Let my people go surfing, by Jordi Marti


I liked the idea of the book focusing on “let my people go surfing”, this means, how in Patagonia employees have a flexible scheduling, and how values of the company were transmitted so employees could manager their own schedule. I read this book because I wanted to have some insights of how this values and style of management could be applied in INIT or the projects I’m involved in.

I thought that this book was about that, but I was wrong. It wasn’t. This book is about Patagonia’s philosophy, and among all that philosophy, how employees can manage their time. But being this latter one, one very small collateral effect.


Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard

The book hasn’t fulfilled my expectatives, at all; maybe because they were very high. I though the book would give me a lot of ideas about how to introduce some insights of flexible time management and concepts about transmiting key values to employees.

But what I found is a pamphlet on Patagonia company, told by the founder and owner of Patagonia itself (Yvon Chounaird); a book that was all the time selling “how cool Patagonia is”, in all aspects. And it was too much focued on the ecological aspect, maybe from a very pesimist point of view; which sometimes makes the reader feel unconfortable or guilty (how do you expect readers to be happy with the book if they are guilty all the time?)

I haven’t liked it in that sense, I expected a much more humble book, more than a “panfleto ecológico” of what is right and wrong. And I saw it also too much theoretical, not many practical things I could put in action.

Of course, from every book there are lots of insights that can be grabbed, and this is not an exception. But they weren’t focused on what I expected from the book.



Patagonia: beginnings

Patagonia: beginnings

The book starts with a storytelling of how patagonia started. What I like most is the idea that it starts from its very roots: there is a specific need and they start solving that specific need. From the very begining, not thinking on how big they wil be in the future; but just trying to solve practical problems: they are the vendors and the main customers. So they create the products THEY NEED and THEY WILL USE. Later, he realizes he needs to create a company: but at the begining, they just do better products for themselves. For me, THATS THE SPIRIT AND THE ROOT OF A COMPANY; solving real problems that you know and you want to solve.

Yvon is first rock climber, later an entrepeneur.


You realize that Yvon’s reason of working is not to have a job itself, but his job lets him focus on what he wants: to go surfing. So he finds through his job, the way to reach his goal: have a life that fullfills him (he does what he enjoys: go surfing). His job is not an obstacle for that.

I recall the “FLOW” book, when the woman of the mountain says: “I don’t make a difference between my job and my life. Furthermore, if I didn’t have to carry the milk, or plowing land, I wouldn’t know what to do”.
He enjoys doing what he does, and he does what he knows.

I want to reach that point. Maybe I am, and I have to feel it more.


Always focused on R+D. One step beyond the competition. Go far (travel a lot), to discover new things that can be applied. => Something that has happened to me through MINN + TMI.


Without knowing, they start something as an incubator of projects: in the very beginning, they give place in their offices (and a salary) to somebody that wants to rebirth spieces in the river. It’s somehow an incubation of a project: with the expectation of achieving the goal. That’s the root of the incubation of projects. In this case, not only thinking on money return, but also ecological return (is this as “polite” as they tell it in the book?).


The first Main crisis in Patagonia comes because of legal issues; not because of the project or product itself. It’s very important to have this in mind. A lot of times, we are too much focused on our product, and we don’t see risks beyond the product: why customers don’t use it is far beyond only because of the product. And also risks related to the future of the company itself. In karmacracy it’s very important the legal aspects.

After the crisis, the company turns MUCH MORE REFLEXIVE AND LEARNS MUCH MORE. And there is an specific line of action: written values of the company, specifying the reason of why they only want to grow a 6% each year (not to destroy the ecosystem).


The philosophy of Patagonia is transmitted to everybody. The philosophy is written and everybody can read it, and they are always visible. They are NOT RULES, but some guidelines. Employees make choices based on them, not based on the bosses expectations.

It would be very nice to have this material in INIT or KARMACRACY.


The focus on designing the product is to think what your focus is. In Patagonia, it is about “creating the best quality clothes”. So, they had to define what “quality” means in an objective way: 1) functional, b) simple c) multifunctional d) last longing e) global f) easy washing g) has added value h) its authentic i) its art j) its fashion k) its for the main customer l) its oportunistic m) it creates avoidable damage.

In init, what’s our product? “we build the software with best quality”. So it would be a good idea to define what means “best quality sw”.

I like a sentence in the book about priorizing. It says “I don’t have time to do that”. No, the problem is not that. The problem is that you do not give the enough priorization to that task among all the tasks that you have to do. It’s a key idea that I have started transmiting a lot (and reflected a lot before, but now I can say “as i read in a book, …”). XD

BTW, I attended to a talk in Innova Bilbao, in which I had to explain how the Product development cycle was done in our companies; some of these concepts were introduced. You can check the presentation here 🙂



– Design & Production all together => I like the Idea, because in INIT is something I’m focusing a lot: not to analyze and design with the customer and separate this process from the development. All together is better, all in the same team.

– Long lasting relations between providers & customers => that’s something we seek in INIT (maybe in karmacracy, because we just started, we are not focused on that, but we should give that point of view to customers: trying to create long lasting relationships). It also remembers me the book “Open Services Innovation”, in which we talk about “take what it is not core of your business outside of your production system, hire that service”.

– Helping providers of doing it good: it’s not only THEIR problem ,but ours too; so we should all work together.

I also like the idea the book focuses on “check how other companies so you can solve your problems”. It’s a good thing to see how this production philosphy can be applied to any sector, not only “clothes sector”. I like that from this chapter.


