Caretaker for a race horse ranch, a school bus driver, bird surveyor, a small mammal trapper for fish and wildlife service, a firefighter, a short order cook, bartender (in a bar called The Town Pump), and - funny enough after the long list of unrelated jobs - an academic adviser at a community college. That’s the story I heard from Kim Jordan, founder and CEO of New Belgium Craft Brewery (an employee-owned company). Perhaps you know Fat Tire, the beer that started it all and was named in honor of Kim’s bike trip through Europe.
I’m not really a beer connoisseur, but since our office weekly celebrates “Jalapeno Beer Monday,” I thought I better pay attention. Besides, I was guessing there’s a lot to be learned from her experience. For example I wonder if all the unrelated jobs Kim held had prepared her to be a generalist, which in business speak is what we call the CEO? I do know that in my experience, you should take on multiple duties, wear multiple hats, and always be engaged in learning. It will pay off one day, in some unseen way, to your benefit.
So, what insights, nuggets, or tips did I gain from Kim? If you know me at all, you’ve heard me say, “everybody’s got a story – and in every story there’s a lesson.”
Here are the lessons I gleaned from Kim as filtered through my own life experience:
Get out there. Do some things that don’t lead to anything in particular. If nothing else, it will give you vivid memories, impressive stories, and you’ll never have regret.
Write down your dreams. Describe them in detail. As example, you may not need a business plan, but you do need core values. Kim started with:
- Produce world-class beer
- Promote beer culture
- Be environmental stewards
- Have fun
Kim laughs today at the first bullet (produce world-class beer). Perhaps it was because her only brewing experience to that point was producing homebrew. Imagine, no commercial experience, yet there she was dreaming that she wanted to be known for producing world-class beer. And today Belgium Craft does make world-class beer, and are environmental stewards, and the culture of beer in America is on a trajectory that any accountant could fall in love with. In addition, nearly every day her work includes belly laughs and fun.
Get really clear on what matters to you. This will have profound impact and implication for any individual. Today Belgium Craft Brewery has 10 core values, and along with their team, the leadership measures the company against them annually. They reference their core values as they sort out strategy for the future, which ensures that they’re doing things that matter.
Kim advises that platitudes are worthless, and business speak? Well, it just makes her crazy! And, she asked that I not get her started on empty gestures like an employee of the month parking space. Instead, she advises you have a personal Magna Carta, a written document of what’s essential in your life. It can then serve as a gentle nudge, or sometimes a sledgehammer, when the new shiny object of the moment distracts you from your core.
The clarity of thinking it through, and then writing it down, gives you something to get you back on track when you’re thinking of deflating footballs, or considering investing Grandma’s life savings in some self-serving pyramid scheme, or treating other people as if their lives don’t matter.
Even the best intentional lives can become squeezed, stalled, or just stuck with fear. Every event in your life has prepared you for where you are - so remember, you are right where you are supposed to be. This leads to The Human Development Theory of Recycling (aka Kim Jordan’s theory of second chances): you will get a do over. Quoting a 1970s bumper sticker,
It’s Not Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood!
When you are consciously committed to a big and wondrous life based on your core values … you’ll get to try again. Got fired from your job? In your next job you will know so much more about yourself, others, and business. Wish you’d been a better parent? You can be a better parent to your adult children. Failed in business? Join the club, and leverage the experience to do better next time.
She shared that there are two essential tools needed to make this life work. Most people find them extremely hard to do, yet if you master these two tools, you will feel a measure of lightness and freedom that will delight you and serve you all your life:
- Know how to genuinely feel, and say, “I’m sorry.” A heartfelt apology is not only a great gift to the receiver; it’s a gift to the giver.
- Be able to say, “I blew it.” Perhaps you heard Dale Carnegie say it this way, “When you make a mistake, admit it quickly and emphatically.”
Say ‘woohoo’ more often. It’s practice for you to celebrate with yourself and with your team. It’s a word that aptly describes what your business could be. It's celebration of the fact that with core values you can decide now to confidently stand up for what you believe in. You can shout woohoo since your business and company can be a tool for good in your community (and in this world).
You life should be full of impromptu woohoo moments, and there will be life-changing, really important moments when you will have to decide if you will challenge firmly entrenched conventional wisdom. Or, perhaps it will be an act of omission when your still small voice speaks up inside and tells you this just isn’t right. You can woohoo when you check your (personal or business) Magna Carta and determine that you need to stand up for what matters.
Finally, don’t get so caught up in doing the right thing that you lose your woohoo. Keep it close at hand. Let your corporate life speak as a new model for business. A model where you can use words like love and profit in the same sentence. Finally, remember to use profit to do work that’s important to you – work that’s congruent with your values.
I look forward to hearing your story, learning your lessons, and hearing your woohoo!