You can’t buy authenticity

Club Penguin Founders
Photo by darrenhullstudios.com

Last night was awesome. I got to sit and listen to three guys talk about their journey starting a business and keeping their values in tact. I learned how they made really important, life-altering decisions. Like how Lance, as the original animator of the game, came to the major conclusion to make all the characters in the game penguins. His reasoning? “It was easier to animate a wobble than a walk.” In all seriousness, these three guys Dave, Lance and Lane built a really cool game, Club Penguin, and a really amazing business while keeping their values in tact. I am writing this blog post as much to share their unique story with you, as for myself, just to unravel what I heard with the kinds of questions I face every day.

I want to be part of a business that holds its values highly, doesn’t care about what “normal business” is, and creates a culture where everyone is free to become better. Sitting, listening, to these guys, reminded me just how much I want that. I’m sorry, but I don’t think money is the only goal. I think making money must come secondary to humanity. Every time. These guys really knew their values, and when big decisions came they didn’t have to run numbers and sacrifice their values. They let their values decide.

How many of you have heard the phrase “business is business”. I have, sometimes it feels like I am hearing it weekly. In my opinion it’s a copout. And after hearing these three talk, I really believe it is. It is saying that we don’t need to be accountable for how we are treating people because making more money is the highest priority. It’s sad, but that disease of thinking seems to have penetrated our business culture so deeply.

The founders of Club Penguin, Lance, Lane and Dave, told a very different narrative. They spoke of how they built a company with a culture that cared about each other. It didn’t calculate shares based on numerical value, but based on a fair partnership. When they sold their company to Disney they insisted that their company continue donating a portion of their revenue. When Disney acquired Club Penguin it instantly became Disney’s largest donation department.

When things get stressful or scary we can sometimes feel like we are unqualified to make the right decision. We look around to see what others are doing and we can sacrifice our values for security. Lance Merrifield said that every bad decision he made was when it was made out of fear. Why do we think fear is a good motivator if we make bad decisions when we are afraid? Lets know our values so well that when we are afraid we can stop and ask, does this really align with my core values? Or am I doing this because everyone else is doing it this way? As the old metaphor goes, just because everyone is jumping off a bridge doesn’t make it a good idea.

Club Penguin is an inspiration because they demonstrate that it’s possible to build companies differently. Let’s build great companies without sacrificing our core values. Let’s change the norm of business. One day we are going to look back and money won’t matter. What will matter is our family and how we treated those around us.

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