– The catalogue of the products is an image of the brand itself, so it should transmit all the values of the company. Because at the same time, it’s a tool that you can use when you explain the products, to talk about the company and its values.

– I like the point in this chapter when the book talks about wholesale (“al por mayor”) and retail (“al por menor”) trades. Retailing allows a more specialized, target and local community to communicate with. Patagonia used to take old abandoned buildings, rebuild them to create new retail shops. Patagonia value of “creating unavoidable damage”.

3.10 IMAGE

The coolest company of the planet

The coolest company of the planet

The best to transmit an image is to create an ideal of it, look for ambassadors of it, and cocreate with the end customers, who will feel this way that they take part of your company.

That’s why in patagonia, promotion was made through embassadors, not so much direct advertisment.

And I think this is why this book is also done: to show how cool the company is. Check the image to the right…


Some key thoughts in this chapter were:

– Creating benefits is not the GOAL of the company, but just the MEANS to achieve the approval of the investors or the customers.

– Benefits is not only about the money, but also about other social benefits: ecology, people, etc.

– PMIS study: shows how quality, instead of price, is what makes a company last longer. In general terms, companies with better quality products have x12 times greater investment return than their cheaper competitors.

– Limited growth: depending on the demand, not the ambition of the company. Patagonias philosophy is to be “a better small company” than “a better bigger company”.

Something I miss all over the book is that they say what they do, but they don’t say HOW to achieve it. Very theoretical, and only a few practical points.


Maybe the most interesting chapter for me. I was inspired when Yvon tells how all employees are driven by their passions inside the company. How can you do it in a company that is so customer oriented? For example, there was one employee with a hawk on his desk, because his own personal project was to recover that specie.

[INSIGHT] How can we, employees in INIT SERVICES, have our own “hawk” on our tables? Our personal projects inside the company, to connect our passion to our daily basis work in the company.

About the culture of the company, another interesting insight is that Patagonia looks for employees who are at the same time, users of their products. Looks logical, but sometimes is not.

Benefits of the special Patagonia human resource management style is that they have a flexible schedule, medical insurance and a kindergarden inside the company, for example. Once again, it looks like they are selling to the readers how cool they are that they could do this; but they don’t specifically say how they did it. What problems they found and they solved.

Overall, in this chapter, everything sounds cool and great, but at the ends, he also admits that, as in any company, there are internal problems that they have to solve,

[INSIGHT] Maybe is to hard to admit it, but I think we employees always look for some kind of “beast to fight”, maybe internal (our bosses or one colleague), or maybe external (our customers), so when we have a common beast, we all work more united. Is this really needed? How can we put the focus on a beast that doesn’t affect the company? What other monsters or bosses can we focus on, that they are not bosses, our colleagues, or our customers?


I like this chapter, because it faces some problems I encounter these days.

  • No private offices. Actually, this is my personal battle in INIT SERVICES; and I feel I’m loosing this battle. Am I right when I’m trying to convince my team that is better that we are all together “outside” of a private office, and all together? I’m just thinking that this book might be a good start (I should advise my team to read this book).
  • Adjusted growth: is very difficult to control a place with more than 100 people. It’s better to have small offices. I think we have that quite clear in INIT SERVICES 🙂 
  • A study on technical directors proves how they like to work with their own hands. It’s curious how I see myself reflected on this, or even JG, he always says that he likes to “cacharrear” on different things. He feels alive doing it.
  • Change doesn’t come without stress or sense of urgency. And if estress doesn’t exist, maybe you have to make it up. Very interesting. Taking into account that I just read the book “Our iceberg is melting”:


1% for the planet

1% for the planet

This might be the most unconfortable chapter of the whole book. Maybe a “political pamphlet”, and too pesimistic; so it gives you goose bumps!

But some key thoughts that we should think on in every company is that:

– We have to find our own “terrestrial mines”: analyze our production process and see what is the damage we are creating, and how we can solve it. Very interesting task. How can we do it in a software development company? And if we do it, could we open that knowledge, Interesting insight. I found a lot about it searching on that: http://www.aivosto.com/vbtips/ecoware.html

How to:

  • stain less
  • clean what we just soiled
  • educate internally
  • educate externally: to our customer and providers.

Patagonia also has created the “1% for the planet” organization, who demands that you should put a 1% tax of your sales to give back to the planet what you are demanding. It gives you something to think on.

But at the same time, the problem of this book is that it looks like an excuse to talk you about this organization, and makes you feel guilty that you should be paying it.

However, Yvon also finishes with a sentence that I have repeated myself during the last years: to change the world, first you have to change yourself.


  • Written values
  • Define our product: “best quality sw”? So what does it mean? Write it down and transmit it.
  • Focus on quality, not price. Remember PMIS study.
  • Sense of urgency: Where is our sense or urgency? Change won’t come without it!
  • Ecological optimization: How can we do it in a software development company? And if we do it, could we open that knowledge and share it? Interesting insight. Read this and try to apply in a short term: http://www.aivosto.com/vbtips/ecoware.html http://www.dorsetsoftware.com/customers/environment There’s a lot of material to be google that we could try to cristalize.
  • 1% tax: How would affect to our companies a 1% tax of the sales?

Eager to listen Yvon himself? You can do it in this video:





One thought on “Let my people go surfing, by Jordi Marti

  1. Pingback: The Team Coach’s Best Tools Essay by Jordi Marti (iScrum developed) | #TMIBERIA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s