“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.” – John Stuart Mill
Ok, I have to admit it, in the spirit of continuous improvement, I went looking for moose again, dragging my family along (but I don’t think they minded). This time, with the aid of Jerry the Moose Whisperer, I found one. My search for the elusive moose has provided the material for a number of blog pieces over the years as well as expeditions to various parts of the country and became the title of a book I wrote on organizational goal setting called “A Moose in the Distance”.
Each summer we take a vacation as soon as school lets out and before camp starts for my daughter. This year we drove up to Maine. We spent a day in Freeport, rummaging around its shops and the fabulous L.L. Bean store, and taking in a Saturday night concert on the green. Then we headed further north along the coast to Acadia National Park with its breathtaking seascapes and mountain vistas. On the way to Acadia, we took a rest stop in Georgetown, which sits on the very end of one of those Maine peninsulas, those fingers of land that jut out into the Atlantic Ocean. Sitting on the dock in Georgetown was the Five Island Lobster Company which gets its seafood, the day’s catch of Haddock and Lobsters, from the fishermen returning to the dock and cooks them up fresh for those who manage to find them. A very popular place as its reputation for quality sea food has people seeking them out in this out of the way location.
We clambered aboard a whale watching tour boat in Bar Harbor, traveling 10 miles or so out to sea, first visiting an island where Puffins breed and then in an area called the ballpark, we caught sight of a rare and endangered North Atlantic Right whale, with only 400-450 left, a Finback and a few Minke whales. All in all we had a whale of a time, even though maybe a quarter of the people on the ship ended up sea sick. Every crew member was walking about suitably attired in surgical gloves, carrying paper towels, disinfectant spray and barf bags.
Then we headed in-land and further north to Bingham, Maine and North Country Rivers, an outfitter, lodging and camping facility, where Jim, provides white water rafting, bicycling, ATVs, snowmobiling and moose safaris among his offerings. The cabin we stayed in was on the edge of a grass landing strip and I have to admit to being somewhat startled early one morning as a small plane took off right outside my window.
At the end of our first evening there, pretty far out in the middle of no-where, on a logging road cut through the dense forest, marshes and ponds, in a van being driven by a guide known as Jerry the Moose Whisperer, we caught sight of Matilda, a moose of noble character who graciously gave us about 3 minutes of her time before retreating into the denser forest. It felt like little more than an extended glimpse, but it fulfilled a goal I had set for myself a number of years earlier to see a moose in the wild. It was a great feeling to accomplish the long sought after sighting. We also did some hiking there to Moxie Falls, a waterfall deep in the woods and rode trail bikes down an old railroad bed, which North Country Rivers had helped convert for use by the general public.
And of course I couldn’t help myself, analyzing the behaviors of the organizations around me and the people who were part of those organizations, wondering what lessons I could incorporate from these experiences into my worldview. While some of the messages about what makes for interesting experiences and product differentiation are very clear, I came away with mixed feelings about the state of humans, our societies and what we are capable of. First let’s look at organizational experiences offered and how they stood out in a positive fashion.
L.L. Bean is well known for the quality of their products and their 100% satisfaction guarantee. But I have access to that through their catalog sales or website. The experience in their store in Freeport however stands out as a differentiator for me. First, the attitudes of the sales force is superb, they genuinely convey a feeling of wanting to help. Second, the selection is mind boggling. You needed a trail bike? Here are 150 different models to choose from. The store itself is open 24/7, and many make it an experience to go to the store at off hours which is quite a different experience than when it is packed during the day. Within the store you can sign up to take classes, or go on expeditions using their gear. They are a good neighbor, visibly supporting the local community and environmental causes that people care about. Can only large organizations operate in this fashion? Looking at some of the smaller organizations I encountered on this trip answers that question.
