I have been looking for a special word to describe the kinds of companies and organizations whose culture, essence and qualities I admire.

The businesses whose superpowers I’m invoking when I make decisions for my own business.

–> The Fluent Self, Inc — aka the pirate ship and our new island and the port we’re building… :)

So I consulted with metaphor mouse, and the word we ended up with was beacons.

Beacons!

They emit light.

They penetrate fog. They give off signals — signals that can act as both warning or celebration. They show you where you could go, if you wanted to. And the word is related to beckon, which is kind of awesome.

So. Here are the beacons for my business. Note that not all of them share similar business models — what I’m looking at instead is essence, qualities and that jumbled thing we call culture.

Zingerman’s.

I’ve referenced Zingerman’s in a number of posts — as early on as Betty Boop is my business coach (nearly three years ago).

They were featured in the excellent book Small Giants, whose subtitle — Companies that choose to be great instead of big — pretty much sums up my entire philosophy.

Instead of becoming a chain, they intentionally stayed local, to huge success.

And — in an inspiring have-cake–eat-it-too way, they’re still a thriving international company, due to the magic of the internet. Now they have a giant side business based on mail order, and they run business trainings on how to replicate what they’ve done.

There are a couple dozen other things I admire about them but in the interest of brevity, here are three:

  • the quirky, silly, light-hearted, playful, colorful, distinctive graphic look and feel.
  • the ridiculously high quality of training for all employees, which is very much based on the concept of sovereignty, even if they don’t call it that.
  • the endless creative and non-traditional ways they’ve found to innovate (bacon camp!) and expand (the candy manufactory!).

The qualities that I’m inspired by:

Creativity, play, sovereignty, joyfulness, courage, expansiveness, service, certainty, trust, possibility.

Roller Derby!

Specifically WFTDA, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, but also the larger culture beyond the official organization. Everything from the derby nerds network to the drag names to the boutfits.

I love all of it.

And I am especially in awe of the way a massive organization made up of a ton of moving parts has been able to face the growth challenges that come with going from tiny to enormous in just a few years.

The qualities that I’m inspired by:

Fearlessness, power, order, trust, agility, adaptability, grace, speed, creativity, play.

Also the inclusivity: once you’re in derby, you’re derby for life. There is such an atmosphere of welcoming and belonging.

And the fun. The fact that even as a fast-changing, highly competitive athletic experience, there’s still a lot of room for fun. And for tutu-and/or-kilt-wearing referees.

Last night I taught a Shiva Nata class with the bad-ass Guns N Rollers (the team I sponsor), and it was seriously the most fun I have ever had working with athletes. We tore it up, but in the spirit of silliness. IT WAS AMAZING!

Michael Port.

This is an interesting one, because Michael and I have really different styles, in terms of marketing, voice, products, pretty much everything. There’s a lot we don’t necessarily agree on.

So maybe not a stylistic beacon or a content beacon, but a beacon in how he thinks about business and how he approaches it. I admire him.

Michael is the one who taught me about how to work with a team pirate crew, as I call it. He taught me how to hire and how to train.

I’ve learned other useful things from him as well. Like how to have deep love for your people without getting sucked into their stuff.

And the thing that I secretly think of as the inverse hourglass approach.

The qualities that I’m inspired by:

Trust, order, structure, caring, compassion, spaciousness, motivation, drive, love.

And there’s also something in there about belonging. Making room for people.

My friend Hiro and my uncle Svevo.

Two bright, creative, self-aware, fun-loving entrepreneurs, each of whom manages to live in a really sovereign way.

When they work on their businesses, they do it through play and experimentation.

Business does not get in the way of the desire to nap or go for a walk.

A feeling of urgency is a sign that there’s some internal stuff to investigate and check in with, not something that they assume is reality.

The qualities that I’m inspired by:

They do business the way they do everything else: in integrity, wholeness, patience, simplicity, wonder and delight.

Also: Comfort, trust, kindness, play, light-heartedness, provision, patience and forgiveness.

McMenamins.

The McMenamins brothers have done all sorts of spectacular things with unlikely and often abandoned buildings, in Oregon and Washington.

Like Zingerman’s, they’re another example of going big while staying local — and finding ways to grow and expand without trying to be everywhere at once or taking the bullying low road.

Cough. Starbucks.

The McMenamins spaces are all different, but they all share a similar feel, and similar warmth and goofiness.

And the concept of three-dollar-movies while getting beer and pizza delivered to your seat has made them beloved of Portlanders in particular.

Like with anything that grows, there are as many people who dislike them as like them, but I’m still hugely impressed by the choices they have made.

The qualities that I’m inspired by:

Experimentation, play, leadership, structure, innovation, conscious expansion, building community, delight in small details.

Those are my beacons.

These are the people, businesses and qualities that I’m keeping in mind as I steer the pirate ship towards bigger things and the adventures to come.

Sometimes when I’m feeling unsure of the future, I ask myself what Svevo would do, or how I’d solve a particular problem if I were the McMenamins brothers.

Having beacons doesn’t necessarily always tell me where to go, but it tells me that someone else has crossed these waters before.

And it gives me hope and inspiration. I can’t get lost if I follow the qualities.

Play with me? Comment zen for today…

I would absolutely love to know who your beacons are (in business, blogging or life in general), and what you’re inspired by.

As always, we’re all working on our stuff. Business is a trigger-filled topic and so we tread gently with other people’s stuff and let them have their own experience.

Not interested in: Arguing. People are entitled to their own beacons. No one is implying that their beacons should be your beacons. If you happen to dislike any of my beacons, that’s not information that needs to be shared.

What I would love: Thoughts on beacons and who/what your beacons are or might be, and anything related to this practice of finding the qualities.

That is all. Much love to all the commenter mice, the Beloved Lurkers and anyone who reads.