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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Paradigm Shift

Posted by hal | August 29th, 2006 | Filed under Outdoor Sport

The model for marketing success in the outdoor industry has long been one of hero worship, centered on peak activities performed by elite athletes. The athletes and the activities themselves are elevated to mythical status, and the featured product is valued in part because it is perceived to be built to withstand the rigors of these extreme situations, but mostly because the purchaser feels that by wearing the same product as the rock star, surf god, or paddling diva who wore that product in the magazine, they would, by association, be perceived as being capable of the same feats.

There’s a new paradigm forming. One in which the aspirational model becomes more about the experience and less about the personality. In place of these sport specific uberathletes, the new role models are those individuals who understand their athleticism as just one part of what makes them who they are, who don’t simply recreate, but are acutely aware of the environment that sustains this recreation. They are multi-sport, multi-season athletes who understand the value in matching their activities to the conditions that exist and the opportunities that are available.

Our participation in the outdoors extends beyond the sports we do. Simply being out there invites an awareness of the fragile ecosystems that exist, and our responsibility to protect them for future generations. The new paradigm is one of a larger, more conscious view of the outdoor experience and how it fits into all aspects of one’s life. A view that includes the peak moments as well as the mundane, one that moves between trail and town, between hard core and hanging out.

It’s time to align ourselves with the values that draw us to the outdoors rather than with the high profile personalities that excel in only one small aspect of the larger outdoor experience.

10 Responses to “Paradigm Shift”

  • August 29, 2006 at 1:53 pm | eric says

    beautifully expressed. bravo, hal.

  • August 31, 2006 at 10:10 am | Ben Moon says

    Hi Hal,

    I enjoyed your latest blog entry and the photo looks great. It was an interesting read, as I am just now become more aware of a similar shift within myself: Who am I, and what am I giving back? Who are my friends and how do I contribute back to my friendships? What am I doing to minimize my footprint and make a difference? Instead of: I wish I could figure out the crux move on my latest 5.13+ project, or I wish I could have made the drop on the wave of the day. It is an interesting shift in perception and one I am grateful for… thanks for being a major force in a company that is starting off on the right foot with these values intact.


  • August 31, 2006 at 4:36 pm | kelly says

    The empty idolatry of athlete worship gives way to the joy of being present with nature, aware of ourselves as always outdoors; body and nature inseparable. This is Correct Seeing.

    In modern Buddhist thought, the Daoist duality of inside and outside, me and you, us and them, gives way to a non-dual enlightenment where we encounter the great tapestry of existence as one “thing” of which we are both inside and perceiving separateness simultaneously. There is no contradiction in this. A baby exists within the womb and also has separateness.

    So, in the same way, high technology apparel conceived as part of the natural fabric, born of a human creativity that is also nature herself, unfolding as a example of creation alive and breathing, aware and unconceited.

  • September 4, 2006 at 11:08 am | Douglas says

    Hero-worship has a seductive appeal because of what you mention, the self-identification with the heroic acts. We all crave the feeling of being excellent and sports advertising’s implicit suggestion is that if we buy the product, we will be able to perform those acts too. When explicit, the message looks ridiculous, but it taps into a desire for excellence that is deep, almost primal.

    As a history teacher, I worried about focusing on the exploits of “Great Men.” On one hand, heroes help us understand our power as individuals. At the same time, they set the bar unrealistically high. Not all of us can be Martin Luther King Jr. or a Nelson Mandela, but the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements were not them but thousands of courageous acts by “ordinary” people. In the words of Gregg Easterbrook, “The test of personal commitment is not whether you change the world, an impossible expectation: the test is whether you improve something you have the power to change.”

    You’re absolutely right, Hal. We need to be aware of interconnected web we live in. We need to have humility to the natural riches we’ve been granted. Lastly, we need to do our part. Thanks.

  • September 5, 2006 at 10:25 am | gary says

    This is excellent idea and I\’m looking forward to seeing real innovation and sustainability in sportswear and equipment. We as outdoor enthusiasts should be passionate about the environment and don\’t always have the best choices available when purchasing and using gear.

