“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”
— John F. Kennedy, U.S. President 1961–63
We were reminded of this famous JFK quote after a recent phone call with the president of a company that is taking on its own version of a moonshot challenge. The president is rapidly realizing just how challenging a big dream is. “It’s not easy”.
And that’s part of the reason why he and his team are excited by the challenge. They have learned that people, and companies, grow by taking on ever greater challenges of higher purpose.
The moonshot challenge for business today is to create greater value for the company while, at the same time, protecting and enriching life for all stakeholders, including the natural environment.
When market and customer desires and needs are rapidly changing, and the level of expectations for business doing the right thing are growing geometrically, there is only one effective response — dream big, engage others to help you build the dream (you can’t do it alone) and make a heartfelt, deep commitment to success, even when…“it’s not easy”.
A big challenge is not a warning to stay away, it’s an invitation to step into leadership. Here’s an example of a leader who has stepped into a big dream “Moonshot”!
Mike Joyce is the President and CEO of PrimaLoft, recognized experts in Advanced Material Technology.
Mike and his team at PrimaLoft make the warm, comfortable insulation and performance fabrics in our puffy jackets, outdoor gear, bedding, and footwear. They don’t just make great materials, they are, as they state on their Vision…“Relentlessly Responsible” in the way they operate their business.
MAKING A MOONSHOT
We recently worked with Mike and his team in co-creating their new moonshot vision and strategic plan. The company is already successful, but they wanted to create a new lifecycle and business model to leap ahead for greater future success.
Mike and his team have big dreams; they are inspired to lead and have placed their hearts into a commitment to help build a circular economy, starting with their products and services. They are choosing to do the right thing for their people, their customers, their investors and the environment. And they are doing this even when the world makes it difficult (or maybe because it makes it difficult).
Recently we connected with Mike to get an update on their latest performance news (all terrific results), and he commented on our recent blog “Being Regenerative, Your Key to Flourishing in the Future” and how deeply it resonated with him. He felt it captured the essence of the new era of Regeneration — going beyond Sustainability to Positive Impact, and reflected what he and his team are creating together with their “Relentlessly Responsible” approach.
Leaders wanting to flourish in a challenging future are finding that striving to do right by all stakeholders, including the environment, is actually a source of innovation, energy, and future company success.
You may wish to read the “Being Regenerative” article to gain a deeper understanding on why this new era of Regeneration is so important to any business.
In our call with Mike, he reminded us of all that’s going well: PrimaLoft’s big dream is exciting, their customers are highly receptive to the new innovations, his people are totally engaged, charged up and deeply committed to making a difference, and Company Performance is outpacing plans…AND YET it is still not easy to do. In fact, the challenge expands as the big dream comes alive.
We can learn from each company, like PrimaLoft, that is taking its own moonshot journey. Let’s look at what is wonderful and difficult about this journey, using Mike and PrimaLoft as one example.
The graphic below shows the first step…what any organization has to do to transform and accelerate into a new era lifecycle that enables them to flourish. You have to be willing to “Screw up the Status Quo” (change the way we have always done things), create a culture-wide mind shift to new ways of thinking, and then accelerate into a Regenerative surge that propels the organization to a new level of performance.
You begin the transformative journey with the awareness that, like PrimaLoft, even if your company is currently doing quite well, you still need to rethink and redesign for relevancy. To catch a new lifecycle, you have to change your thinking and your way of doing things. In the process, most of your models for success will change, in many cases, significantly: Business Model, Brand Building, Tech Platforms and Competencies, Strategies for Innovation, and more.
One of the big mind-shifts that PrimaLoft made during our planning sessions together was to shift their thinking and designing to a “Market to Product” perspective. Like many companies, PrimaLoft had been working from the mindset, “I have a great product, where can I sell it?” The shift they made was to instead think, “What is most valuable to future markets? What products and attributes can I design to reach that market?” This single insight shift changed how the company designs and develops products, as well as how it markets and sells.
To pull off a shift to a new era of doing business, we suggest you follow a successful transformation pattern much like the one we co-created with PrimaLoft (see the Transformational Stages Process below). Even without going into a complete “How to” of the entire process, you can see it takes a significant commitment to orchestrate the engagement, design and plan for such a transformation. In other words, “it’s not easy”, even though it can be creative, collaborative, engaging and highly beneficial to the company’s future success (which it always should be!)
IT’S NOT EASY, BUT THEN NOTHING WORTHWHILE EVER IS
We all know it wasn’t easy when the U.S. mobilized an entire country to go to the Moon. But the process itself reaped great benefits to science, inspired people around the world, and yielded unexpected new technologies that benefited industry and society for decades. As a result of taking on the difficulty of going to the moon, we developed micro-chips, digital imaging, new material sciences, and pocket calculators, to name just a few outgrowths of orchestrating a world-changing moonshot. In addition, the research contributed to the development of home computers, the internet, and even artificial heart pumps.
