Bonfire Blogs #4

This is the fifth in my series of blogs on the ‘Bonfire with Soul’ course I did courtesy of Duke Stump and the Do Lectures late in 2020. This is about the fourth of the twelve principles that Duke shared and illustrated through a 15-minute video synopsis and then a 45-minute video of a call between Duke and an exemplar of that principle.

This time it is about alignment of purpose with action, about connecting and prioritisation of internal culture above external action.

‘It Begins Inside’

That line in fact comes from Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, as a rebuke to Duke about traditional marketing approaches which he apparently saw as all surface polish and little substance. Certainly, Patagonia as a company seems live out the alternative to endless spin which is to ‘walk’ rather than ‘talk’ and lets its products and actions sell themselves.

Likewise this week’s case study, Chipper Bro Bell, erstwhile Head of Culture at Patagonia seems to be a walking embodiment of the principle to be comfortable in your own skin first, because it will radiate to others. I’d never even heard of freestyle frisbee until hearing his story but this is a man who acts on his passions and seems a happier and more authentic person for it.

At the core of this week’s lesson is finding an alignment between your internal identity, mission, and values and the those that you project into the world. Whether that is on an individual or organisational basis you should invest in your internal culture before your external marketing.

“The most important audience is inside.”

Duke Stump

The analogy that sprang to mind for me here was about running; some days when I run, I just feel like a jangly, gangly mess, unbalanced, forever correcting my motions, and however hard I thrash the engine and try to run faster, my limbs feel awkward, and I am stuck in a low gear. But some days it just clicks, it all feels aligned, the smallest of thoughts transmit instantly to improved movement, my engine shifts effortlessly through the gears and my limbs are seamless extensions of my purpose. When we find alignment, transforming purpose into action is seamless. Conversely trying to make anything do something it is not aligned to do results in a lot of effort for very little gain.

About 16 years ago when I first undertook my Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) training; I encountered Robert Dilts ‘Neurological Levels’ model, and like a lot of NLP material I do not hold it too tightly as empirical truth, but I find it a model of practical use, a ‘useful belief’ for making sense of the world. I’ve adapted the levels alongside an iceberg analogy (see picture above) which suggests two important things: 1) there is more going on unseen than we credit and that what is seen is deeply connected to and rooted in the unseen, and 2) that we need to keep aligned to access real power. When these elements slip out of alignment, we feel uncomfortable, out of place, inefficient, and when we witness them in other people, we spot those incongruities as betraying tells.

Chipper Bro Bell, for me anyway, does not appear incongruous. He seems extraordinarily comfortable in his own skin, and he knows where he is happiest and most comfortable too – with a frisbee in hand. He just radiates “3 metres of energy field” as Duke puts it.

“Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

attributed to Confucius

This principle of finding alignment internally also reminds me of teaching students to design and build ventures using the Value Proposition Canvas; trying to align their proposition with the customer’s needs, because when that is a seamless fit it gains greater value, and when it fits poorly it struggles to sell. But that alignment cannot just be between product and the customer, it also has to align the product with the producer too; if you’re not a credible, authentic purveyor of that product the incongruities and inefficiencies will be telling. That important connection with the founders’ own values and ambitions underpins my own ‘Entrepreneurial Alignment’ model. Get those alignments right and your will transmits into action efficiently and effectively.

“Create the conditions for magic to happen.”

Duke Stump

Duke’s emphasis this week is the challenge to invest in culture (individual or organisational), build understanding, loyalty, trust, (shared) identity and vision to empower activity. He talked about how Nike made a real issue of the company’s mythology, of its history, as a means for employees to see themselves as part of a tradition in which imperfections and failings are part of a process that has been phenomenally successful. That honesty, vulnerability, and tolerance of failings is required to connect and to learn – with ourselves and with others. One specific piece of organisational advice is to develop your onboarding process; give your new hires the chance to really understand and embed themselves into the culture; invest in aligning them to the work.

Returning to my running analogy, investing in culture is like taking the time to develop your core strength away from running. Since spending the time on pilates- and yoga-type exercises I’ve found my body to be more aligned and I run more consistently. What’s the core exercise regime you or your organisation would benefit from?

It strikes me that if you (or your organisation) have that self-awareness, that self-efficacy, and that trust you can flex to new opportunities, survive adversity and calamity, and continue to create value in the world.

“Not everything in the workplace is about work.”

Duke Stump

One thought on “Bonfire Blogs #4

  1. Cheryl Beech says:

    Dave you & other mentors on the Innovation & Entrepreneurship course talked about authenticity and alignment of values

    Thank you for sharing this wider insight on those principles.


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