Culturati Summit 2018
In January, Wailin Wong interviewed Dean Carter, vice president of human resources and shared services at Patagonia, and David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation, at the Culturati Summit in Austin, Texas. They discussed the nature of citizenship, corporate activism, fostering inclusive workplaces, and more.
- A video of this discussion is also available.
- Dean Carter on Patagonia's family-affirming policies.
- The President Stole Your Land, Patagonia's campaign against the Trump administration's move to shrink Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.
- 2016 article in Outside about Patagonia donating all of its Black Friday sales to environmental groups.
- The Obama Foundation's 2018 Fellows.
- The Culture Book, Culturati's "practical guide to building incredible company cultures."
The Full Transcript:
Wailin: [00:00:00] Before we get into today’s episode, I wanted to remind you that we’re still collecting your questions about workplace communication. We’ll have Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson answering them and we’re also bringing in a special guest, Alison Green from Ask A Manager. We’re really excited to have her pitch in on some advice-giving so, please leave us a voicemail at (708) 628-7850. Or, you can email us your workplace communication dilemmas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:00:36] This week we’re taking a break from our original episodes and we’re bringing you a conversation I had back in January at the Culturati summit in Austin, Texas. It was a gathering of executives and leaders from different businesses all about corporate culture, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dean Carter, the vice president of human resources and shared services at Patagonia. And, David Simas, he’s the CEO of the Obama Foundation. And we had a conversation about trust, beliefs and culture.
[00:01:05] We’ll be back in two weeks with an interview with Alison Green from Ask A Manager. Hope you enjoy!
Josh: [00:01:10] I’m so excited to present our first keynote. First we have David Simas from the Obama Foundation, former political director at the White House. Everyone know what the Obama Foundation’s all about? Yes? No? We’ll let David say a little bit more, but they’re about helping create the next generation of 21st century citizens. And we wanted to invite them on stage alongside Patagonia—we have Dean Carter here. Patagonia, I think, is a company that all of us look up to when we do a survey and we ask you, who do you want to hear from, Patagonia is at the top of the list. And Patagonia is likewise an important example of a brand putting its money and its time and its resources where it’s mouth in a variety of ways and really walking the walk in a way that is admirable, and I think we can all learn from.
[00:01:58] So, Wailin Wong is the interviewer for David and for Dean, and Wailin is a dear friend and we’ve known her for a long time. She is the producer of the Rework podcast, and before that she ran The Distance, which was about businesses that were in business for 25 years or more. I’d love you to put together a round of applause for our first keynote. Please welcome David Simas, Dean Carter, and Wailin Wong.
[00:02:20] [Audience applause followed by a rock song playing.]
Wailin: [00:02:31] Thanks everyone for being with us this morning. Thanks for—thanks to David and Dean for [inaudible] for this conversation. I wanted to start out with a little conversation around the idea of citizenship. I think you come from intersecting but different spheres if we’re going to draw a Venn diagram of where your spheres of influence are. At the Obama Foundation, you’re training young leaders in community and civic engagement and at Patagonia you’re leading from sort of a corporate citizenship realm and so, I was wondering if each of you could just talk a little bit about the way you were approaching the idea of citizenship, especially in this current age where we are now.
Dean: [00:03:14] So, citizenship for Patagonia is around this thought that what decisions would you make if you knew, for certain, that your company was going to be here 100 years from now. Like, what would you do? What decisions would you make? And that’s where most of the Patagonia thought comes from, in terms of our idea of citizenship. From the idea of stewardship of the planet and the money that we give to grassroots activists from the 1%, to the surprising 100% that we did for Black Friday last year. Which is just basically this idea that in order for us to have a business we need to have a planet. So, if we’re going to be in business 100 years from now, especially for a company that sells snow business—we’d better pay attention to what’s going on on the planet.
[00:04:02] The other part is why we build the best products is we don’t want to end up in a landfill, [inaudible] wear it forever unless you guys—a product, we’ll fix it if it’s broken. We want you to repair it instead of replace it. And this idea of do no unnecessary harm to the planet. Like, this jacket did some harm to the planet, so everything that we do, we try to do the minimal amount. Although the new things that we’re doing around food really is around repairing the planet. We believe that you can repair and sequester carbon with the work that we’re doing around jerky and buffalo.
[00:04:31] So, that is our idea of citizenship, is just this idea of stewardship, taking care of the planet and protecting the wild places. Not because we want to climb in them today, but we want to ensure that our children can surf in clean oceans 100 years from now. That our children can climb in wild places like Bears Ears National Monument. And by the way, there’s a correction to the video. This was done last year, and it said nine national parks, and there are actual seven now, so we’re having a challenge with a couple of national parks.
[00:05:01] So, one of the other ideas around citizenship is this idea allowing people, just like the guy from Google was talking a little bit earlier. Wild horses couldn’t keep Patagonia folks from being active and participating and protecting the environment. Which is why we pay for bail in case they’re arrested in support of the environment for them and their spouse. And, yeah, there’s actually the bail policy at Patagonia. Which is like, we had to do it. Interestingly enough, I asked one time in a town hall, how many of you have been arrested for protesting for the environment and had been put in jail, and one hand went up. And I went, wow, we haven’t had to do this very much and I looked around, and it was the CEO.
