People are ready to give their lives for some causes. To hurt their financial or social wellbeing to stand up for what they believe in. To say no for things that matter.
Although I’ve said “no” to many things I didn’t believe in and wouldn’t make me proud, taking a stand is something that still scares me. What if people turn their back on me? What if they don’t love me anymore? What if they never want to work with me anymore?
That’s why I’ve been looking for stories that would someday give me the courage to do it and to dare “better”.
Here are some of these inspiring stories that I hope can also lift you up.
Challenging the fear of hurting one’s self interest
In 1957 Yvon Chouinard, an accomplished rock climber and founder of the Patagonia clothing company, began selling hand forged mountain climbing gear. Around 1970, he became aware that the use of steel pitons made by his company was causing significant damage to the cracks of the Yosemite he loved so much. And while these pitons made 70 percent of his income, he decided to give up on them and take the financial hit to protect the environment we all depend on.
The year after that, this constraint he imposed upon himself led him and his co-founder to develop new aluminum chockstones. Despite cannibalizing the sales of pitons, formerly his most important product, this new concept revolutionized rock climbing and led to further success of the company while respecting the climbing walls they were previously harming.
Later, in 2011, Patagonia caught everyone’s attention when it launched its “Common Threads Initiative” with a full-page print ad in the New York Times on Black Friday, featuring the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket.”
This is a clothing company actually stating loud and clear that it’s against fast-fashion trying to sell you ever more products every single season, and making a point about their quality and durability. This could have backfired, but it actually led to their audience trusting them more and buying more from them, which also takes away sales from less durable manufacturers.
Overcoming the fear of going against one’s industry
In 2010, a swiss journalist wrote a piece called “Avoid News”. As someone whose livelihood depended on writing news, his manifesto sounded crazy to most newspapers. But he did it anyway. His position advocated for people to read long pieces that focused on the underlying causes of events, instead of the daily news grind that only focuses on their visible symptoms. And it inspired many other journalists to follow in his footsteps.
His article was later republished by dutch tabloid NRC.next by its editor in chief Rob Wijnberg, who resonated deeply with the essays message.
The next day NRC.next got a never-seen-before response of hundreds and hundreds of emails and letters from their readers… and hundreds and hundreds of cancellations of people who loved the article so much that they actually cancelled their subscription.
Their customer service actually came out asking in dismay: “What are you doing!?”.
The good news is that many other readers also expressed how much of an impact this essay had made on them and how they would try to follow its rules and how much they appreciated and liked a newspaper that had the guts to publish such a story.
But this essay also transformed NRC’s editorial team. The essay questioned everything they were doing. And trying to change how they did things got Rob Wijnberg fired, which probably sucked. But the upside is that this led to him launching a crowdfunding campaign and starting The Correspondent, a newspaper focused on unbreaking news.
It’s since been funded by over 110,000 devoted fans from 130 countries around the world who support their long and thoughtful pieces. This kind of support has turned this publication into one of the largest and fastest growing member-funded journalism platforms in Europe.
Turning down the fear of being let down by powerful customers
Brewdog is a beer company that also knows what it stands for. It’s mission is to “make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are”. James Watt, Brewdog’s co-founder, shares in his book Business for Punks, that when big customers tried to bully their company into cutting their prices, they stood by the value of their beers since day one:
“These are the beers we make. This is the value we attach to them. If you want to buy them, then that is great, and this is the price. If you don’t want to buy them then that is cool too. But the price is the price: we don’t discount, we won’t bend on price and we won’t compromise on quality. If you don’t want to buy our beers, we are pretty sure someone else will!”
It was a bold strategy, but it has paid off. And whether we like beer or not, now they’ve become the fastest growing food and drinks companies in the UK, and thanks to investing in a remarkable product and protecting their margins, they are able to pay living wages to all their employees and buy two thousand acres of land in Scotland and commit to planting over a million trees by 2022 to become carbon negative.
You might be missing examples of other leaders in non-profits or activism, but I’m purposefully sharing examples of businesses standing up for something, because this is an area where I believe this instinct of standing up for something beyond profit is most lacking.
Now it’s time that the business world starts asking these hard questions as well, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the only thing that will protect the things we love and are a part of. The environment, our communities and the solidarity that makes democracies work depend on it.
So where do we start?
First it’s about acknowledging what we stand for. We can stand for Democracy. For Equality and Equity. For Openness. For Autonomy and freedom. For Creativity. For Community. For Life. For Regeneration. For a Living Wage for Everyone. We can stand for many things.
Why is it important? Because once we know what we stand for, we can see where this is absent.
When you stand for all of these things, you can say no to anything that supports dictatorships, inequality, monopolies, racism, bureaucracy, silos, extractivism, point you to the root of these problems and find ways to do something about them when they show up.
So what do you stand up for? Where is it absent?