling. One was what you did but then how you felt about it and you startedâ€¦Can you share more about that?
Vincent: What was really great was just taking that time I think as I entered very quickly into the kind of neutral space you need to be and to write a poem because that requiresâ€¦ You can’t be distracted while you’re writing a poem, you’re really drawingâ€¦. One of the elements of writing a poem is to draw different kinds of images or different kinds of ideas together and have them make some kind of sense that you’re presenting things in opposition in a way that’s surprising to the mind. So you really have to be in an open frame of mind to do that. So what surprised me was how easy it was.
Joshua: What youâ€™re saying sounds profound. I mean it sounds like a significant change. How much of this would you have said before this challenge and how much of it came specifically from that? Because I feel like some of it’s more than just a couple weeks worth ofâ€¦.
Vincent: No. I think the feeling about the screen goes back 40 years to you know the difference between when people were watching television habitually before everybody got engaged in computers. And I think there’s been a lot written and people have spoken about it and some of it is my observation some of it is received wisdom that you know the difference between reading a book for instance is a very different experience than watching a movie just because there’s more of you left alone in some way.
Joshua: I’m glad that you broughtâ€¦ When you were talking about the connecting with the natural world and operating on its time scales that connects with me but not nearly as much as satisfaction. Like my own personal feeling when I was a kid and I ate a Dorito it was crunchy and full of flavor and vibrant in my mouth and compared to that a slice of kohlrabi is really flavorless. And when you make the shift it seems like you’re giving up all the flavor and crispety crunchety you know.
And then when you get to the kohlrabi I’m in the middle of it right now of not put salt on anything. My food is getting less blant but you know where I’m going.
It’s like after a while the kohlrabi has so much more flavor. Or just you know a slice of apple and that other thing was just like it’s like Time Square in your face and I don’t know if the way that I feel now if I ran into me from 20 years ago or three years ago if I would have gone through it myself, if that person then would be like, â€œHave your kohlrabi. I don’t care what that is. You know give me this fun stuff.â€
Vincent: No, I understand. I mean at a certain point you canâ€™t eat a Twinkie anymore because it doesn’tâ€¦
Joshua: Yeah, it’s yeah… I don’t want to eat any Twinkies. [unintelligible] things I would rather eat than Twinkies. It’s like everything else.
Vincent: I think that the other thing we need to look at in general is that there are certain kinds of experience that have become harder… There are certain kinds of experience that are easier to come by now than they were not even possible 10 years ago. But certain things are harder to come by. For instance, I think it’s really hard to have a sense of common space thatâ€™s not commercial and that’s a tremendous loss.
Joshua: I came across an article in GQ Esquire a little while ago and it was interview with Yvonne and the guy was saying I guess it was about suing the federal government over [unintelligible]. And he says you know, â€œThis, you’re doing the stuff, it happens to be good marketing too.â€ I’m not sure if he’s kind of saying it’s like marketing and he’s saying, â€œYeah, we don’t have a problem with it but it’s kind of implying yeah maybe there’s a little bit of cleverness there like you’reâ€¦â€ And there’s an idea that I’ve been working on for a while which is that people say that vegetables are healthy. So if you eat vegetables, it’ll help prevent cancer. Logically it’s the same to say, if you don’t eat vegetables, you increase your risk of cancer. I think that one way says it’s normal not to eat vegetables, and the other one says it’s normal to eat vegetables. I like to think of eating vegetables as normal.
And so Yvonne said, â€œHow can I not do this stuff? How could Iâ€¦â€ And he said all these other companies aren’t doingâ€¦. Like maybe on Black Friday they’ll like toned down a little bit but they won’t really stop and I’m thinking it’s not that that having the company do live by the values of the people in the company that that helps sales. I think it’s if you don’t live by the values, that will hurt sales. This way normalizes living by your values and acting on your values. This [unintelligible] what you said at the beginning was acting, behaving consistent with your values. I think that what you’re doing in Patagonia, this community is normal. Everyoneâ€™s free to find normal how they want. So I’m not trying to prescribe other people but to sue the federal government for taking away something that you feel is a public space why would that be out of the ordinary? That would be ordinary. And if that generates sales I think it’s I say not doing that makes you less integrated.
Vincent: Right. I think that that’s why I think we felt that was a normal part of our work to sue the government [unintelligible]. And partly we’ve been engaged in the fight to preserve [unintelligible] that you know Obama in the closing days of the administration protected it and then it was decimated when Trump came in. So I think that was sort of normal for us. You know we didn’t spend a lot of time saying, â€œAre we going to do this?â€ It was like, â€œOK, this is something we’re going to do. We’re going to join the other people who are suing.â€
But the other thing about you know the point you made I think is that if we’re going to call attention to ourselves as a company and we’re making things and we’re selling things that let our message be on behalf of something that we do value rather than posturing our name on buses. That’s one way to spend the money.
Joshua: I would think that if someone proposed, â€œLetâ€™s not sue the federal government,â€ that would create more discussion. I’m guessing. Iâ€™ve never been in one of your readings. I guess if youâ€™re like, â€œCan we do that?? Can we not do that? Why would you not do that?â€ Other places it’s given. I’m not going to name other companies but lots of other companies are not doing it and somehow itâ€™s easier for them not to.