[00:05:43] So, the other part is turning—something you talked about David, is like, activism by action, and this idea of protesting is good but do something. Which is why after a year of employment, every single employee can get up to two months of paid leave to go do something in the environment. So, every year about 150 employees go all over the world, paid leave with Patagonia. And we help them with travel expenses to go volunteer to save turtles, or do cleanup, or whatever. So, we allow them to pursue their passion.
[00:06:15] And finally, understanding of our responsibility to the village. So, if you knew for certain that the children of your employees were going to be your employees, you knew that. 100% certain. Would you do different things for those children today? So, at Patagonia, we have 20 people on campus who are managers and leaders who started at Patagonia when they were eight weeks old in our childcare. So, it’s like, the ultimate succession plan, we begin at eight weeks.
[00:06:49] And, so we begin at that time. What family practices would you do if you knew you were employing them and you wanted them to be good stewards. We think about—it’s not about the war on talent or retention, it’s really about growing great stewards, which is why we do the things for working families and children.
[00:07:07] And then finally, everything I talk about at Patagonia and the things that we do isn’t meant to be uniquely Patagonia. It’s really meant to be something that everyone in this room can do in some way. Put your head to it. The final part of our mission is use business to inspire. It’s not kind of just to be in the Patagonia bubble in Ventura, California. It’s like, you can do good. And you can do well as a company, you’ve just got to put your head to it and think differently. That’s our idea of citizenship.
Wailin: [00:07:34] I like it because it’s this idea of planetary citizenship. It’s an idea of citizenship that transcends borders, transcends the nation-state and cities and is really taking a super, super long-term view on what it means to be part of something. And to leave it better than you found it. And then, I think it’s a nice complement to what you’re working on in the Obama Foundation, because I feel like what you might be doing—you can certainly illuminate this more—at a very micro level. How do you get young people especially active and thinking very wholeheartedly about their communities, about their neighborhoods, block-by-block. It’s like you zoom super far in and you get what you’re doing. So, can you talk a little bit about how you’re training citizens?
David: [00:08:21] There was a moment in October of 2016 where my assistant came in and she said, David, the boss wants to see you. Which meant that I had to walk up one flight of stairs into the Oval. And I never got used to that statement, “The boss wants to see you.” I always felt that I was going to the principal’s office and you never knew what would happen when you walked into that amazing room. And on this day, President Obama said, as he was thinking about what came next and where he could make the greatest impact, he said, “David, I believe that my next chapter will be much more impactful than the one that I just had.”
[00:09:06] And I said, “Respectfully, sir, how?” And he said, “Michelle and I are going to develop the next 30 to 40 years to identifying, training and connecting the next generation of citizen leader.” And the things that they do both individually and as a group will overwhelm anything that I have done. And I begin there because that is essentially our mission, is to inspire and connect and empower people to change their worlds. Everything that we do is driven by that, but how do you do that? And so, when he says citizen leader, when we say citizen leader, too often a discussion about citizenship, whether it’s as an individual, but I think Dean spoke to it very eloquently at Patagonia, the discussion quickly devolves to my rights.
[00:10:04] What rights do I have? And that is an important part of the discussion and we should guard those rights zealously, but the other side of the coin is as important, if not more important in the community. What are your responsibilities? And not just responsibilities in a pluralistic democracy to people who agree with you, but your responsibilities in a community to people who disagree with you. Because when we think about this moment, the central challenge that we face in the United States and globally, isn’t left-right. It isn’t Democrat-Republican, it isn’t conservative-progressive. It’s the tension between what all of us have, which is that innate sense to tribe and the need for community.
[00:10:58] The distinction between the two of them sometimes can be very, very fraught. In your companies, you have employees who view people in their community that disagree with them, not as a fellow employee or as a fellow member as a community, but as an Other. How often have you been engaged in discussions that quickly devolve into politics and all of a sudden, you’re thinking to yourself, how can that person even believe what she believes? I don’t know anyone who thinks that. And in a blink of an eye, that person has become an Other. You’re in the comfort of your tribe.
[00:11:44] And so, even as we train people, we never tell them what to focus on. You have your passions, you have your beliefs, you have those things that are salient and that you care deeply about. Focus on them. But here’s what you need to do. Do it in a way that is intended to build community. Addition rather than subtraction. Convene people who disagree with you. Listen to them. Don’t assert your idea of what their motives are, try to literally be as empathetic as possible because that in some ways is the essence of what citizenship in a pluralistic democracy requires.
[00:12:31] Because if we simply devolve to the zero-sum dynamic where my side is going to win, your side is going to lose, in an era of atomized social media, where it’s very easily my bubble and your bubble? Then what you frankly have is this fraying of the civic fabric. And so, it’s leadership, not just in terms of engaging in your community, but doing it in a way that is predicated on bringing people together across differences, because, frankly, that’s the only thing that we can do. Especially in a democracy like ours.