At PrimaLoft, the transformation planning process established a “Full Potential Plan” to guide the transition. Born out of a broad engagement, company-wide process, the Plan took hold quickly because people in all areas of the company helped create it and took ownership of it. Then the work of plan activation began and is still being developed and expanded. It will take several years for PrimaLoft’s Big Vision to be fully realized.
By the way, the label of a “Big Vision” is deserved only if your picture of future success is what you deeply desire, produces a great improvement leap, is beneficially challenging AND you can’t see exactly how to get there. If you can easily see how to get there at the beginning, you don’t have a Vision — you have a goal. You have to live into a vision, experimenting and taking risks, getting knocked down a few times but always bouncing back stronger than ever. It is not easy to dream big and then commit to delivering on that big dream, no matter what hurdles and detours you encounter.
A WORLD FIRST BREAKTHROUGH — PRIMALOFT BIO INNOVATION
Part of the PrimaLoft Vision was to take an even more active lead in a regenerative, circular economy, and to create material science breakthrough innovations. An exciting announcement in 2018 was the development of a Biodegradable Synthetic Insulation called PrimaLoft Bio…the world’s first 100% recycled, biodegradable synthetic insulation.
Did you know the average American consumer throws away over 70 lbs. of clothing each year? Much of it contains synthetic fibers that are creating microplastics, polluting our natural waterways and oceans. PrimaLoft Bio takes care of some of that problem by using 100% post-consumer recycled materials, combining that with natural additives that allow the material to breakdown in landfills if it is discarded. And unlike much of the natural bird-down insulation, PrimaLoft insulation is animal cruelty free.
PrimaLoft Bio sounds like a great, win-win idea that everyone will embrace, and the market will love.
Let’s look at this one Biodegradable innovation to see why it’s not easy to pull off:
- Innovation — First, inventing and developing the Bio-degradable Synthetic Material was difficult. There’s a lot of trial and error that takes place before a new material solution can be finalized. It took collaborations with outside partners including scientific groups, suppliers and customer design organizations. Collaboration takes extra work but, in the end, a better product is often created. It isn’t easy inventing something entirely new.
- Government Support — To lead in a new Regenerative Era, you need to bring Government along and win their support. Government has an important role to play in clearing the way for new innovations, new norms and supportive reclaiming/recycling systems. Government can create business incentives and partner with industry to make positive change. However, not all representatives share the same understanding or urgency regarding environmental problems and the subject has become politicized to a degree that makes progress difficult. It’s frustrating at times because no matter how right something is to us, it may not fit someone else’s belief. It isn’t easy.
- Customer Acceptance — Mike and his team felt their customers in fashion, outdoor gear, footwear and bedding retail would jump at the chance to claim Bio-degradable products. A great many customers were very excited and did jump at the opportunity PrimaLoft Bio provided; however, some customers who were deeply committed to “do the right thing” demurred for now because the reality of biodegradability is complex and open to criticism. The impacts, testing methods, conditions and technology solutions are all still being discovered, invented, and coming into the market. It still needs to be refined, which makes the message complex, and at the end of the day the messaging to the consumer needs to be clear and understandable. Messaging these stories isn’t easy! To give you an example of how external conditions can determine the effectiveness of biodegrading materials — paper is supposed to degrade in landfills but, under certain conditions, it won’t and sometimes you can dig out landfill-buried newspapers fifteen years later and still read them. All of our Regenerative, Sustainable products and standards are contingent on certain conditions. It isn’t easy being sustainable, biodegradable or regenerative under all conditions.
- Market Opportunities — Commitment to sustainability differs region to region, and some countries don’t have the infrastructure to properly handle discarded material. PrimaLoft, like other companies trying to do the right thing, run up against a lack of, or even breakdown of, the greater external system that serves the emerging circular economy.
- Economic Systems — PrimaLoft Bio is only one product in its family of products that are part of its 5R system (Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose, Renew, and Return to nature) and each part takes a different path through the larger economic system. The company has to proactively collaborate with competitors, partners and customers to make sure these external systems are built better and are viable long into the future to support the 5R system. Pulling off this level of cooperation in systems building takes a lot of attention and support. Currently much of government is a no-show in making the total system work. Under these economic system conditions, it isn’t easy.
- Company — PrimaLoft’s culture is shaped by leaders and employees who love the outdoors, work to protect nature, care deeply about being purpose driven and doing the right thing. And they are charged up about the future opportunities (in fact, as Mike told us, that can be one of the hard things…how to keep everyone, with their high enthusiasm, from trying to do everything in their plans at once). However, even a fired-up company like PrimaLoft hits the big challenges of “walking the talk” of a Regenerative enterprise. They are dedicated to moving through to net positive impact but, it takes a lot of innovative new practices to move to that ideal. For example, they want to be offsetting their carbon but, it isn’t a simple choice. The offsetting options are wide and varied, and in practice have different combinations of social and ecological impacts so Mike and his team are currently evaluating the different approaches to decide what makes the most sense for their company. It isn’t easy.