The Five Island Lobster Company is not a large organization and yet it too offers a very unique experience in its own way, residing in a small building, almost a shack on a dock, offering up some of the best tasting fish and lobster you will ever eat. Yes, the selection here is limited to what the fishermen bring back as the catch of the day, but the experience and quality is unsurpassed. What makes people drive 20 miles down a narrow peninsula to a small building on a dock to eat some fish, knowing that the only way back is to retrace your footsteps back up that 20 mile long road? A unique experience, supporting a fishing culture that is long on historical significance and today is carried out in a sustainable fashion, in an area that visually will simply take your breath away and most importantly, serving a very high quality product.
The uniqueness of experiences is perhaps best brought out by the whale watching and moose safari. Yes, you can cook your own fish, you can take a boat out on the ocean yourself (and perhaps return), you can drive your own car into the back woods of Maine, but the likelihood of having a successful experience, spotting the whale or seeing the elusive moose, becomes much greater when you engage in those activities with organizational specialists dedicated to creating experiences that you would have a hard time duplicating on your own.
When the experiences you have and the organizations that create them link their products to higher causes, such as preservation, research, job creation, education, or personal health and fitness, people are likely to feel even better about engaging in them. For instance, each whale expedition had on board researchers from Allied Whale, part of the College of the Atlantic who were collecting data on the whales for research purposes. The boat stopped at an island and took the time to talk by radio to a researcher who is spending the summer collecting data on Puffins and other birds during the summer breeding season, conveying a bevy of up to the moment facts and figures. The Moose Whisperer engages in a non-stop dialog, educating his passengers about growing up in rural Maine, environmental conditions and the wildlife to be found along the trail, not to mention some other odd characters who add local flavor, like the squatter on the paper company land who occasionally is spotted wandering about naked. While he played at being the simple country-bred man, it was very clear that there was a very articulate, skilled and thoughtful person under the exterior façade. And North Country Rivers itself is creating jobs in an area that would be hard pressed otherwise to create them.
High quality products, processes that deliver up experiences and services that are unique or hard to duplicate, supplied by experienced staff who obviously take pride in what they do and perhaps want to share some of what they know with you, letting you in on some mysterious or moosterious, but perhaps hard to acquire information. When taken all together they create an unbeatable combination.
Though I would say that I felt very positive about most of my experiences this trip, and would certainly recommend the trip to anyone, at the other end of my musings, I could not help but feel somewhat depressed by spotting floating garbage bags, plastic and other waste in what you would want to be pristine ocean waters. Historically the Right whale was so named by whalers, because to them it was the right whale to kill, of the right size and once killed because of its high blubber content, floated to the surface. And kill them they did, almost to the point of extinction. There were instruction cards on the boat from NOAA on how best to disentangle sea turtles from fishing nets, a man-made hazard that has threatened that graceful species.
And out in the middle of the Maine woods, on land which had been denuded by lumber companies, garbage such as bottles, cans, bits and pieces of machinery, plastic pails and in general debris left by logging operations was not hard to find. I know we need to exploit the resources of this planet in order to survive ourselves. I have no argument with those who hunt or fish and consume what they catch or kill, or make their living that way. I enjoy reading newspapers as much as anyone and have been known to dabble in woodworking. I have no desire to live in a cave with no heat or air conditioning, wearing crudely fabricated garments (hey wait a minute, that’s what my wife says I wear). But, ever since we have been exploiting the resources of this planet, why has our civilization done so in such a destructive a fashion? Why have we driven so many species such as the Right whale to the point of extinction? Why when we harvest lumber, even if we do so in a sustainable fashion, do we leave the garbage of our operations scattered behind us? Didn’t their parents teach them to clean up after themselves? Why can we not operate in a way that preserves the resources of this planet in such as fashion that future generations will need in order to be successful? I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, as there are many organizations out there doing the right thing and operating in a fashion that should be modeled by others. Yet, until they become the standard by which everyone operates, it is in our best interests as a society to make sure organizations operate in a fashion by which our planet and all the creatures with which we share it with can prosper.
During the Passover meal in Jewish households, there is a point in the meal at which a matzah is broken in half and one portion hidden for the children in the room to find later, it is called the Afikoman. The search for the Afikoman by the children is to help remind those present that “what seems lost can be recovered, and what seems broken repaired”. It is up to us to make those sentiments something more than a meal-time ritual.
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