[00:13:11] And so, yes. Hyperlocal, hyperfocused on the individual as essentially where change begins, and as the president has always said, it was never, “Yes, I can.” It’s, “Yes, we can.” And implicit in that is that neighbor by neighbor, block by block, city by city, county by county, state by state, and frankly, then, global. So, that’s what we’re devoted to every single day. And it’s fun.
Dean: [00:13:41] David, that is a—that’s interesting you say that, because we—that’s a struggle at Patagonia, is to getting pulled into these conversations. We had a recent example, where our CEO Rose did an interview with Huffington Post, and so we had—and it was about protection about public lands, which is a really specific thing and it’s very important to Patagonia. Well, this conversation about the protection of public lands became a headline which is, “CEO of Patagonia Ready to Lead the Resistance to Trump” so that was the headline, and so the body was about the protection of public lands. But suddenly, the headline—and that worked well for the Post—but that wasn’t necessarily the message that Rose was going for.
[00:14:27] Well, on the other side, the next day, Breitbart ran, “Patagonia Funds Baby-Killing Mills Across the Nation” so, Breitbart and Huffington Post are fighting over this thing. We’re like, we just want to protect public lands. This isn’t for us, is a—it’s a Breitbart issue or a Huffington Post issue. This is our thing. So, it is tough to keep the frame on the conversation around what’s important to you and not get tugged into these red and blue and political conversations, also.
Wailin: [00:15:03] I mean, at Patagonia, how do you, for lack of a better word, I guess, calibrate your outrage? You know, you are—I mean, I’m serious. Look, I’ve lived the last two years—
Dean: [00:15:13] All the way up!
Wailin: [00:15:13] —in a very heightened state out outrage that doesn’t seem to be dissipating at all. And I think if you care about the planet and you care about the state of things, every day there’s something new to be deeply upset about and we’re also living in an age where you have people who literally do not believe in climate change. So, that’s not even—that’s barely a conversation, right? It’s like—you know, how do you… if that’s the starting point, of does this thing exist or not, then that’s barely a starting point from where you’re sitting.
[00:15:47] So, at Patagonia where you’re protecting public lands, you have these things that you’ve cared deeply about for generations, really, for decades. How do you decide when something rises to the level of your CEO goes out and gives an interview. You put up something on your website, like a very strong public statement, a campaign—
Dean: [00:16:06] Like, “The president stole your land.”
Wailin: [00:16:07] Like the president stole your land. How do you decide when to sue the administration, you know? And how are those conversations happening now when it seems like there is something that you could be very outraged about, kind of perpetually?
Dean: [00:16:23] That’s a good question, and we struggle with that. These are board-level conversations at Patagonia, when we go into this. And I say the board, it’s really the family. It’s still a family company and private, which is an advantage. So, I give you the first example. Like, we always give 1% of top line sales. This isn’t 1% of profit, it’s top-line. So, if we’re not profitable, we still give 1% to grassroots activists and to the planet. So, a year ago, Black Friday, we were making a decision what to do on Black Friday and how to temper this idea. The first idea was literally just to go black. Like, we were going to put black curtains in all the stores and just really go, here’s our concern for the planet and the environment in this situation. And then we thought, that isn’t very inspiring in this particular situation. Why don’t we just say—and we went through a bunch of stuff, and I think it was an intern who said. Why don’t we just give 100% of the money on Black Friday away. That would be like all of the sales. All over the world. That would be inspiring.
Wailin: [00:17:25] Good for that intern.
Dean: [00:17:27] Yeah! And it was an intern, and then the way decisions get made at Patagonia, the head of marketing sends an email to Rose, and Rose is like, that sounds great. She sends an email to the Chouinards and like, yeah, let’s do it. That decision happened in about 10 minutes. It wasn’t like, oh my god… And, so—but that’s how we temper that. Now, as things progressed and it became more a warning sign that we knew that Bears Ears was going to be reduced in significant ways or that Grand Staircase-Escalante was going to be basically, to some extent, eliminated. We turned up the volume and were pretty specific that, around what you could do, and this is why we went, this particular time, “The president stole your land,” which we believe. We need to raise this to the level of an understanding that we’re concerned about this particular issue and we’re—we can’t exist and be true and authentic to who we are unless we say something about this in a big way.
Wailin: [00:18:33] Yeah. I wanted to go back to that intern, this unnamed hero intern who came up with that idea. Because, I mean, David, is that an example of—
David: [00:18:41] Yes.
Wailin: [00:18:41] —what you would hope the young people who come through the Obama Foundation would do. That they would get some training and some mentorship and then as they go out into the world, this is the kind of change they can affect, if they’re listened to? Is that you train them to think about their relationship with the corporate sector if they’re planning to join the business world someday?
