By Rob White
I recently read an article on the Fast Company website by Charlie Brown titled “Be More Like Tesla: How to Turn Your Company Into a Movement.”
The primary point of the article is that great companies do three things: 1) have “a goal that unites” (both internally and externally); 2) create “clear roles for the core and more”; and 3) get the “rewards right.”
For the first point, “a goal that unites,” the author uses a case study about the clothing company Patagonia. Brown states that “It’s not enough to have a mission and vision on your website. You need a highly accessible goal that is inclusive and touches a core belief.”
Brown describes how Patagonia’s goal of conservation, which started with its founding in 1972, was their “unapologetic” passion and “led by a core of passionate climbers.” He goes on to say that “like all movements, Patagonia started at the fringe of societal norms.” Sounds familiar? Hasn’t this been a badge that Davis wears proudly?
Brown then notes that in 1991, Patagonia “nearly went out of business due to its shift to a transactional strategy.” But “then a lifesaving decision was made to re-embrace the movement strategy. From its manufacturing to its marketing, the brand consistently calls on its customers to act toward their shared purpose of preserving the places where their gear is worn. The transcendent goal that equates to loyalty isn’t gear obsession—it is conservation obsession. Using a movement strategy, Patagonia has more than quadrupled its revenues to over $120 million a year.”
To me, this could easily be translated to our community psyche in Davis. Renewing an obsession for our many decades-long tradition of research in agricultural, medicine and engineering would move us back to the creativity and ingenuity that fostered sustainability and adoption of alternative transportation modes.
Brown’s second point is “business leaders spend a lot of effort organizing the inner workings of their companies; they need to spend equal effort organizing potential customers on the outside.”
Here he uses the example of Tesla Motors, which “has the potential to steer a technology movement in a post-Detroit era.” Brown states that “Tesla’s customer, not unlike Patagonia’s, prioritizes shared purpose over the transaction. But Tesla’s savvy consumers need roles; in fact they’ve demanded them.”
Brown credits “positive momentum… when Tesla released its patents for use by anyone, including competitors.” He then notes that “to catalyze a loyal movement, Tesla will need to actively facilitate the relationships that form as innovations occur.”
Again, using this business point to pattern to Davis, we are not that dissimilar to Tesla in that we are taking a universal need (in our case food and agriculture) and building a research capacity that is removed from the normal centers of innovation in places like Silicon Valley, Austin or Boston. Tesla didn’t ask permission to locate outside the halo of Detroit, but it most certainly changed the dynamics of how companies operate when it released its patents for complete open source.
The last point made by Brown is that companies need to get “rewards right.” He states that “getting consumers to take action once is relatively easy–a coupon or a freebie does the trick. But Daniel Pink’s book Drive concludes that implicit rewards outlast financial hooks for long-term dedication. Movement-makers prioritize rewards that offer an exclusive experience or enhance a participant’s reputation, rather than just increasing their bank balance.”
He then uses an example we in Davis can all sink our teeth into (pun intended). Brown notes “the movement toward “Good, clean, and fair food” began with the gastronomical branch of ARCI, a network of Italian communist social clubs. People who appreciated food and wine but didn’t associate with the gastronomic elite began hosting tastings and trainings, which created structure and roles, in addition to generating press.”
“It wasn’t until activist Carlo Petrini created a sort of romance around the identity of both the niche farmer and the heirloom shopper that the Slow Food movement took hold globally. With a clear role and flattering reputation bump for each side of the transaction, and with the food itself as an exclusive experience, the movement took off. The Slow Food movement is now a global force across 150 countries and boasts a network of more than 100,000 members.”
Brown points out that “the rewards of supporting the Slow Food movement are implicit–the slow shopping, preparation and eating. Talking with a farmer at a Saturday market as you wipe juice from a peach picked that morning is an exclusive experience that’s unlikely to happen in your local grocery store. Running into your friends at the farmers market might even burnish your status.”
He also notes that “the Slow Food movement has moved far beyond the small farm heirloom tomato. It’s generated an entire special foods industry of companies including Whole Foods, Newman’s Own, and an enormous ecosystem of small artisanal producers who can charge a premium for their Slow Food cachet while also offering experiential rewards.”
Brown finishes his article with this thought: “The goals of creating lasting change and influencing the social norms around products and services are more than an optimistic indulgence, they are imperative. Companies that adopt this approach will strengthen relationships and create networks of advocates and innovators that their competitors will be unable to rival.”
I realize Brown’s article was written for a business audience, but I am hopeful that with a little broadening of perspective, you too can see how these three points translate to Davis. I encourage each of us to sit back and figure out how we reinvigorate the passion that was a hallmark of the Davis community. Perhaps our next ‘movement’ can be to lead the world in addressing health and hunger issues using our incredible platform of discovery at UC Davis.
I look forward to seeing your thoughts. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.