The cardinal was perched on the hydro wire singing its little heart out. A spot of deep red in a sea of snow.
My filmmaker friend and I looked out the window in awe at this beautiful winged creature who'd interrupted filming we were doing for my Writing the Body course. Saucy devil! It was a freak ice and snowstorm that hit the city that weekend. And inserted into this monotone landscape, was this bird creating magic simply by its presence.
It made me think about how we try as entrepreneurs, writers and creatives to set ourselves apart, to show ourselves as unique entities because we want to stand out.
Yet until we truly recognize our gifts and our contributions to the world, this exercise in standing out is mere gimmickry.
Suzy Batiz, CEO of the $300-million-plus company of Poo-Pourri, said in a recent interview with Marie Forleo, life coach, motivational speaker and author, that she'd tried several businesses before coming upon this one. When I visited the Poo-Pourri website what struck me was the focus on women. The company is woman-owned, supports local and global programs that help women to have a voice, a safe environment to live, have access to education, protect women from violence, and to grow and pursue their dreams.
Let's get one thing straight here. This is a company focused on eliminating 'poo' odours in the bathroom, yet the values at the root of who the company is, their core values, go far beyond a stinky bathroom.
I learned that in the Global South her company's working with other organizations to create safe and healthy places for women. In many places, women and girls have to painfully hold it in and wait until nightfall to go to the bathroom. The cycle of disease, poverty and violence surrounding "open defecation" is all tangled up in poo-borne diseases, and that's something Poo-Pourri is passionate about eradicating.
Core values represent the backbone of any successful company or organization and inform how that entity directs their business. Whether for an individual or a company, core values greatly contribute to a company's staying power mostly because they connect human-to-human. As entrepreneurs and creatives, we want to set ourselves apart, to show up as unique entities. Yet it's by understanding who we are and what we wish to contribute to the world that will help our message, story, product or service ring true to others.
What are core values?
Core values are a company’s guiding principles that dictate behaviour and action. They help you to navigate your business and the practices you stand by to grow your success. Ask yourself, what is the larger picture of your business or endeavour? What are you trying to accomplish besides selling products or providing a service? What is a lasting impact you'd like to make in the world?
Take the example of Marimekko, the Finnish design company. Rather than direct design projects as she saw fit, Armia Ratia, Marimekko’s founder, gave her designers ultimate freedom to innovate. This ties into two of the company’s core values, “Getting things done–together” and “Living, not pretending,” or rather the idea that people should be themselves. Allowing individual expression to flourish within the Marimekko brand, is an integral part of the company’s culture. Whether consumers are aware of it or not, this idea or core value is communicated to us through their brand.
Another thing that set the Finnish design company apart was Ratia’s idea that she was selling a lifestyle. She said, “I really don’t sell clothes, I sell a way of living.” She understood that a dress was only interesting in so far as it expressed a way of life. Marimekko’s core values provided the foundation on which to build these ideas.
I routinely go through the following exercise to make sure what I'm doing is 100 percent in line with my values. Although my focus has been the same since the beginning of my business, it shifts slightly from year to year depending on how my business evolves and what feels more important to me.
Determine your core values - an exercise
1) What are your values? Jot down a list of 10-15 of what you consider to be your core values, then go back and circle the top ones that you feel really connect to who you are, not who you think you should be.
2) What are some activities or projects based on these values that you can integrate into your life right away? If courage is one of your core values then why not do something today that frightens you like phoning a friend you haven't talked to in a while or deciding to accept an invitation to speak? Or, perhaps that half-written novel in your drawer could use a dusting off and some TLC. If creativity is one of your core values, how can you express yourself creatively today? By baking a cake, colouring with your son or daughter? Taking a different route home from work? Singing up for an art class?
3) Gather together some images that reflect your core values and build a vision board around them. Keep this vision board in a prominent place--and your list of core values too--so that you have a constant reminder of what's important to you and what you want to make more space for.
4) Create a personal mantra based on your core values that you repeat each day to drum into your body and mind the importance of following these values on a daily basis.
5) Read your list of core values and look at your vision board in the morning shortly after you wake up and before you go to sleep. Remember that what you focus on grows!
6) Talk to supportive friends and family about your values. This will help to make them even more real.
7) Jot down activities that you've integrated into your business and life that mirror these values. This is so you can see your progress!
If your work's not grounded in some way in your values then it will lack passion and come across as half-hearted. Think of your values as your inner compass telling you how something is. The Poo-Pourri CEO said that her idea felt right in her body. Since then she's helped many women because she followed that feeling. Check in with yourself to see how your ideas feel in a physical way. This will also help you understand whether they'll align with your core values. You can take a look at the core values for my business here.
Think of how Marimekko’s values transmit through their original and joyful designs. Just like the brightly coloured cardinal that I saw in the snowstorm, let that be a starting point for your own bold strokes. Really get clear on what values make you come alive.
Getting clear on your values gives you more energy, is better for your health and well-being and also better for those around you and the planet, because you're doing the good work you were meant to do. This gives you great power and peace of mind and body.
When you align values with actions, you can only grow exponentially from there. The more conscious you become of your values, the easier it will be to choose products, services, offerings. projects and activities that resonate with them.
Photo by Ray Hennessy.