David: [00:19:01] No, that’s exactly right. And as they think about—and this goes back to what they care about deeply and passionately. A young man or woman who cares deeply and passionately about the environment has a natural home at Patagonia. Another young man or woman who has an interest in a different sphere or space has a different company or corporation or non-profit or higher education institution, and so, we always begin with young people. I would urge, frankly, everybody in the room to both in your public life, your business life, and your personal life to have the same exercise, and so our first couple of hours of training where you sit down with 18-24 year-olds, it’s all about walking them through what we all the Story of Self. What is your personal narrative?
[00:19:57] It can’t be that kind of iconic view that we have in the morning, either when we’re shaving or just getting ready for work and when we’re in our hero mode, to the extent that there is one. It has to be your why, your true north. What do you deeply care about? And when we teach them that and they sit across from someone in this moment of—at its essence, which is amazing vulnerability—there is a strength and an empathy that flows from them.
[00:20:34] When you can determine what it is that truly inspires you, either as an individual or as a company, the decisions that flow from that in terms of your responsibility are much easier. When an intern—the president, every quarter when we were in the White House—would meet with 200 White House interns. Extraordinary group of young men and women, and inevitably there was always a question at the end where someone would say, “Mr. President, I am thinking about my career and what I’d like to do.” And he would always say, “Focus less on the what that you want to do and really dig into the why.”
[00:21:21] What is that thing that gives you such passion that you literally would pay someone to do it? And it’s hard to find it, but once you find that true north, whether it’s in your organizing or in your business capacity or in any—then, all of a sudden the decisions flow from that because now you’re anchored. And when the inevitable questions arise during the course of the day around what to do and what not to do, and what path to take, and which path to take…Then there’s a certain clarity in terms of how you’re anchored, which is why the decision by the family within 10 minutes. Why? Because it was completely consistent and aligned with what our true north was.
[00:22:09] And so, for the people we’re training, again, it’s less, “You need to do X, Y, and Z.” You first need to begin with what your sense of true mission is because once you find that, then we’ll give you some skills in terms of how to engage on a daily basis to move you from an activist to an organizer. Activism is essential and wonderful but activism is, to use a metaphor, voltage. It’s energy. A protest. A march. Some form of manifestation. Important. But organizing is the taking of that energy and directing it in a very strategic fashion against whatever you’re trying to achieve. People confuse the two but there is a very important and necessary distinction between them, and that’s the journey that we try to take them on.
Wailin: [00:23:02] Yeah. So, Dean, at Patagonia, how do you make sure that the ideas and the opinions of young people especially, people who are not in management… How do you make sure that these young people, or even, they don’t have to be young age-wise, they could just be non-senior, right? How do you make sure they’re seen and heard, because I think it’s easy to say, “Yes, we’re going to hire young people and plug them in and have them be part of our company.” But that’s actually just the beginning. I feel like it’s really easy to be like, oh, done! Done and done, but they have to feel like they belong, like Patty McCord was saying yesterday. They have to feel like they belong, like they’re included, that they don’t just stand for this one underrepresented group so that when there’s a question all heads swivel to that person and they’re expected to speak for this entire group. So, within Patagonia, how do you make sure that these people are seen and heard?
Dean: [00:24:00] We hire people who insist on being seen and heard so that’s a hiring thing. And then, we support that in ways which structurally in terms of the how, we keep the organization as flat as possible. So as few layers and the organization is free-flowing. We create spaces where people are open to talk. There is—Yvon doesn’t have an office, Rose…no one has an office in the entire company, which isn’t unusual, probably [some are two-year organizations?]
[00:24:35] We have these conversations on a regular basis around town halls or small—and we have smaller team or department meetings and then we encourage these conversations. Even the spaces are communal where we eat. I call it the grassy knoll, so we’re just kind of… sits on the grass with their children and their dogs and everyone’s talking about what’s going on. But that’s one way. But we do look for it. So, we’re looking for people who are incredibly independent and will share their perspectives and thoughts even though we’re a company of introverts, which is a little odd, too.
[00:25:18] We try to just find those people. As Yvon says, by hiring these fiercely independent folks who are interested in protecting the planet and wildways, wild horses could not keep them from speaking up. And after a while at Patagonia, he says, yeah, we had an organizational psychologist come by one time and do a bunch of interviews about our employees and he said they’re basically unhireable anywhere else.
[00:25:46] So, yeah… because they are fiercely independent and they do speak up. We try to create environments which encourage that and they call us out all the time when they feel like we’re not living our values. We survey them on an annual basis around how we’re living our values and they’re very vocal. They’ll tell us, like, “You’re not living value here, you need to do this deeper.” And, yeah. We expect that from them.
Wailin: [00:26:11] Yeah, and I feel like implicit in your description of that kind of culture is a very high level of trust. Trust between different hierarchies…I mean, you don’t really have hierarchies, but trust between greater positions of power than others, there’s trust flowing both ways. David, I was wondering if you could talk about trust in institutions a little bit? We could segue a bit—I think we were all emailed the Edelman Trust report looking at eroding trust in institutions. What do you feel like is the relationship between younger people who are interested in community engagement and their trust levels and what do you want to see from an audience like this about rebuilding trust?
