Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry, co-authors of The Method Method: 7 Obsessions that Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside Down and co-founders of Method home products joined the show recently. You can listen here.
I'm an avid reader. I read 1 or 2 business books a week. And I found this book one of the best written, most useful, best-organized, most entertaining, imminently doable books I've read in a long time.
How good is it? I haven't finished it yet. Almost every paragraph inspires, ignites, aggravates me to keep writing notes, scribbling them in a notepad or typing them in Evernote.
How good is it? I won't write notes in the margin, nor will I turn down a corner of a page to mark something. That would touch on sacrilegious. That's almost over the top, but it's not. This is a great book.
If you're in a startup, a small company, a mid-sized company, if you're in a department within a big company getting ready to launch something new...you should read this. And make sure you have a notepad handy. Seriously. Even if you just like good writing...you should read this.
Guys. Adam and Eric. Thanks for your time and writing a great book.
Adam: Thanks for having us, Zane.
Eric: Glad to be here.
Your book cover includes many testimonials. My two favorites were one from Tony Hsieh, bestselling author of Delivering Happiness and CEO of Zappos, one of my favorite companies. And the other was a joint testimonial from Pam Ryan, Pat Lowry. How did you convince your moms to give you a testimonial for your book, other than the obvious that it's a great book?
Eric: It was not easy, particularly since my mom spent a lot of years probably pestering me to do my grammar homework, so, uh, despite that we finally proved to our moms that we were worthy of their endorsement.
Who were you writing for as you put this together? Describe the reader you had in mind, what do they do, what are they facing, where do they sit in an organization?
Adam: Yeah, Zane, we really wrote this book for anyone who is trying to change the way business is getting done - both as someone running a business or somebody within a business, ie, any entrepreneur or any intrapreneur.
We also wrote it as a way for any business to create positive social change in the world. The book is really, it’s our open-sourced business model, written and provided for people to examine and hopefully use the best of, learn from our mistakes and build something better.
Perfect. What's in it for them, why should they care about these 7 obsessions and your method method?
Eric: What is very unique about our business and it’s pretty typical for an entrepreneur to take on a goliath...we’re basically foolish enough to take on multiple goliaths in our space. The soap industry has been dominated by the same players for the last 100-plus years. And, so, coming into these categories we had to change the game, not just one level but on multiple levels. And the way that we tapped into what we call our obsessions which essentially is our competitive advantages we strongly feel are relevant to any business today because they are all grounded in macro-trends.
Who would MacGyver have written this book for? How would he have organized it? Did you ever get stuck and have to ask yourself "What would MacGyver do?
Adam: Well, Zane, as you read in the book MacGyver is a big value at Method and it’s about being scrappy and resourceful when you need to. We have to do that in order to compete against the big companies we compete against in the household cleaning space.
For us, there were many MacGyver moments in the writing of this book because Eric and I are busy every day with our jobs, our day jobs. We’re not authors by profession. So, there are a lot of times when we were trying to figure out how to get this done and there are a lot of times when we examined:
“What are the ways we’re going to MacGyver this book to be the most useful to those intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs I just mentioned.”
One of the most interesting ways we did that that I think was interesting as well was sharing our mistakes. And, the error-autopsies. And as you read in the book, each chapter ends with an error-autopsy which is an examination, a case-study we made that others can learn from and try to avoid.
What we’re trying to do has never been done before. And if you’re going to do that you’ve got to learn from your mistakes.
I think that’s one of the many reasons I loved your book was you were so forthcoming with your mistakes and their value in helping you grow.
Eric: Absolutely. We really do feel that Richard Dean Anderson would write a killer business book if he would just decide to do so.
My friend, Erika Andersen, wrote a great book titled Being Strategic. She asks the reader to define their reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future. What was yours, what was your reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future, when you wrote this book?
Adam: For us, it was about making it clear for people that business is the largest and most powerful institution on the planet has the opportunity and we believe the onus to create positive change in the world.
That’s a very lofty aspiration. But the way that you get that done is the everyday tactical things and learning from your mistakes.