People rightfully ask…Why aren’t more companies more eco-conscious and doing the right thing?
It may be because there are a lot of forces working against running a profitable, growing company and doing all the right things they want to do at the same time. It is not easy…it takes a strong commitment and relentless focus.
But wait, big challenges may not be easy but don’t they yield big benefits? If the space program yielded a lot of benefits shouldn’t that be the case for a company doing the right thing and running a great company at the same time? Yes, Definitely!
BIG BENEFITS OF A BIG CHALLENGE
You can see the benefits to PrimaLoft’s big challenge just by taking each of their challenges listed above and turning them on their heads to see the beneficial opportunities:
- Innovation — PrimaLoft is learning how to innovate for an emerging new Regenerative/Circular era. It is building new solutions-creating muscles and developing scientific collaborations that produce more “World’s First” innovations. This will pay big dividends in the future. Companies that don’t do this will soon be irrelevant to their customers and markets.
- Government Support — PrimaLoft Leadership is learning to collaborate with others to influence the future through stronger environmental rules and Government support. The pendulum will swing. Our country will get back on track to being “more green” and environmentally conscious. Then, political leaders will look to companies like PrimaLoft for guidance and they will be positioned to make even greater impact and influence.
- Customer Acceptance — The zeitgeist is running in PrimaLoft’s favor. The younger generations, Millennials and Gen Z, are eco-conscious and will be demanding companies to be more purpose driven and do the right thing. Sustainable and Regenerative choices and decision making will become a natural part of future customers’ lives. PrimaLoft, and others like them, will ride this wave of change to success.
- Market Opportunity — This wave of change is already influencing even resistant or emerging markets. In some emerging markets, they are experimenting with building entire Sustainable cities and are playing a significant role in renewable/solar energy. It is only a matter of time before these markets will be ripe and ready to welcome in PrimaLoft Bio. Caution — if you wait until a market is fully ready to fully embrace the new, you will already be too late to capture market distinction and advantage.
- Economic Systems — In Europe the 5R’s of a Regenerative economic system are largely in place and growing. We, in the US, are behind Europe in this area. We need more companies like PrimaLoft to help influence our shift to a more Regenerative/Circular Economy. Playing an active role in shaping those economic systems will increase the company’s positive influence on the future and that will benefit its brand standing and reputation.
- Company — Living and being Regenerative is intrinsically rewarding to people. And the culture they create will be a major advantage in attracting top talent among younger generations entering the work place. In addition, when a company chooses the regenerative path, as shown on our first graphic, it creates a surge of creative, renewing, revitalizing energy in a culture that enables it to hit “escape velocity” and launches it into a new orbit of performance. (Like how we snuck in that space metaphor?).
The Company is already benefitting from the announcement of PrimaLoft Bio. It has garnered great press from WSJ, Forbes and other publications. It is selling PrimaLoft Bio to its customers around the world who are designing the new insulation into their jackets, footwear, sleeping bags, bedding and all sorts of outdoor gear and sports equipment. Those products won’t reach consumers until 2020 but, the buzz is already happening.
A Message from Outer Space
When our long-time friend and moon traveling astronaut, Rusty Schweikart, returned from space, he was invited to share his experience of viewing the Earth from that rare and amazing vantage point. Rusty responded by speaking from his heart. He reflected on the Middle East conflict at the time and said, “You wish you could take one in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and say, ‘Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What’s important?’”
Rusty’s speech became the famous essay “No Frames, No Boundaries.” Later, the sentiment of Rusty’s talk and essay became a founding principle of his Association of Space Explorers, currently a group of 400 astronauts from 37 nations, who work to foster environmental awareness and planetary stewardship.
The Moral of our Story
When we take on a moonshot challenge in space or in our companies, we can’t help but have our perspective and thinking changed. And this changes our actions and, in turn, the results we produce. And what we produce changes the world. We can learn a lot from taking on big, higher purpose challenges. And the learning from the journey itself makes us humble.
“The greater our knowledge increases, the more our ignorance unfolds.” — JFK
Mike Joyce echoed that thought when he told us,
“The more I learn, the more I realize the enormity of this challenge, and how little I really know.”
And yet, Mike and his team are going forward, and seeing great results! We are all learning how to adjust to this challenging opportunity to create a Regenerative world…AND that’s a good thing. It’s through meeting ever greater challenges that we learn who we really are and what’s truly important to us.
We encourage all business leaders to take on the moonshot challenge of creating sustainable, net positive, regenerative ways of running their enterprises, not because it is easy but because it is hard.