David: [00:26:52] So, this is—when I talked earlier about the central tension we’re facing? Part of it is builded by a very historic erosion of trust. Now, there is a—the general social survey has been tracking trust between and among American people—not institutions, not government, not business, for the better part of the past 40 years. In the 1980s, that number of trust was over 50%. Two years ago, that number was down to 31%.
[00:26:52] When people no longer trust each other, what happens? You turn inwards. And when you turn inwards, essentially then you look for people who either look like you, or agree with you. And you’re very open to essentially that kind of priming of an Other. Don’t trust them. Or, if there is one set of facts, the ability now to basically say, that’s not true, or that is true really flows from this erosion of trust. The one area which was interesting to hear the individual from Google, and also the way Patagonia approaches thing, where there is a residual level of trust and it makes total sense—is local. Why? Because you have relationships with people. You see them. You interact with them. You go to church with them. You work with them. You engage with them. All of a sudden whatever inclination you have to Otherize and to label some individual, there’s a level of cognitive dissonance because even though you may look like someone that I stereotyped, I actually know you because my kid plays baseball with you. It’s different.
[00:28:47] This is where the story exchange and the personal narrative is powerful. That’s the residual of trust. Trust is the foundation of any society, any institution. When it collapses, tribes form. When tribes form, our ability to engage in collective action diminishes. Period, full stop. With young people, who are the first generation, I’ve got a 19-year-old and a 12-year-old. They are the first generation to instantaneously fact-check everything you say. And they do it. Annoyingly, my 12-year-old does it. So, their BS-meter is fine-tuned. And so the necessity for leaders in any community or in a business or in government to essentially align with what your purpose is and then on a daily basis live it in an authentic way, is imperative. Because now, when you don’t, 10 years ago where something could go wrong at your company or in government and you could spin or you could shade it, those days are now gone.
[00:30:02] So, please treat trust not as a nice-to-have, but as an essential component of everything that you do. So, our theory of change at the citizen-leader level is all predicated on that idea that you as an individual, these young people not only have relationships with 50, 100, and 150 people in person, but with a thousand person online. And where the discussion becomes interesting is I am a member of at least five or six different tribes. I’m from Massachusetts, so I’m a member of Red Sox Nation. Two days ago, here in Austin, I saw a guy with a Red Sox hat. My joy meter and happiness meter immediately—why? We had a connection. My parents are from Portugal. They’re Portuguese immigrants. If I see or meet anybody with a last name that sounds Portuguese, immediately—and you’ve all had this experience—there’s an affinity. There’s a connection. What is that? This person is like me in some kind of way, I am open to them.
[00:31:12] So, imagine catalyzing hundreds of thousands of these little nodes of connection and trust in a way that then allows them to build upon that and build community. This is why focusing small, especially in this era is the most essential thing that you can do. And, as companies, as you think about a takeaway, about your north star and what it is that you care and believe about, as an institution. But then think about the interests of your people who work for you on your team. Their ability to not only do the work but also to be trust-based entities in your community is a powerful force. Not only for the company, but for the community in which you’ll engage in, but it all flows from that very simple but complicated idea of trust.
Dean: [00:32:07] I’m going to pick up on that and on this. I felt the same thing with the Google guy in the UT belt. I went to Texas, and I was like, hey, we got a UT guy, [inaudible] it’s awesome.
[00:32:18] I do want to pick up on this idea of trust and this—also the concept of writing tools. For those of you who are familiar with the Gallup 12 in terms of engagement. So, it’s several years of this and one of the elements of it is, “My manager or someone at work cares about me as a person?” Which is one of the most significant drivers of trust within an organization. So, when I ask, ppl have conversations about—tell me about what’s going on in your life. Sometimes I have these circles around personal-professional, just openness about what’s happening. And almost always people, no matter what group I’m having this conversation, in Patagonia or not, they usually start with their children if they have children.
[00:33:00] Like, the most important thing in their lives are their children, and what is happening, and they usually talk about that. And if they’re not talking about their children they’re talking about dealing with an aging parent, or something along those—those are the two things that 90% of the time come up. So, as a tool, if—and so few companies do this that it’s not even a question on the Gallup 12. But, if it’s engaging and trustworthy if I can prove that I actually care about you as a person. If I can prove that I care about your children as people, the level of engagement and the level of trust is extraordinary and intense. So, if you think about the things that you do—and that is one of the magic things about Patagonia is that we show how we care about the children. So, when you walk in the front door, the very first thing you see is the reception. But, you see the playground. And there are just children laughing and screaming in the playground.
[00:34:00] When some—if a woman is breastfeeding and there’s a meeting, you have two choices. You can—someone will bring the baby in and they will continue breastfeeding while you’re having the meeting, or you just, it’s generally accepted, like, it’s time for the kid to eat, I’m going to leave. This idea of—I mean, you think about your organization. How can you show your working parents in very real and concrete ways that you care about their children as people, and you will get the deepest level of trust and engagement that is so off the charts that Google hasn’t even seen it yet.