Vincent: And I think that that’s been an interesting thing about Patagonia is that process of living by our values has become more active and more consistent over time. It’s interesting, I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, I donâ€™t know if you know that North America just became the largest groupâ€¦.6 billion dollars. And there’s never been a B Corp that size. And the owner, not the owner but the CEO of [unintelligible] worldwide was French and a climber said that he wants to make his entire company which is like 30 billion dollars in sales a B Corp. And he said that, â€œOne of the inspirations I’m going down this path was when Patagonia produced our ad that said, â€œDon’t buy this jacketâ€ in 2011 and he looked at that and he said it is the first time he realized that he could appeal to customers and to his community on the basis of value rather than instincts. That’s the phrase he used which I think is very interesting and that we would be considered so unusual because we’re appealing to people on the basis of values and not on the basis of something that’s less conscious.
Joshua: Yeah, a lot of advertising is just trying to get you on like the basic things like fear, anxiety or aspiration. And that’s just like a [unintelligible] not like a value. Yeah. As soon as you said I was like, â€œYes. I never thought of that.â€ So you guys trigger that in him?
Vincent: We triggered that in him which is great because six years later they’re doing something that no corporation in the world that size has done.
Joshua: Is theyâ€™re not going to be B Corp instead of I guess C Corp would mean that they must have put something in there to say we are something other to show their value. Do you know what you put in?
Vincent: Yeah, they haveâ€¦ Itâ€™s complicated. The simple story is when they become a certified B Corp they take an impact assessment and you have to score a certain number of points in order to become a B Corp. That’s independently verified and then every two years you go through another assessment and it’s a fairly holistic pretty rigorous assessment of all your practices – how you treat your employees, how you behave in the community, your environmental impact directly and through the supply chain. And they plan to take three years to go through this process. And they did it in one year. And partly because they were so into it. It’s not because anybody weakened the standards. Itâ€™s because everybody really got behind the idea. They got very passionate about it. Even in the U.S., they were like 150 people directly involved in gathering all the data and doing all the work to make this happen.
It was primarily the younger people that drove it and also there were other folks and notably a woman who had been head of Nabisco in China who was actually embedded by [unintelligible] into the [unintelligible] organization because this organization had never assessed the practices of a company that large so she was helping them out saying, â€œOK, how can we make this work?â€
Vincent: It wasn’t ahead of schedule but it was on schedule. That wasâ€¦ Yeah.
Joshua: So my take away from this is that whatâ€¦ Another main thing that I want this podcast to be about is the antidote to what I believe is the phrase of our era is, â€œI want to do X but if no one else does it, then what I do doesn’t really make a difference. I’ll just keep doing what I used to do.â€ You didn’t know that you were going to influence [unintelligible] to become the biggest B Corp ever and it doesn’t sound like it’s going to stop with them, like thatâ€™s the high watermark of B Corps. That’s going to trigger more. So I everyone who is listening at home and thinking, â€œWell, what I do doesnâ€™t matterâ€ well, here it seems to have it mattered.
Vincent: Yeah, that’s one thing that I learned the great thing about having been at Patagonia for 45 years and seen this company is a kind of laboratory for change is that I’ve ended up much less cynical at the age of 66 than I was when I was 40 because I’ve seen precisely how these small actions have snowballed and how they have changed people as individuals and how they have changed the way the company behaves. And I’ve seen that what the company does actually produces less harm and some more real good in the world. So it matters a huge amount. And it really matters how people behave in the work lives because that’s where most of the harm is done. Yeah.
Joshua: When you act by your values and others are not, you are leading. Now they may not follow so that may take a few extra steps but the opposite would be not leadership.
Vincent: I think people have a strange idea of leadership. I think people have the traditional idea of the kind of borrowed from the military or the Catholic Church of somebody who’s got an awful lot of power and is directing a lot of people or has a persuasive personality or twists arms when in fact leadership is persuasion and often persuasion by example. Often leaders do not have the personalities that you would expect. They don’t have the champion personality and often leadership is exercised in groups. That’s not done by a particular individual. It can be a group of people who if you are acting on values and you’re doing something new that group in itself becomes collectively a leader.
Joshua: It sounds like something you teach at Yale.
Vincent: You know I don’tâ€¦..I do talk about that every once in a while but I’m actually not much at Yale.
Joshua: I want to ask you two things. One is if you have anything to close with to say the listeners directly and the other is at your option maybe if one thing by living by environmental values improved your life a little bit then maybe something else would do more. So I wonder if you would be interested in taking another challenge?
Vincent: Would it work if I exercised the second part of this. Taking the full three hours?
Joshua: Oh, yeah. Just to close off. Is there anything from your experience that you want to share with listeners?
Vincent: Yeah, I think just to sum up that if you make a personal change in favor of the world in some way or in favor of the kind of experience that you’re not used to having that there is tremendous kind of personal liberation and benefit from it. And then the second thing I will just say is that there is so much thatâ€™s needed to heal the natural world and to heal the social world that whatever changes we pursue or whatever satisfactions we pursue that if they help us in that direction, that’s better for everything.
He described his experience as wonderful. Do you want more of wonderful things in your life? But do you think, â€œBut I have to workâ€? Well, Patagonia’s revenues are in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. He’s a businessman. He teaches at Yale School of Management. It’s not like he lives in a different world where somehow he’s got more free time than anybody else. So maybe it’s the other way – living by your values leads to success, not that you need success in order to live by your values. For me, my experience this awesome guy was chilling at my place, he was at my apartment doing this. Leadership roles becoming peers with other leaders is waiting for you if you act on your values. I think acting on your values leads to success like that. It leads to membership in communities of leaders, of other people who live by their values.
Trying to think of stuff to do? You could start the next Leadership and the Environment podcast. Are you the member of a group that I’m not a member of that you could speak to in this way and you could get guests that meet you and Vincent Stanley and all my other guests have meant to me that I wouldn’t be able to get? There is a leadership role among many others. If you like what I’m doing and you want to do some version of it, contact me. It’s waiting to be done.
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