Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts in Slow Company 101
On the Backs of Strangers

While roadtripping with my daughter this past weekend, we made a stop at Cracker Barrel (I don't know about you, but it's really only acceptable to eat at the Barrel when you're at least 100 miles from your home). After our meal and a quick perusal of the built-in souvenir stand, I told my daughter I needed to use the restroom.

While traveling with her solo, this can be a bit of a challenge. If it's a small restroom, like you'd find at Chick Fil-A or Starbucks, she usually goes in with me while I hastily accomplish the necessary. But bigger restrooms at airports or larger restaurants present more obstacles (dirty stalls, urinal cakes, loud hand dryers).  

A very nice woman overheard me asking my daughter if she wanted to wait just outside the restroom or come in and she offered, "I'll watch her. I'm a grandmother. " (This is something both of my daughters' grandmothers would say, by the way.)

I thanked her, ran in, emptied, and ran out. This woman and my daughter were chatting about the toy she'd picked out. 

I thanked the woman repeatedly and we were on our way. 

This interaction could have happened anywhere, but that it happened at Cracker Barrel makes it more Southern and a perfect scene for some movie where all the actors sweat throughout while performing with terribly overdone accents.

I'm a trusting individual and had no qualms about letting my daughter speak with someone new for 45 seconds (yes, I counted). Once we pointed our car north to finish the trip, I realized that most of what we build in our lives is done on the backs of strangers

When community becomes anonymous

I don't know all of our customers at Batch. Same goes for Cool People Care. Onward is a different story because as you consult, you get to know someone and his or her work quite deeply. Occasionally I'll recognize an order I see come through at Batch or CPC, but most of the time these names are mysteries.  

At first, it wasn't like this. Early orders at each company were peppered with friends and family. Familiar faces greeted us at festivals and fairs and often handed over $10 or $20 bills out of kind empathy.  

But if you are to grow, you'll need to find those strangers who believe in you, too. If your idea is to flourish - no matter how long it takes - you'll need the interest and support of those you don't know. In fact, when you get this interest and support, you can assume you're going somewhere. It's easy for your mom to tell you that you're on to something. It's better for business that someone who didn't birth you confirm that notion (see: Idol, American). 

When snagged

Last week, we had a slight shipping snafu at Batch. All is well now and as best we can tell the people we let down the most were ourselves, only because the highest expectations placed on this small, slow company are those put there by its founders. In the midst of our hand-wringing we found that it was the strangers' patience we appreciated and needed the most. 

Friends will gladly smile and nod and still hang out with you when your product doesn't live up to the hype or when you miss a delivery deadline. Strangers, however, can quickly demand refunds or pan you online (which is well within their rights). But it's awesome to see empathy and understanding from people you've never met, people who are rooting for you to succeed even without a blood relationship. 

Slow companies are built on the backs of strangers. The trust found there takes time to cultivate, of course. But the world and our most enduring societies took a while to get there, built up over time because one stranger started to trust another until a community took root. 

And on the way to community, something great happened. We all stopped being strangers and started being friends. 

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Employees?

I spent all of Tuesday standing up and placing mailing labels on 650 boxes.  

This is hardly the work I went to college to do. While packing boxes with tea, caramels, candles, and cookies doesn't sound like my dream job, it's also very much the work I'm loving at the moment.  

I wasn't alone in this task. My two co-founders at Batch were there, too, as were a host of volunteers comprised of friends and family.  

It's this sort of combination that makes running a slow company - no matter what your slow company does - awesome.  

Friends first, colleagues second

Many of us work, and that means we're spending 40 hours a week (or more) around a core group of people. In some cases, during certain seasons, we'll spend more time with this set of people (waking hours, at least) than our own family members (then again, some people don't like their families much). It would seem that liking the people we work with would be a core ingredient of job satisfaction or could at least help with our search for meaning when it comes to work. 

Sort of. One study claims that employee satisfaction increases by half when people have a friend at work. That same study claims people with friends at work have a better perception of their pay, proving that money isn't everything. Then again, the startup scene suggests that partnering with friends isn't the surest path to success. Better to pick a co-founder for his or her skills instead of his or her hobbies.

So, if you're going to go find a job, look for people you like. But if you're going to create your job, throw camaraderie out the window, right?  

Not if you're a slow company.

Slow companies allow for work and pleasure

I think that slow companies - those companies where we create or find our life's work - can allow us ample chances for relationships. Indeed, slow companies recognize that more matters than the bottom line. What you do at work matters as much as with whom you're doing it. People matter as much as productivity (in fact, there's a nice intersection of the two).  

The success I've had at each of my four companies is very largely based upon who's in the room with me, both in terms of skill sets and pre-existing relationships. Rest assured, there are friends and relatives I'd never go into business with, just like I'd never enter the Amazing Race with my wife (it would only be a race to see who killed who first, which would leave our daughter parentless). And I've also worked with people I'd never want to get a drink with. But if I had to choose, I'd rather work with a friend than succeed with an acquaintance.  

That sweet spot of success and community

Money doesn't buy happiness, but it makes for a nice down payment on it. And while working with anyone just to earn your keep is one way to look at work, it may not be the most rewarding. I'm willing to bet that you'd be much happier making a little less and doing something you'd never think of doing with friends than winning accolades while being overworked for someone you can't stand being around. 

Perhaps this means your shift your chase. If you're looking for meaningful work, don't only consider a job description, commute length, upward mobility, and salary range. Look around and see if you like who else is in the room. Will you have a chance to laugh? Cry? Celebrate? Are these people you want to see again on the weekend, around a poker table, or on a road trip?  

Successful slow companies allow people to be fully human, which means they can form full friendships with others. Is that a perk of your workplace? 

The World is Tired

For some time now, we've grown accustomed to how things are done, largely through no fault of our own. It would be lazy to blame our routines entirely upon faceless monoliths like big business, Madison Avenue, or the status quo, but the resulting malaise we all feel doesn't have to become our new normal. 

The world is tired of business as usual. It's tried of rat races and ladder climbing. We're all tired of mediocre services from mediocre companies that only help us to live mediocre lives. 

Our souls are yearning for exceptional, whether it comes at the hands of a corner coffee shop, our community church, or the singer busking downtown. We want to be delighted at every turn and inspired as much as possible.  

We seek out the remarkable and want as much of it as possible in our lives and relationships. But we don't just want an extraordinary phone or a fantastic vacation. We deeply want to be memorable and remarkable people. 

We are tired of average marriages and ho-hum parenting. We crave excitement and peace when it comes to how we're living with those we're loving. Going through the motions isn't fun at work or at home. 

The world is tired of meaningless lip service given to work/life balance. The world is ready for those who have found their life's work, whether it's inside a giant corporation, hustling as an entrepreneur, caring for children inside a home, or giving oneself to a cause too big to fully grasp.  

The world is tired of fast. To find what it means to be happy and in the right place will take some slowing down. 

I think the world is ready for slow.