[00:34:34] I just want to—this idea of trust is really, really founded in—and this was something Patty touched on—it’s founded on experiences. No one cares about what you say. They care about what you do and experiences that you deliver. So, if you deliver this experience to your employees and you’re around, this is how we show we care for children, or your children, and your future generation? Then those experiences drive beliefs. And the beliefs drive behavior and the best behaviors are wrapped around trust and culture and citizenship. So, when I talk to leaders about citizenship and trust and culture, I first say, let’s not talk about the behaviors you want to change. It’s usually CEOs talking about those behaviors they want to change to get trust. And I’m like, no. Let’s talk about the experiences you are driving.
[00:35:27] What experiences did people have yesterday around your culture. What experiences did they have with you and the decisions you made on a regular basis around citizenship? And that’s the place to start. Experiences drive beliefs, which drive behavior, which drive culture.
David: [00:35:44] Right, because—the disconnect that happens immediately where we have our stated values at the Obama Foundation. They’re a piece of paper. You have yours—all of you have your values. There is not an employee of your organization who on a given day, when something happens in terms of an experience. They don’t say, that word on that piece of paper is either meaningless based upon what I just saw, or boy, they’re really walking the walk and talking the talk. The latter frays anything that you do and there’s not a sufficient number of happy hours or staff retreats that you can do that will make up for the erosion that occurs in terms of the behavior and how it corresponds with what is on that piece of paper, right? That’s the key.
Dean: [00:36:37] Yeah, absolutely. And often when we’re talking about childcare, I get this question, like so that’s awesome. What’s the ROI on childcare? And I was like this is a great conversation. Let’s talk about it. Let’s share. We’ll share some of your ROI and some of the things you’re doing, I’ll share ROI on childcare. And so my next question’s like, so what’s the ROI on your parking lot. And they’re like, what? I’m like. So, you have a parking lot. What’s the ROI on it? When you were deciding to build a parking lot, what was your ROI analysis on that. Well, we didn’t do one, people have to bring their cars. I’m like, exactly.
[00:37:12] So, with values, it’s more important to bring your cars than your children. We don’t do the ROI on the parking lot, but we do want an ROI on women bringing their kids to work and providing gender equity in pay and opportunity, so clearly in this company cars are more important than equity.
[00:37:32] That’s an experience.
Wailin: [00:37:34] I mean, I think it’s about—ultimately, I think we’re all working towards systemic change, because you only get to change by working the systems and it’s interesting that you kind of start internal and you work outward. Whether it’s starting with the personal narrative so they can wield that in a powerful way to change what’s around them. In Patagonia you start with internal policies that make sense, that align with what you believe, that treat people like human beings, even women, amazing. And then, through that, you can affect the kind of systemic global change you’re looking at, and I find that really interesting, because I do think it has to start with kind of inside and working outward. I mean, like, Patagonia has such a long history of activism, it’s at the core of your company. You’re a B Corp now, so it’s even enshrined in how you’re organized structurally. Are you optimistic about the role of corporations in affecting systemic change? Do you feel like corporations are able to make the kinds of changes that Patagonia has? Does it feel lonely, or does it feel like it’s—do you know what I mean?
Dean: [00:38:54] This is such a great question and I do have conversations on this. And I am hopeful. And there are things that I see. So, I do understand this, oh, it’s Patagonia, you’re private. And since you’re a private company, you can do things that other companies can’t do who are public or funded by private equity. And there’s a clear difference, so I understand activists and investors. I understand the nature of that, and prior to Patagonia, my time was always with public companies. And I serve on the board of public companies and private companies and I understand the challenges they face.
[00:39:31] But here’s what makes me hopeful. One is, if you’re a private company, there are more companies who are interested in becoming B Corps than ever before. So, Patagonia was the first, but there are more and more and there’s a movement to putting this idea that you can do well and do good and putting it as important as your P&L. So, I’m hopeful for private companies and I see that happening.
[00:39:53] On private companies, I love the message from Black Rock and around private equity saying, this is the kind of place that we’re going to be and this is how we’re going to do good. And, another little nugget of thing that makes me hopeful is 79% of Millennials said that tomorrow they would change their investments and their 401k to plan to environmental and socially responsible investment programs if they had the opportunity to do that. 79%. So, if all Millennials moved all of their money in their 401k plans to socially responsible companies and demanded that, and you know, Millennials are not incredibly quiet about the things that are important to them. And there’s a movement. Most of the investment companies know this and are beginning to make change around their investment portfolios and you can see more options around doing this. Now, the sad and slow part is companies aren’t quite keeping up with that, so if you’re in HR in a public company, start looking for socially responsible funds and the Millennials will move their money in that direction.
[00:40:57] So, if you have private equity moving in this direction, you have Millennials demanding that their 401k funds start moving in socially responsible ways, that makes me hopeful. Now, there is still—there’s still greed in the world and there’s still this idea of get as much as you can while you’re here, and we see it. And that’s going to continue to exist, but I am hopeful and I see change and change coming, and a new way of thinking about business, and that makes me hopeful.
