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Let My People Go Surfing

The Education of a Reluctant Businessman—Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual
Oct 13, 2019ryankegley rated this title 4 out of 5 stars
As a company, Patagonia was never on my radar. I’d never browsed a catalog, visited their website, let alone purchased anything. If I knew anything about them, it was, at best, next to nothing. That is, until last year when they sued the Trump administration over its decision to sharply reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah. Unrelated, but soon after, I connected with the founders of Prairiewood, a tallgrass prairie preserve located in the Flint Hills just outside Manhattan, Kansas. Missional to their core, Kail and Becky, have long been fans of Patagonia, and see their own business endeavors, primarily in the restoration and preservation of both built and unbuilt space, as a means to an end — a way to do well and do good. Naturally, then, during one of my many conversations with them (I officially joined their parent company, Capstone3D, in January), Kail brought out a copy of Yvon Chouinard’s “Let My People Go Surfing” for me to borrow. Conceived as a manual for the employees of Patagonia, “Let My People Go Surfing” is exactly that: a long-form narrative covering both the history of the company, as well as its philosophy on pretty much every aspect of its operations. As a primer on the origins of Patagonia and the freewheeling approach to business Yvon and his first employees had, it’s a scintillating read. But that only gets you through the first 70 pages. The rest of the book, another 180 pages or so, is devoted to Patagonia’s tenets on product design, production, distribution, marketing, finance, human resources, management, and the environment. Here, Yvon gets down to brass tacks, digging into the whats, whys, and hows, and, depending on what brought you to the book in the first place, your mileage may vary. I’d argue, however, that whether you’re an activist, a fan, a customer, an environmentalist, a kindred spirit, a small business owner, a corporate leader, or a capitalist pig (okay, maybe not if you’re a capitalist pig; there’s simply no saving you), you can’t help but be inspired. Inspired, not because Patagonia is perfect and has it all figured out, because they never stop trying to do better, to do good, to do well. That’s something this planet could use a whole lot more of — from me, from you, from our corporations, and, yes, from our governments.