Note: This is the second installment in a roughly transcribed series of posts reflecting my remarks this past week at the Kitchn/Product Team Retreat in Florida.
Now I’d like to follow up on those thoughts by sharing two things that have inspired me lately. One if from my old friend Ingvar Kamprad of IKEA and the other is from the biography of Henry Luce, which I’m in the middle of right now.
I’ve been doing more research into the origins of IKEA for a post series I’m writing, and I recently came upon a small pamphlet that Ingvar Kamprad wrote in 1976 outlining the purpose and mission of the company. It is called, The Testament of a Furniture Dealer. I was particularly struck by how aspirational and clear it was, bringing ideas and purpose to the manufacture of furnishings that seem almost out of place in our current era.
Let me read you a little bit from the introduction:
To create a better everyday life for the many people
by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.
We have decided once and for all to side with the many. What is good for our customers is also, in the long run, good for us. This is an objective that carries obligations.
All nations and societies in both the East and West spend a disproportionate amount of their resources on satisfying a minority of the population. In our line of business, for example, far too many of the fine designs and new ideas are reserved for a small circle of the affluent. That situation has influenced the formulation of our objectives.
After only a couple of decades, we have achieved good results. A well-known Swedish industrialist-politician has said that IKEA has meant more for the process of democratisation than many political measures put together. We believe, too, that our actions have inspired many of our colleagues to work along the same lines.”
I have never been particularly politically motivated, but in reading this I was reminded that our sites have always aimed to meet the needs of “the vast middle” and not the high end. I think it’s time to be really clear on this now. While I grew up in an affluent family, and I like dinner at a nice restaurant or to be able to choose something fancy on occasion for my home, my life does not derive it’s meaning from luxury or its pursuits and my education deeply imbued me with a sense of purpose to serve the broadest number of people and, in particular, those who can use and want the help.
To this end ATMedia will always do its best work in seeking, like IKEA, to serve the many people, to support the idea of a strong middle class, and to constantly outline the idea of the Good Life, which is accessible to all. All that is needed is spirit, intelligence and the will to work at it.
The Testament of a Furniture Dealer goes on:
The means we use for achieving our goals are characterised by our unprejudiced approach, by “doing it a different way” if you will, and by our aim to be simple and straightforward in ourselves and in our relations with others.
Lifestyle is a strong word, but I do not hesitate to use it. Part of creating a better everyday life for the many people also consists of breaking free from status and convention – becoming freer as human beings. We aim to make our name synonymous with that concept too – for our own benefit and for the inspiration of others. We must, however, always bear in mind that freedom implies responsibility, meaning that we must demand much of ourselves.
This is pretty strong and cool language for a furniture company founder, right? It is just this type of thinking that separates IKEA from all other furniture shops on the planet. This is more in line with the thinking we’re familiar with at places like Google or Apple – a desire to define our work not as a “job” but as a lifestyle and a path to growth as human beings. Since I was a teacher and then in founding ATMedia, I’ve always thought of my work in this way, and now I’d like to offer it up to all of you as well.
We are engaged in a brand new, growing business. It offers us all extremely exciting and challenging work, and a lot of it. We will constantly need to think outside the box and get used to change. We must never see this as a problem. This is our lucky condition, that we get to grow along with our work; that we get to be personally challenged through our work. Everyone who is willing to grow and learn will succeed here.
This challenge is very real for me as well. If I can’t grow and change to meet the needs of this company as a manager, founder and creator, I will have to step aside. Already, I’ve taken on countless new roles and delegated dozens more, since being a one man band, to now being a forty person marching band. And I still often go home at night and think that I’m sucking. But I don’t mind. I think of how to improve. This is my work and I love it.
Rudolf Steiner, who started the Waldorf Schools in which I taught, once said that if the teacher ends the day with some regrets and knows he or she could have done better, they are likely to be a great teacher. For the teacher who ended the day thinking they’d done a great job, he didn’t have the same thoughts.
The Testatment of a Furniture Dealer is short; it covers 9 points over 14 pages. The last one I want to read to you is about their product, or what they make. I want particularly the editors to think about this when they are putting together their monthly and yearly editorial plan:
1. The product range – our identity
We shall offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.
The objective must be to encompass the total home environment, i.e. to offer furnishings and fittings for every part of the home whether indoors or outdoors. The range may also include tools, utensils and ornaments for the home as well as more or less advanced components for do-it-yourself furnishing and interior decoration. It may also contain a smaller number of articles for public buildings. The range must always be limited to avoid any adverse effect on the overall price picture. The main effort must always be concentrated on the essential products in each product area.
The main emphasis must always be on our basic range – on the part that is “typically IKEA”. Our basic range must have its own profile. It must reflect our way of thinking by being as simple and straightforward as we are ourselves. It must be hard-wearing and easy to live with. It must reflect an easier, more natural and unconstrained way of life. It must express form, and be colourful and cheerful, with a youthful accent that appeals to the young at heart of all ages.
I love how open and yet well boundaried this is. In terms that I’ve heard lately for product development, this gives a clear idea of how the “total home environment” is the focus, but puts clear “guardrails” on the project by focusing on the “essential products” in each area as well as being “typically IKEA”. We should take a page out of this book and do the same.
The total home environment is very much our area of study. We want to celebrate the home and it’s improvement as being a fundamental support to daily life. In this way we are about self-help through a Good Life at home and every room and outdoor area – even bringing our home with us in travel – is fair game.
For The Kitchn, the project is similar: it celebrates the life of the cook at home, but also follows the food chain. In this way we will be concerned with food as it moves from farm to table and then out the back door into compost, where it all starts again.
The home is our personal space and the whole world can flow through it. Our interest lies in how this happens and how it happens really well.