Wailin: [00:41:34] David, what role do you see for businesses to play in their relationship with the Obama Foundation, kind of an institution-to-institution level. Are you working with businesses in Chicago, or Washington, or New York where you’re based and what’s the opportunity for the private sector to come in there?
David: [00:41:52] So, the most tangible initial example right now is as we think about diversity and inclusion for what we are doing as an organization and we look at our partners and see, before we engage with them in any kind of relationship, what are their standards? What does their diversity and inclusion look like? Who is handling the account? What type of—we just finished a construction manager project because we’re building a 19-acre campus for civic engagement on the south side of Chicago. As part of our bidding for our construction manager, we certainly wanted to know what their senior management looked like, what their experience was, but also over the past 10 years, tell us about your philanthropic giving. Tell us about the previous projects you have had, what they look like. What you did for workforce development. Don’t just tell us what you’re about to do, show us what you have previously done and that goes from a construction manager all the way down to the office supplies.
[00:43:05] Because, again, if we are going to walk the walk and we’re going to affiliate with people, we have a responsibility for them to say, okay, this is the way we do business. And, honestly, we are a small startup on the south side of Chicago. But, if we approach things that way, that’s the way we can incrementally begin to change the behavior of businesses and corporations and others who engage with us.
[00:43:36] And then, finally, when you think about where most people spend their time, between sleeping and working, and on their phone…when we think about civic engagement in a relationship with institutions, each one of you have got footprints in cities and towns all across the country. Each one of you, I assume, have causes and efforts that are very important to you. Patagonia around environment and climate. All of you have different focal points. Each one of you have employees who want to engage in those things and those employees could benefit from some type of civic engagement, citizen leader development training. So, as we build as an organization over time, we will definitely have partnerships with different corporations and businesses where you have a focal point where you want to take your effort, we have an expertise around engagement in a non-partisan, non-ideological, non-electoral sense.
[00:44:48] So, at that moment, we will be prepared to engage with you either in person or online because as the president has said to me, to us and to the whole team that we are to build an institution that is going to outlast certainly Barack and Michelle Obama if we do this correctly.
[00:45:10] Just as an example, we have—and this is similar to the numbers you gave us, Dean. We’re about to announce our first class of Obama fellows, and so we’re going to announce 20 fellows in March. We had 21,000 applications for 20 fellows. Today, in a couple of hours, we’re doing our internship application. We are prepared for tens of thousands of applications to come in. The reason I raise this is when I went to the president and said, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is we have a very big pool for the fellows. The bad news is we’ve got a massive pool for the fellows and he said, that’s great. What are we going to do with the 20,980 who are not going to become fellows? How are we going to engage them?
[00:46:01] And so, this will be part of our ethos, and when we do that, it will intersect with businesses, corporations, non-profits all throughout the country, and then eventually the world. So, lots of work to do.
Wailin: [00:46:12] For sure. And with that, I think we have a few minutes for questions. Is there a mic? Oh, wonderful.
Audience: [00:46:34] David, thank you so much for what you’re doing. Very interested in the south side of Chicago, also, in the work that we’re doing. But, I’m curious as to how you would talk about this tendency towards tribalism in the context of structural racism and how young folks coming from the south side of Chicago who are trying to find that connection point are trying to connect sometimes with groups that either overtly or subvertly have kept them out of the mainstream and kept them disenfranchised.
David: [00:47:03] Yeah. So, when we conducted trainings last year, Boston, Tempe, Arizona, and in Chicago, one of the things we asked the young trainees was what are the barriers? What’s standing in the way? For a plurality of them, race did come up in terms of identity and perception around that. Real, and perceived. And one thing that was common, whether or not it was the young African American female or the young Hispanic male in Tempe, or the young white male in Boston, was that the description was very, very limited by the label. My perception of you based upon that label began to sometimes, in a justifiable sense, based upon my experience, override everything.
[00:48:02] This is where we engaged with one of our partners called Narrative 4 in a really interesting story exchange. So, this is what happens. You sit down across from someone knee-to-knee. I tell you my personal story. You tell me your personal story. I stand up in front of the room in 20 and tell your story in the first person. It is one of the most powerful exercises I have ever seen. And the most poignant example to go as to what you just described, was at the Obama Summit where there was a story exchange between an African American male from the south side and a young female from Aleppo, Syria.
[00:48:45] And while that was not a question of institutional racism, there could not have been a more dissimilar experience between this young man from Woodlawn and this young woman from Aleppo. But five minutes into the exchange of personal story, this amazing thing happened through the tears, which was, all of a sudden, the difference geographically, racially, gender, through the levels of violence that both of them had exchanged and felt, all that was kind of torn away and what they were left with was they saw each other. And so, this is the way that we work, especially with young people, around dealing with these questions. Yes, there are systemic changes that need to occur and we will give you tools to do that. But a necessary foundation to engage in that is that ability to see someone first. And so that’s the way we’re approaching it. Thank you for your question.
