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.
You can read Part One here.
You can read Part Two 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.
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.
You talk about the different types of reasoning and its role in your decision-making process. Two types of reasoning, I’m kind of familiar with, inductive and deductive, I use occasionally in my business. You describe a 3rd. Abductive. And I looked it up on Wikipedia and it describes it as guessing. But I think it’s a bit more than that.
Eric: Awesome. I never looked it up in Wikipedia.
Adam: What counts is that we’re smarter than guessing.
Eric: You blew my entire cover of what everybody thinks I do around here. I have a vision, inspire what can be versus what is...and it turns out all the time I was guessing.
Yeah, this comes from bringing together great business thinking and great design thinking. My career was I grew up working with creatives. And a lot of it rubbed off on me over time and it’s about most people look at something and they’ll explain to you what is. And they’ll have a really hard time what can be. And that is the core skill of a designer or a creative is creating something that hasn’t been. I would argue it’s also the core skill of an entrepreneur who has the ability to like we did, in a wall of sameness in cleaning products and be able to imagine what possibly could be in that place that was there today.
Adam: Otherwise known as guessing.
To be honest, I just looked it up as we were talking and I’d ever heard of it and I thought:
Wait a minute. That is a form of reasoning. And the first sentence in Wikipedia is that sentence.
Why is it so rare, why are you guys so fortunate to have such an active skillset with abductive reasoning. Or why is it so rare in other businesses?
Eric: Because most businesses as they mature and grow, people who naturally get promoted to the top tend to be the best managers who have a really rigorous approach. They’re analytical. They have the ability to create predictability, right - the person who ultimately can deliver predictable results time and time again.
Who gets squeezed out, ultimately, are the individuals who are much more the creators. They’re not going to be the managers. And so, what we try to do is balance that at a leadership team level, that design thinking and business thinking where we have an industrial designer who sits there as a peer to a CFO.
And, it’s rare. But it’s getting much less rare. Apple’s probably the best example where a designer or a creative sits there at the same level as the operations.
We talked a little bit before the show about failure. You guys have failed a number of times. In fact, you devote a section at the end of each chapter to a failure and what you learned from it.
I say this with a big smile...but given the number of your failures, big and small, you guys should be consider big failures. I say that with the utmost respect. But you kept right on failing until you were successful and you had the guts to share many of those failures in your book.
Adam: Well, it starts off with the belief, and I mentioned it before, Eric and I we’re not really into trite things like “striving for perfection” or “striving for excellence” sorta vacuous statements like that.
Instead of focusing on being the best, we’re focused on being the best at getting better. It’s interesting that we’ve learned from stories like the space shuttle disaster. You know that classic NASA story about the fear of bringing the O-ring forward to superiors within that organization and the disaster that occurred there in that organization.
What’s really important is not that you come up with the perfect strategy that can’t fail. It’s much more important to have a strategy that’s just ok and execute it really well. And then learn what didn’t work. And adjust that strategy and execute well again. If you do that, in a couple of iterations you’re going to be by far the best. And that will get you there much more quickly than trying to sit around and think about the perfect solution.
We’d rather get towards doing, learn what works and what doesn’t, and then just keep doing. And it’s sorta painfully simple. But it works.
And what it does is that it means you got to have a company culture that says:
“It’s ok to fail but we gotta learn from it.”
Now that you’re over 10 years old and your quarterly revenues are meaningful, how do you keep that willingness to fail and that openness to it alive and well in your culture?
Adam: I think it’s important to note we’re still a tiny company in the grand scheme of our competitive set. We have competitors that are a 1000 times our size. We’re still really little, even though we’re bigger. But we do believe that small is a state of mind. And it’s about a way of doing things where people remain scrappy and resourceful and focused around making the best of the resources we have.
Eric: Yeah, I think that fear of failure starts at the top and setting examples. When Adam and I screw up, we admit those mistakes. It’s modeling that behavior that’s probably the most important thing you can do as a leader.
You list 3 mistakes, 3 learning experiences with your Bloq product line. Which one proved the most valuable?
Eric: That line taught us a lot of mistakes that we were able to carry forward. I would argue probably the one that is:
“Lack of Alignment”
There were some really simple decisions we made really late in the game that if we had not done that we would be ultimately...none of this would have happened. So, it’s something we push really really hard on...we’ve got complete alignment before we move forward on new decisions.
Early on in our conversation we talked about your principle to aim small and over serve. That sounds so clear for a small startup company. But your muse, Andy, also reminds you that the bigger you get, the smaller you need to act. Now, you're a big company. A bigger company. When did you catch yourself acting like a big company?
Eric: I think probably one of the best examples was when we launched the brand. If you read the copy on the back of the label, you probably would have just laughed out loud. We would go on to make ridiculous claims, like our cucumber dish soap claim, we would say:
“We own the right to the cucumber in all countries except Guam.”
Things would just come out of left field. And couldn’t really be explained but it would be very entertaining. And it would also bring a little bit of fun to the dish soap. I was amazed at the all the letters we would get, some of them arguing with us:
“Guam is not a country, it’s a territory.”
And wanting to keep dialogue going.
And as we got bigger that voice got squeezed out more and more. We started sounding a bit more serious and taking ourselves a bit more serious.
And that’s a lot of what Andy means. The bigger you get the more real you need to be in order to lot lose your connection with those human emotions.
We worked hard with the more recent things we’ve done. If you look at the bottom of our bottles now we’ve started embossing them with little sayings that, for the consumer to discover. Just those little winks, those little quirks, that you don’t typically get from big brands.
Nice. Nice answer.