And that’s really what we hope people get out of this book. You can take on really big industries and succeed and in the process do something meaningful and purposeful.
Love that answer! Having founded a successful consumer goods company, I know metrics are important to you. But let's talk about the metrics for this book. What metrics are you using to measure your progress towards that hoped-for future with your book?
Adam: Most of them are soft metrics. As I mentioned before, Eric and I are not professional authors. We’re not writing this book to try to maximize the number of copies sold the way an author might.
Really, what we’re trying to do, we’re going to measure this with how effective was this book in changing people’s minds about the role that entrepreneurs play in creating positive change in the world and to a lesser degree how is this book increasing people’s understanding of the real mission behind Method. This business is very deep in its commitment to social change and that might not be something, when you’re shopping grocery store shelves, is immediately obvious to you.
We hope that a lot of people, by reading this book, understand the deeper story behind Method.
We've all heard about the 7 sins and the 7 virtues. You guys, on the other hand, have 7 obsessions. We could spend an hour on each of them, I'm sure, but let's run through them. What are those 7 obsessions?
Eric: Yeah, just to set this up with this is not something we put together to write a book. This is the way we operate our business. And they were part of the business plan from very early on. Writing the book was fairly easy when we were just reporting on what we have done already.
Number one: Create a Culture Club. At Method everything starts with culture. And we really believe in culture as a competitive advantage and this idea that you build a brand from the inside out.
Obsession Two: Inspire Advocates. We just don’t want to have customers. We want to create advocates who help us build a brand.
Three: Be a Green Giant and really personalize sustainability to inspire change on a grand scale as Adam just talked about.
Four: Kick Ass at Fast. If you’re not going to be the biggest, you better be the fastest.
Obsession Five: Relation Retail. Today, it’s no longer enough to have a shallow relationship with a lot of retailers. You need to have deep relationships with fewer.
Six is Win on Product Experience. At Method, we’re very much a product centric organization that is focused on delivering amazing and remarkable product experiences.
Obsession Number 7 is Design Driven and really building design leadership into your DNA.
I ask the next question with the usual disclaimers and caveats.
Let's say God likes sins and virtues, but not obsessions. Still, he likes you guys, so he’s willing to compromise. You can have one obsession. Consider this an exercise in detachment and pick one obsession and let the others go... Which one do you hold on to? Why?
Eric: For me, I would hold on to Design Driven because I am so passionate about design. Its a big part of why I jump out of bed every morning to use design to make the world a more enjoyable place.
Adam: Yeah, and I’ll not surprisingly pick Be a Green giant. That’s my half of the founding vision.
I think it goes without saying that it is a slightly unfair question that it is a slightly unfair question. I think what Eric and I each brought to this business was multiplied many times by the other. So, individually they are a lot less interesting than they are put together.
Absolutely. You’re right about it being an unfair question. But I wanted to see which one was a personal favorite.
Adam: Yes, And those are the reasons we put the business together.
Of these 7 which is the one most companies lack?
Eric: I would argue that it’s culture. It’s one of those intangible things that is hard for companies to get their arms around. And, it’s about human behavior. It’s how we treat each other. And it’s so hard to name companies that you know that have great cultures.
True. Very true. I don’t know any that come to mind.
Eric: Yeah, and in the book we always pick out a muse. A muse is someone who does something better than us. And our muse for culture is Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. We definitely consider ourselves to be a very weird, unique, human place. And then I go to Zappos and I go:
“Oh, my god. We are so corporate.”
They do a great job with it.
How can customers or prospects, even employees, tell a company lacks this important obsession? I mean in some respects so few companies have a culture worth championing. We’ve become number to it. Maybe we should ask if a company has good culture?
Adam: I think there’s one easy way to measure our culture. And that’s:
“Is there any different way that people are at work and the way they are at home?”
If people are exactly the way they are at work as they are at home, you’ve pretty much got it right.
That’s an excellent answer. I was not expecting you to describe it like that. It’s a great way.