Julie: [00:49:48] Good morning, thank you. Great talk. Julie Goonewardene, chief innovation officer at the University of Texas system. When you’re talking about, I should also say, by night, the interim chief HR officer, so this all intersects. Um. When you talk about tribes and you talk about community and trying to reach across. One of the big differences today is we don’t have a common fact set, right? I mean, we used to all go home and watch the 6 o’clock news and we sort of, between ABC, CBS, and NBC, might have a little difference, but we had a common fact set.
[00:50:27] When you’re working with people with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye, do you have any techniques for how to get to a common fact set?
David: [00:50:38] So, techniques but no proof of concept. Here’s something that’s really interesting to me, and something for all of us to consider and ponder. That goes to what you’ve just said, and we saw this when I was still the political director at the White House. Good and bad on both sides, frankly, that when you talked to people their belief about a fact that was presented was less a statement to the coherence, the logic, or the truth of the fact and more a function of who shared it with them. This goes back to trust. If what I am saying or hearing is through this prism of mistrust, where my initial instinct, no matter what it is, is I don’t believe that, or I am skeptical of that, or what’s going on, truly, then you devolve to something that’s familiar, which is someone you believe or someone you trust, and they mediate it for you. So, this is, in a reductionist way, essentially where we are. That understanding, that people will mediate, not via Walter Cronkite, or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but who they’re talking with. Why? Because I trust them.
[00:52:01] So, begin there and then go back to what I said about the multiple tribes that I’m a part of. If, when I was in the White House, a Republican friend of mine came up to me and said, David, I believe that Obamacare is bad for the following reason. Because they are someone that I had a relationship with outside of their partisan identification, I would be more open to engaging and listening with them.
[00:52:29] If someone who I didn’t have a relationship with said, Obamacare is bad for X, Y, and Z. Even though it was my responsibility to listen to them and to take it in, my reaction, to be candid, is different. Questioning motive. Where are they coming from? Is this purely partisan. Distrust.
[00:52:53] In the first instance, there is this moment of cognitive dissonance, right? Because I was hearing something from someone I had a relationship with and now I was open to the fact. Now, how do you scale the multiplicity of identities that we have via this lens of trust?
[00:53:13] It’s less a question of the algorithm, it’s more an understanding of this base psychology and deep sociology that we all have. Which is why this era that we’re living in and the challenges that it brings even to the business sector about the way people internalize and hear things, is one of the most profound changes we have ever dealt with as a species.
[00:53:40] There are three factors and then I’ll just—I think about this a lot. There are three factors that are occurring on the planet, specifically in the United States right now that have never occurred all at the same time. We are going through a period of economic dislocation. The question about AI and the impact of technology on work is profound and has effects throughout the country. First. Secondly, the demographic change we are going through in the United States right now has no historical precedent anywhere on the planet. The electorate that elected Bill Clinton in 1992 was 87% white. The electorate that re-elected Barack Obama in 2012 was 72% white. There are five majority minority states right now. Within four years there will be seven. What does that do in terms of—you’ve all read or heard of Robert Putnam in the changes that happen along racial and demographic lines as people begin to question what their community looks like is real.
[00:54:57] And then you throw in that the little disruption that Gutenberg introduced with his printing press is child’s play compared to what we have in our pockets with our phones. And the way we can atomize our consumption of information. Throw that in together into this turbulent period that we’re in really necessitates a reimagining of citizenship, and, as I said at the beginning, our responsibilities to each other. Not just government, but you in this room. In academia. In individuals at the most micro level. This is the challenge of our time. Not from a profit and loss perspective, or even from a functioning of government perspective. From a civic fabric perspective. How do we engage with one another in this amazing experiment in pluralistic democracy?
[00:56:00] This is where we are. Our goal is to work through these and to try to do our part to make things better, but essentially, all of you, please, for the next of the day and even when you leave, when you think about your social and corporate responsibility, when you think about how you engage in your community, think about it not just from the lens of your company but through your company’s responsibility to the community in this moment in time. That is all of our responsibility. So, thank you for your question.
Dean: [00:56:33] I’ll pick up on that just for a moment. Even in Patagonia, it’s very easy for us to pander to a demographic group. I mean, it’s very easy for us to throw out red meat and be like, Ahh!!! [Makes noises like ravenously eating raw meat]. What we find is looking for common values and common places, because sometimes the more you throw out facts, the more people try to refute the facts depending on where the facts come from. We found that was incredibly helpful for us. The facts are! What we did find with Save the Public Lands piece of it that our biggest advocate and partner is the NRA. Not a typical partner you would find for Patagonia, but when we connected to what we call the hook and bullet crowd around public lands that Patagonia has a lot in common with the NRA and the protection of public lands and public spaces where people can go.
[00:57:28] So, we’re looking for this common ground, and you wouldn’t typically think, oh yeah, well, there’s a lot of common ground between Patagonia and the NRA. And, there’s certainly places where we don’t. But when we find our common place, as around protection of wild places that we love so we continue to enjoy them and our children can. Patagonia and the NRA have a lot in common.
Josh: [00:57:51] I think we’re out of time.
Josh: [00:58:00] Thank you. Thank you.