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July 12, 2010

Book Review: Raising the Bar

“I ride my bike because I love to be on my bike. I don’t ride just to get to the finish line; what happens on the bike makes the experience. I love white road journeys. I thrill at the high mountain peaks, the feel of the pedals and gears, the picturesque villages, the shared loaves of bread, the physical challenges, the being in a space where I can think clearly and listen to my heart.”
- Gary Erickson, from Raising the Bar: Integrity and Passion in Life and Business: The Story of Clif Bar & Co.

*
Shortly after I described my behind-the-scenes tour of the CLIF Bar headquarters this spring, which detailed the many ways that company founder Gary Erickson provides amazing perks for his employees, and highlighted some of the company’s multiple socially responsible initiatives, several people responded with a similar comment: that guy should write a book.

What I didn’t realize at the time, but was pleased to find out soon afterward, is that Erickson has already written a book; not only that, but it’s a pretty darn good one. It’s also a point of introduction for a couple days of CLIF-related posts that will conclude with a giveaway drawing of some new products later this week.


For today, however, it’s all about the book: Raising the Bar is one part autobiographical, one part instructional, and one part philosophical – a combination which adds up to an extremely interesting read all the way around. It’s truly an inspiration to know that there are people like Erickson and companies like CLIF out there – and aside from the inevitable fact that reading this story will probably make you feel woefully inadequate in your own life’s adventures, Raising the Bar will forever make you think differently about the way businesses can and should be run.

Instead of recapping the whole book, I’ll just highlight a few items that grabbed my attention, especially in light of the visit I enjoyed this spring …

* The entire CLIF enterprise is built around the “Five Aspirations” business model, where the company commits itself to

1) Sustaining their brands: by creating a diversity of nutritious, high-quality products based on customer demand rather than contrived marketing campaigns.

2) Sustaining their business: by remaining a privately owned company that provides a good standard of living for its employees, and positions itself to thrive for future generations.

3) Sustaining their people: by providing a place where people can contribute, learn and grow while living the life they want to live.

4) Sustaining their community: by using a portion of funding and manpower to support local social and cultural needs, and being a conscientious neighbor with all those they directly impact.

5) Sustaining their planet: by minimizing their global footprint as much as possible through a wide variety of ecological initiatives ...

... and it only takes you about 1 minute of walking around company headquarters to realize that the Five Aspirations aren't lip service; ample evidence of these commitments in action are all around you.

* A central theme to the book is taking “white road” journeys, which denote small rural routes on the European maps of Erickson’s adventure travels, instead of the red roads which indicate major thoroughfares. This is a lengthy analogy, but the main idea is that our purpose in life shouldn’t be to simply reach our destinations as quickly as possible; we should take time to enjoy the scenic, unpredictable route, and appreciate the entire journey, wherever it may end up leading us.

* Finally – remember how cool I said it was for me to meet Gary Erickson and his wife/co-owner Kit Crawford on my visit? It turns out that probably wasn’t a happy accident; Erickson explains how CLIF intentionally minimizes traditional advertising methods in favor of connecting directly with its customers on a grassroots level as much as possible. He takes every opportunity to talk to customers face to face, and looks for ways to make meaningful personal connections. I’m guessing one of those ways is stepping out of his office to say hello when a certain idiot blogger happens to be in town.

Suffice it to say that Erickson has successfully made a connection with me – and I’d absolutely recommend taking any opportunity you can to learn more about the CLIF company and support its various endeavors. I’ve got two suggestions for how to get started: first, you can purchase Raising the Bar from Amazon.com, or check it out from your local library. Trust me, you’ll be dazzled.

The second way to get to know the company a little better is to win the giveaway that’s coming up later this week … but for that, you’ll have to wait until the next post.

3 comments:

Her Name is Rio 7/13/10, 10:36 AM  

Looks like an interesting read- I'll have to check it out. I'd like to apply some of that to not only my life but my place of work too. Thanks for the review!

Anonymous,  7/13/10, 10:42 AM  

Just got two of Clif's drink mix containers and a handful of bloks and gels, because they're my favorite (well, not the gels yet), they try to source organic ingredients and the try to exclude 'cheap' sugars and gluten. And because they're trying to do the right thing and not be acquired by a heartless multinational that turns a blind eye to who or what suffers to get them their raw materials.
Zack Barrett

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