Speaker | Entrepreneur | Author

Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts in Community
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? 

Connection is About People

I'm attending a conference next week. 

Yesterday, I received an email from the organizer introducing me to someone else who will also be in attendance. The email was short, merely saying that the two of us should find each other, that we're working on similar projects, and that we mind be kindred spirits. 

This is connection at its best understood, someone knowing that the spark needed to ignite the world on fire could be created when two people meet.  

Connection isn't about simple linking or drawing lines between dots. At its most basic and fundamental, connection is about people and the resonance between their ideas and actions

Who will you connect today? 

Gain and Pain

Last week, my daughter fell and scraped her knee. This is a common occurrence when you're three. 

The next day, the scrape had healed some, but still was painful. She kept asking when her boo-boo would go away. I didn't have a good answer other than that boo-boos take time to heal and that soon, she'd forget it ever happened. 

There is another solution. We could have amputated her leg above the knee. Of course, this is the worst possible way to get rid of a scrape on your leg. 

But many times, we sacrifice something meaningful for the sake of a quick answer. We give up family life if we're trying to grow a company quickly. We may lose a sense of community when we try and grow our membership numbers rapidly.  

As leaders and world changers, we can't sacrifice what matters for the sake of speed. That wil literally get us nowhere fast. 

Instead, if we can take the time needed for communities to bond, companies to gain traction, and people to believe in our cause, we'll be better and stronger for it. 

Sometimes, it'll hurt. But that might mean you're doing it right. 

Spread, Don't Accumulate

Here's a delightful interview with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. He discusses business, the planet, and simplicity, and as he is wont to do, he shares maxims and ideas that stay with you.  

For example:

Nature doesn’t like empires. It doesn’t like accumulation in one place, it doesn’t like monoculture. It’s always trying to make diverse species. It wants to spread everything out. And we’re constantly trying to hold everything in.
What a helpful reminder for those of us trying to influence others. The trick of influence, after all, is that in order to have it, you can't accumulate it and hold on to it. Influence only happens when you give it away.

Invest in others. Take the time needed to listen to your team. Share your great ideas. Try a new event or program. Say thank you. Embrace the messiness of community.  

And don't try to be influential by accumulating accolades or honors. Instead, give all that away and watch as your influence grows by leaps and bounds.  

It's only natural. 

The Kappa, the Cup, and the Mom

Nearly 14 years ago, my mom gave me a cup.  

I had just signed a bid to join Pi Kappa Phi. I shared the news with my parents and a week later I got a package from home with this cup: 


Close, but no cigar. 

As you can see, the cup's letters read Phi Kappa Psi. Two out of three ain't bad. 

And yet for whatever reason, I kept the cup. It's a sign of my mom's support for me in all endeavors throughout my life. It's proof of her care and concern for what happens in my life. And it shows that sometimes, the best of intentions are what matter most. 

What makes this cup poignant right now, as I write this in a hotel room in Indianapolis, is that tomorrow, I'll stand on a stage and talk about leadership to young men who are committed members of - you guessed it - Phi Kappa Psi.  

I'll talk about membership and dedication, service and leadership. But I'll also tell the story of this cup and challenge them to lend support to others in their lives and on their campuses. I'll tell them that going out of their way to show others they care is what forms the bedrock of meaningful community.  

And I'll make sure that they know this is worth doing, even if you don't get it quite right the first time. 

Because support and concern can last a long time, like a red plastic cup, given long ago, stored in a cupboard, waiting for it's grand introduction to the world.  

For Better or Worse

The next time you're in a group, ask yourself "Are these people making me better or worse?" 

At work, it can relate to your skills and talents. With friends, it can be about your attitude or mindset. At a volunteer event or when socializing, you can base it around impact or even connections made. 

You don't have time to be around people who are making you worse at something.  

One of the best ways to get better is to be around people who want you to be the best.  

Self-improvement is a team sport. 

I Can't

"I can't" shouldn't be the end of the story. Don't stop your big idea, your passionate project, or your important work when you arrive at this chapter.

In fact, "I can't" is the point where the story gets good because "I can't" is the turning point when you stop looking inward and begin looking for help.

"I can't" is just a resting point before the big climax where the resolution is "but we can."

The end of your ability is usually the beginning of community.

Invest More Than Money

I was reading an online finance article - one of these Q&A types - and someone asked, "What is the best way to invest $5?"

The answer went on to discuss micro-business ideas (like a lemonade stand) and even buying a lottery ticket. I thought each was misguided.

The best way to invest $5? Take a friend to coffee. Send your mom a card. Get a great used book.

The "return" on an amount of money doesn't have to be only measured in terms of more money. We can also measure the investment of time and money by way of memories made, connections strengthened, and knowledge gained.

If your day were a bank account, how would you spend it?

I Think You'd Like This

It's easy to blast out a recommendation or suggestion via social media. We tweet: "This place is awesome!" or share a photo of a well-designed latte and leave it at that.

But real recommendation and endorsement is based on connection, not documentation. It's one thing to Instagram your way through dinner; it's another (better) thing to call or write a friend and tell them they may love going to that new deli because they're such a huge Reuben fan and what the deli does with that sandwich is unforgettable.

This is better than a mass message or even the newspaper critic's review because when you write me personally, I embrace it. After all, you know me and you know this place. You've made a relevant and unmistakable connection.

All it takes is the careful sixty seconds needed to send an email or make a call. The chef, singer, author, or owner may never know you made this connection, but they're thankful.

What will you recommend - and to who(m) - today?