    Heh, just earlier today I was reading bout the Marathon Monks who run grueling 60 or 80km days for 1000 days in a quest for enlightenment.


    They do this in straw sandals and eating miso soup. Hardcore! I wonder though, if that dedication and spirituality might be a better role model for us age-groupers than trying to emulate a juiced-up olympic athlete with endorsement deals. There\’s a simple beauty to endurance exercise that can be lost in trying to be a synthetic cyborg road warrior.

    Again, thank you for building this and I\’m very keen to see how it turns out.

  • September 5, 2006 at 7:12 pm | Queso says

    Right on Hans, I like where you’re going here. Simply sponsoring an athlete is an easy way for a company to market itself no doubt. But I think there’s still room for positive associations between companies and professional athletes. Not all rock stars, surf gods and paddling divas are shallow. Many of them fully embrace the larger outdoor experience you described. Learning from their examples inspires me and improves my experiences significantly. Sometimes we need role models. Having the wisdom to choose the right ones is what counts.

    I look forward to visiting the kitchen often. Best of luck to you all.

  • September 5, 2006 at 8:30 pm | barbara says

    I think that the attitude change you are proposing is healthy, and that no one should be blindly following anyone reagrdless of who they are or what they may have achieved. Critical questioning is almost always the right thing to do. However emulation and mimicry has also always been a means of learning and understanding. Perhaps it is the motive behind the mimicking that is flawed and not the act itself. People will probably always be interested in things because they see someone who they think is interesting is doing it. You are still participating within these parameters, but existing within the set of those who do it for reasons other than wealth/power/money/being cool. (not that that is all bad)

    That said, I look forwards to the launch. It is encouraging that there are more companies producing products that are usefull, well designed and made in ethical and sustainable ways and not trying to only increase profit. ( not that that is all bad either).

  • September 10, 2006 at 4:46 pm | Mark Gamba says

    While I understand the reassurance that a famous athlete, particularly in the outdoor and adventure genre, gives the average man on the street regarding the quality of a given product, I think your direction is not only wise it’s also honest. Anyone in the industry knows that celebrity athletes don’t choose a product to endorse because they believe it to be the best of its kind; they choose a product to endorse because they are paid to do so.
    Your attitude towards marketing is novel and refreshing. Your company’s’ attitude towards sustainability and its awareness and caring for the world at large are exemplary. I look forward to experiencing the products you create with such forward thinking.

  • September 12, 2006 at 9:07 pm | Mark Newcomb says

    Outstanding athletic achievements can never be put too far aside. Who among us could ever hope to dunk like Jordan, swing like Woods, pull like Sharma or rip like Cattabriga-Alosa? A tiny few. Yet who among us doesn’t get a shiver when we see them at their best, or can’t avoid stopping to look if we see a highlight reel or poster of them at their best? We all do. The prowess of great athletes is both thrilling to watch and inspiring to all of us in some way, even if to simply push ourselves one step farther, one minute longer, one foot higher. Outdoor gear companies have given athletes, through sponsorship, loads of opportunities to do what they do best, to do what they were born to do, and deliver eye-popping and beautiful feats that inspire humanity. Sure there’s been a bad side, like there is to everything, but we would be poorer if we didn’t have our heros and their feats.

    That being said, companies can play a role in pushing their athletes towards a holistic approach. Companies set the marketing agenda and dictate it with dollars. If athletes get paid to not just boost misty 720′s off 60′ cliffs, but to understand mountain snowpacks, share what the mountains mean to them through their own creativity, earn turns instead of hog blade time, go low-impact, participate in a companies marketing, they will.

    Best to you all in your efforts to do the right thing.

  • October 19, 2006 at 2:43 pm | hal says

    Hi Mark-
    Very well stated. Eloquent,in fact.

    I completely agree with your contention that outstanding achievement is certainly a thing worthy of our admiration and our respect.
    I particularly like the “and” of asking that these incredibly talented, and therefore influential folks, use their influence to help spread a larger message.

    I know that Patagonia does this with their ambassadors (for the most part), and it is one of the most effective ways of spreading the word about the environment we all recreate in.

    Thanks for your perspective.

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