You sprinkle your book with quick profiles of your favorite muses. Andy Spade, Tony Hsieh, Dan Germain, and others. Was there one muse you left out?
Eric: Yeah, we had a lot of muses we could have done. I would give a couple for me.
Blake Mycoskie who founded Tom’s Shoes. His ability to create inspire advocates and his leverage of social media for his one-to-one model is just world-class and somebody who I continue to get inspired by.
Adam: Yeah, there are some people who were inspirational to us that we mentioned in the book, not as muses but who served that role. People like Yvon Chouinard founder of Patagonia who’s created a business model unlike any other as it relates to sustainability. People like Michael Braungart and Bill McDonough behind the cradle-to-cradle model of business which we very much build into things.
Those are great inspirations and muses for us. I think there are some very personal ones for both Eric and I. Both of us look to our parents and grand-parents as great inspirations and the reasons why we’ve ended up doing what we’re doing.
We've reached the imagination moment in our show. Let's imagine that President Obama is calling your assistant right now. In fact, they are waving at you and mouthing the words...President Obama, as we talk. You’re laughing and she drops him into your voicemail. He says:
Guys, love what you're doing. You and your company turned an industry upside down. Right now, we've got an economy that remains upside down. I need to hear your ideas on how we can turn it upside down one more time, bring it right side up and start growing, generating jobs. Would you come to the white house, bring some product to keep me and the first lady happy, and talk about 3 things we can do now to bring this economy right side up.
What would you tell him?
Adam: I’m not politician, but since you gave me the liberty to answer when you brought it up I’ll go ahead and jump into it.
The first is I think we really need to invest in the green economy. I don’t know why in political discourse there’s still this weird belief that if we do something good for the environment it will be bad for the economy. That’s just plainly false. In fact, the reverse is true. By making investments in the green economy we can create, by making investments in green things we can make growth happen.
I’m a big believer in that.
The 2nd is education. Education is always something that is critically important for the development of a nation. I think we need to do that at a lot of different levels.
The last one is a little bit political. I believe the issue of campaign finance reform is a critical issue in the United States. I think it’s an apex issue. One of the reasons it’s so hard to invest in the green economy and one of the reasons the deck is stacked against companies like Method that integrate social and environmental considerations into their business model is that our politicians are really run by the people that fund them. And the the people that fund them are big entrenched businesses whose interests are to keep things the way they are. As long as the big corporations, who don’t want things to change, are funding the politicians then we’re not going to get the level of change we seek.
Eric: I guess I would just tell him, like, stop calling me and continue to let me work, so I can make more soap and hire more people.
Readers are leaders. Jim Rohn says that, I just quote him. What are you reading these days in all your free time?
Eric: You know, I’m a magazine junkie. I find it hard to find the time to get into a new book. I had a flight this morning that left at 5:30 AM and in hand I had the Economist, Business Week and Fast Company. But, I’m also, I spend a lot of time on digital media and blogs but I’m still magazine junkie at heart.
Adam: I’m reading two books right now. One’s called The Ripple Effect by Alex Prudhomme and it’s about fresh water and the fate of fresh water in the world going forward. I read a lot of non-fiction, stuff like that, instead of a lot of business books.
The other book I’m reading, Redesigning Leadership (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) is by John Maeda from Rhode Island School of Design.
Both great books about different topics. One’s critical if business is going to provide more leadership in the world.
This has been a fantastic conversation. You start your book talking about the importance of a company's culture. And you end your book talking about culture, too. In this case, it's the personal culture. Share with us your conclusion.
Adam: Um, I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
Well, as I’m reading aloud, I’m not sure the question was very clear. I apologize.
Adam: I’m sure it was at the time.
You start the last chapter with a great conclusion:
Sitting down to write this conclusion, we couldn’t help but think,
Shouldn’t you be drawing your own conclusions from the book?
We’ve spent over two hundred pages giving you all of the wit and wisdom we have to offer, and you want more? ...
Really, if there is one thing we want you to take away from this book it’s...buy our soap. Lots of it!...
Ok, if there are two things you take away from this book, here’s the second: Find your own obsessions.
Eric: Success only comes from really understanding and articulating what drives you. And taking that up to a higher purpose in your career and life. It’s such a cliche’, but it’s a true one. It’s hard for most people. We’re very lucky to find early in our careers what really drove us and to be able to lean into it in a big way.
Adam: I’m glad that Eric remembered what we wrote in the conclusion. I remembered it in more general terms in that when we were sitting down to write the conclusion we thought usually a conclusion ties a bow around the end of the book. For us, the conclusion was another introduction into the next step into the thinking of the reader.
We’ve shared this open-sourced business model with people as a way to say:
“Hey, we’ve had some success; we’ve had some failures. We’re certainly not doing it perfectly. But some of this stuff is working. Why don’t you read this? Why don’t you take it and apply it to whatever you do, hopefully for your own personal success, but more importantly to build on a business model to help us create some really positive effect for the world.”
Beautiful. It’s a beautiful way to end the show. I would love to keep on talking but you guys have a tone of things going on. I appreciate you taking the time out to spend an hour talking about your book and what’s driven you to success and helping others.
So, I’m always terrible at ending a show.
I’ll just say Thanks!
Oh, where do we find you on the web?
Adam: I’m Adam_Lowry.
Eric: I am MethodGuy.
Great! Where can we find you on the web?
Eric: Method Home dot com.
I’d say good luck, but it sounds like you have everything under control. And if it’s not under control in the future, you’ll get it. Congrats on your success!
Adam: Thanks for having us!
Eric: Thanks. It’s been great talking with you.