One of the first ways I knew your list of seven was going to be excellent was when I saw you made Culture your number one obsession. We’ve already spoken about it a few times. But I think it’s so important that we talk a bit more about it. Why is culture so important, especially since it’s ignored so much?
Eric: I think so much of a culture is the emotional aspects of it. Again, we’re dealing with human behaviors. There are absolutely ways to measure in an analytical way, a rational way, to understand a culture whether it’s working or it’s not working.
But, it’s one of those things that it’s really hard for companies to understand and measure because it’s based in emotions.
That’s that squishy stuff that businesses like to avoid.
Eric: Absolutely. You typically see the values of an organization’s mission. It’s usually put on an ugly walnut plaque in the wall. They tend to be such watered-down meaningless words, you can tell their words by committee. You know great cultures are about language and having a point-of-view that is unique and that everybody can rally behind. That’s hard to do as a group It takes a real kind of leadership and vision.
Adam: Yeah, think about the word “culture” outside of business context. It’s really about a shared set of values, a shared set of traditions. Things like that. If you then think about culture in a business context, you realize that there’s very little done in most businesses to actively cultivate culture as a shared set of things, values, that people subscribe to.
Now, is this attitude, this lack of attention to culture a relic of our manufacturing, economies of scale, mass produced business environment?
Adam: You know, I’m not really sure. I think it’s probably a function of not enough attention and recognition that with the right culture as the underpinning of a business and you can actually make a business far more productive and innovative.
Perhaps, it’s a luxury that we’ve had at Method in having to innovate in order to survive. We’ve realized that we can’t innovate unless we have a culture that allows us to collaborate, clash and resolve tension, all in a productive and creative way so that we can produce stuff that’s unique and different.
If we don’t do that, we’re nothing. So, for us, culture is very important, obviously a critical piece of our success.
Maybe, businesses have been around so long and been analyzed so hard that people in the name of efficiency or whatever just decide it’s not that important. I think you lose something really important when you do that.
You wrote and I’m quoting:
You've got Procter & Gamble ..which spent $2.4 billion on advertising in the US alone. Unilever spent another 1.3 billion. It's safe to assume these guys have a toilet-paper budget that's bigger than our entire marketing budget...Method didn't have a dollar to spend at launch.
Right there, coupled with your success, is The Big Shift as you call it. And it' a huge shift, a huge opportunity for small businesses. What is The Big Shift?
Eric: So, what we call The Big Shift is the transition away from interruptive media. The brands in our space, these are the first multinationals, the Lever Brothers, Proctor & Gamble. these companies were built from the rise of mass media. They were the first ones to do a great job of positioning themselves for that entire shift towards interruptive media, which is you’re watching TV and you’re interrupted for a 30-second spot.
And, of course, The Big Shift is getting us away from that because it’s getting easier and easier to avoid these interruptions as we’re shifting towards social media and media that you choose to participate in. And along that shift is an opportunity for a new brand to be born and an old brand to die.
Baseball is a great example of how sports even shifted as the different mediums have changed. Baseball was America’s favorite past-time as the radio was the biggest medium. And it’s a beautiful sport for the radio. And as television took center stage we saw the rise of football.
For entrepreneurs these shifts are wonderful opportunities to exploit to your advantage as all the rules start changing.
Now, if you don’t mind, I want to drill into this Big Shift present such a significant opportunity for startups and disruptors and small businesses? How do these take advantage of this transition away from interruptive media to earned media?
Eric: Well, obviously the rise of online in itself, which is a whole different topic, from Facebook to Twitter, completely... businesses have been born on that rise.
But, if you get away from technology, I think the opportunity for the entrepreneur is that it puts greater emphasis on good content and good products. We now live in a world where a good product can easily get discovered and get shared among peers through social media in ways where you needed that muscle to be able to buy the advertising to interrupt somebody to get that message out there on a mass scale.
For me, that’s the real opportunity is that we can focus on putting a truly better product or service or better content out there and having a better chance of succeeding than somebody who is doing a very efficient but mediocre way.
Excellent. Excellent answer.