Business isn't "business as usual" here at TOM BIHN, and that takes some explaining. In 2013, we authored our first TOM BIHN Company Philosophy book as a way to help newly-hired folks get to know us a little better. Over the years, people have asked us to make a public version of our Company Philosophy. With a few minor edits and additions, here it is!
We Know Our Stuff
OK, here’s the one time we’ll brag. Our bags are made with Tom’s 40+ years of design experience, and, between the folks on our production crew, over 200 years of skilled bag making experience. That’s years and years of working with and learning about materials, trying different designs and figuring out why stuff works or doesn’t work.
Our company is more than 30 years old now. We are who we are, and we make what we make; a lot of people love that, and for that we are eternally grateful. We are fortunate enough to be able to define ourselves.
It might sound impressive to tell you about who our “demographic” is, but that’s not a term in our company vocabulary. We believe talking that way about the people who buy our bags reduces them to numbers, and we see them as people, an expansive variety of people. We make our bags for everyone: teachers, EDC-ers, knitters, business owners, ultralight travelers, students, those who serve in the military, families, filmmakers, grocery store clerks—everyone.
Quality takes time and patience
There’s a school of thought that it’s best to “just get something done” so one can cross it off a list, with the focus more on simply completing the task than the quality and thoroughness of the work done to complete the task. Time to drop out of that school. Around here, we strive to focus on the journey as much as the destination. Sure, we want to get things done and projects completed just as much as anyone else, but we’re not willing to sacrifice the quality of the outcome just to get something done. This applies to the manufacturing of our bags, the design of our bags, the composition of our emails, the phone calls we participate in, the group meetings we have—basically everything we do.
The action of non-action
We believe that there’s a time for action and a time for non-action. This is to say that when non-action is a conscious choice, it is an action in and of itself. Timing is everything, and if our instincts tell us it’s not the right time to push a project through to completion, we’ll trust ourselves and go with that. We’ve found over the years this mostly proves successful; projects we delayed became better and stronger when we waited until the time was right to complete them.
It takes time to get to know us, but it’s worth it
In general, we don’t brag (you know, except for at the beginning of this manifesto). We don’t proclaim who we are except for right here, right now. We go about doing what we’re good at, what we love, and we figure most people will see how cool that is ... if they pay attention.
Everyone wants to go to work and do a great job. There’s a satisfaction in that that’s unlike anything else out there. We think people can work hard, make great contributions and have fun all the while. Does it mean every minute is fun, or even every day is fun? No. Everyone gets stressed or has bad days; it's okay, we're human. Ultimately, we’re here doing what we do because it’s what we love, and we want everyone to feel that too if they're open to it.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn,
“Mindfulness means paying
attention in a particular way;
On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Paying attention in a mindful way can lead to great creativity and ideas, better working relationships, more efficiently designed processes, and a bunch of other really great stuff. Sounds easy, but it takes lots of practice, because it is a process of practice.
Being mindful can be especially useful in stressful situations. It can help us differentiate between what is actually happening right now and what we imagine or think could happen in the future, which can sometimes feel as real as what is actually happening right now!
Take a moment to stop and focus: what's happening right now, in this moment, right in front of you? Is it truly a crisis? If so, respond with appropriate immediate action. If not, when you take a moment to thoughtfully consider the situation, it may lead to a better outcome (and be easier on you and those around you).
Decades of running a business has taught us this the hard way. At first, everything can seem important, a crisis, something to be acted upon. The stress that arises from a crisis, real or perceived, can become addictive and spread rapidly. That stress is there for a purpose in a real crises; we find it's not useful for everyday challenges. Operating in a crisis state for extended periods of time can lead to burnout. We strive to do our best to consider: "Is this worth getting stressed out about or treating as a crises, or can we face it and move onward?"
Put yourself in other people's shoes
Coworkers, boss, manager, customer, delivery person and anyone else you deal with during your work day: imagine yourself in one of their positions and try to see things from their perspective. Gain some understanding of what it looks like on the other side of things. And, hey, don’t just imagine it: if you wonder something, ask. Being curious is a wonderful thing to be: it frees you from the burden of thinking you know everything! Ask Bob our UPS driver: “How’s the holiday season busyness going so far for you?” or, ask him if it works better for him if we stack boxes “this way” versus “that way.” Most folks will be pleasantly surprised by how you're paying attention.
We're all in this together
Whether it’s a success, the usual everyday, or a failure, we are in this together: shipping and customer service crew, production, website folks, accounting, design, the owners—everyone. We're in this together whether we agree or disagree, and whether it's a good day or a bad day. When differences of opinion or conflicts arise (and they will, because we are humans, after all) our goal is to ask the person with whom we disagree, with genuine curiosity, about where they're coming from. And then we listen to them before we share our point of view. We're not saying that's an easy thing to do, but we have experienced how it can transform a contentious situation into one in which we still might not agree (that’s OK) but everyone's been heard and is valued. That's magic.
When it feels like a bad day, it's because we've forgotten that we're all in this together. Remembering that and truly listening to other people is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other.
We’re spontaneous — we invite you to roll with it
We might decide that today’s the day to retire a certain bag and not give you advance warning because we just decided that ourselves. Or, maybe we’re analyzing what our intuition (we already looked at the numbers; now it’s up to our intuition) tells us about retiring or reordering a particular color. We realize this might cause some issues with production or customer service, but, at the same time, it’s who we are and who we’ve always been. That style of decision making is part of the unique culture that makes us a successful company. We kindly ask you to roll with our spontaneity. If it causes you grief, talk with us about it. Our company won’t change who it is, but maybe there are procedures we can put in place to help.
Be mindful of the messages and mantras you repeat
In an interview with Arthur Schlesinger, Jackie Kennedy recalled that she complained to John F. Kennedy that she hated Texas Governor John Connally. JFK responded:
“You mustn’t say that, you mustn’t say that. If you say that you hate someone, then the next day you’ll act as if you hated him.”
We also believe this to be true. Talk and think in extremes, and you’ll be living extremes, and so will the people around you. Think about this in terms of customers: we think they know if they’re talking to someone on the phone who is frustrated with them. Even if we don’t say something obvious to indicate it, the feeling might still be there. Or, think about this in terms of your coworkers: if there’s someone you have a problem with, try to put that extreme feeling aside. Remember, they’re a human too, and talk with them about it. Or, think about this in terms of the company: is there something you just don’t agree with or think is a bad idea or inefficient? Frustrating, we bet. Talk with us about it, and we’ll all work together with open minds.
There’s likely easier ways of making a living than what we’ve chosen to do here at TOM BIHN. Making stuff and delivering it is hard work. Getting all the right materials, processes and people together (at more or less the right time, no less) is complicated—complicated enough that things seldom go exactly according to plan. But it’s also totally rewarding when we see ideas become realities, watch new crew become skilled craftspeople, and hear that our bags are appreciated and are serving folks well in use. It’s great fun, and we consider ourselves fortunate beyond measure.