While we spend our moments on social media, we spend our lunches, our dinners, and our deepest connections exploring something much older and much deeper: the original social media, the stories that live on in our hearts and minds. We experience stories not with our brains alone, but with our bodies. We touch, we feel, we taste. We are drawn in to different worlds, tightening with the suspense, exhaling with the payoff. We’re wired to tell them, and compelled to hear them.
A story, at it’s essence, is a journey that reflects a change of state.
Your key stories carry your most essential insights, reveal your personal and professional journey, and create alignment with those around you. And well told, these stories build the constellation that informs the direction of your organization. One company that makes great use of journey stories is Clif Bar.
Here are three key journeys shared by Clif’s founder, Gary Erickson, that are woven into the company culture and the brand. They’re personal stories that influence the company as a whole – and are retold in different forms through social media, in the press, audio and video, in sales, and the website. They begin as three different kinds of stories: A-ha Moment, Fork in the Road, and The Turnaround.
1. The A-ha Moment.
An A-ha Moment is a key spark of inspiration or “epiphany” where an insight changes the course of your life. Near the end of a 175-mile bike ride with his friend Jay (no not me!), still far from home, Gary was very tired and very hungry. He needed the energy to keep riding, but all he had was those rubbery tasting “other” bars (Power Bars). He looks up and said to Jay, “I can make a better bar than this!” Gary owned a small bakery, and upon his return, got to work. After nearly two years of experimenting with flavors and packaging in his mother’s kitchen, Clif Bar emerged, named after Gary’s Dad, and it’s been a hit ever since. This journey embodies Clif Bar’s commitment to quality taste and ingredients, and a quality workspace. This journey informs their packaging, their website, and drives their brand and influences their recruitment. The original A-ha Moment is also part of their origin story, of course, and is commemorated with an “Epiphany” ride every year, a series of long and short rides which involve the entire staff and their families.
2. The Fork in the Road.
A Fork in the Road story is like an A-ha Moment, but is identified by one distinct choice, a choice that separates the past way of being from the future way of being. Gary, again with his friend Jay, was biking in the Swiss Alps, and kept finding the same thing: the maps seemed to delineate two different kinds of roads. The first were red roads, which are the big highways, with busses and cars, going as fast as they could. These were marked by a red line. The second kind of roads were white roads, the longer, more adventurous side roads. “Sometimes those roads would just end, and sometimes we’d have to get off and walk,” said Gary. They found themselves compelled again and again to take the white roads, which led them on all sorts of adventures. “Take the White Road” has become a part of Clif Bar’s lore, one that guided team members to take risks and find adventures, and helped the company to become a leader in the industry. “If it is purely about getting from here to there on your bike…or just about profit,” says Gary, then what’s the point? Recently, Clif opened a “White Road Academy,” a leadership training institute which helps endow team members with the creativity and the commitment to bring the ‘road less traveled’ mentality into their daily lives and daily work.
3. The Turnaround.
A Turnaround story is a story of transformation that requires a near super human feat to work through. It’s a journey marked by a many steps, only a few of which you may reveal. Successful companies are often known to have turnaround stories, but like any story, a turnaround is best marked by human moments in which the characters overcome great odds. And that’s where the last Clif Bar story comes in. The company had taken off since Gary started it seven years earlier in his mom’s kitchen, and now he had received an offer to sell Clif Bar for a hefty sum. In many ways, it was the entrepreneur’s dream! All he had to do was sign on the dotted line, and walk away with his half: a whopping $60 million. Yet, as he was getting ready to sign, Gary took a walk around the block. And as he was walking, he realized he actually didn’t want to sell the company. He thought to himself: “I actually love what I do, and I love the people that I work with, and the work we do in the world, and I don’t want to sell.” And he didn’t. It was a turnaround, indeed. In fact, Gary went from almost having $60 million in the bank to $60 million in debt – because he had to find a way to buy out his partner.
Today, Clif Bar is still independent, and stronger than ever. Their brand is built on stories…but they’re not just stories that are written, or in video. They are told and retold adventures that happen on the road, on the slopes, and on the cliff. They are alive everywhere a Clif Bar, on the packaging, in the hearts and minds of the employees, and in their strong bond with their customers. They are the journeys that connect one person’s story to the greater adventure of a world to be discovered.
And what about you? Do you have an A-ha Moment that has changed the course of your life and your work? A Turnaround? A Fork in the Road? Do you tell them?
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