From an early age, rebellion seemed to run through my veins. I was never the girly girl who dressed in frills and pink, hosted stuffed animal tea parties, and daydreamed about her wedding day. Instead I competed against the boys in feats of athleticism, created science experiments with my chemistry kits, and transformed my dolls into punk and goth icons. My parents learned to expect the unexpected from me and even nurtured that streak as long as I kept my grades high. Little did any of us realize that my personality would one day fit tongue-and-groove within an industry that didn’t even exist as I was growing up in 80s. On the flip side, my path seemed to be predefined by the actions of my ancestors, as my family tree continued to spawn rebel fruit generation after generation.
My grandfather was an owner of a brewery in Lithuania prior to World War II. He was a highly educated man, an attorney with strong patriotic ties. When the Russians occupied the Baltics, my grandfather was seen as a threat to their regime and was arrested as a patriot freedom fighter. He was sent to a Siberian concentration labor camp, and the brewery was dismantled, all paperwork of its existence destroyed. When the camp was liberated eight years later, he returned to find no trace of his past and no way to move forward. Rather than giving in to the Soviet Union with quelled servitude, he flipped them the bird and flew off to blaze a new life. He escaped to the United States and never returned.
Flash forward 70 years. After a decade of stints in various industries, often leaving each frustrated, his granddaughter starts her journey with craft beer, unsure of where it would lead, but confident that a conventional, corporate life was not a fit. There were too many rules that existed for no reason other than to keep an established order, quashing creativity. The craft beer industry, however, was chock full of startups filled with an openness towards chaotic good. Some grew to a certain size and evolved to look like their corporate macro brethren, but the majority of us remain a channel of pioneering spirit, breaking rules, and finding new ways to thrive outside of the norm.
It’s important we continue staying true to ourselves while bringing other rebels aboard. Research has proven it pays (in terms of bottom line!) to find people who break the rules and think differently than us in order to keep our breweries ripe for nimbleness, innovation, and pivots to our business model. Novelty, curiosity, diversity, differing perspectives, and authenticity should comprise the essence of our companies’ DNA. The command-and-control style of leadership may work for other industries, but ours evolves too quickly for tradition to keep hold. The price we often pay for comfort is the loss of relevance.
Encourage constructive dissent and open conversations within your conversations. Allow coworkers to disagree with you rather than dismissing or letting them go. Groupthink encourages a creative rut, and while the importance of alignment, looking in the same direction to the future, can not be understated enough, this can be accomplished through the lens of respectful challenge rather than fear-inducing compliance.
Novelty, curiosity, diversity, differing perspectives, and authenticity should comprise the essence of our companies’ DNA.
As a leader, if you ask for creative input from your team, avoid treating it as an academic exercise by leaving it on the table, ignored. Keep your collective minds hungry. Continue asking yourselves about the unmet needs of your customers and how you can fulfill them. Never settle. Never sit still.
We are trailblazing champions of collaboration few industries have the capability and capacity to mimic. Take advantage of learning from each interaction during our collective brew days, whether technically or personally. New ideas arise when we ask ourselves ‘why not?’, and one never knows how or when that conversation may start.
As beacons of independent beer, we may represent the minority in terms of market share, but we are mighty. We are true. We are honest. We are open. So let that guerilla flag fly high and keep breaking the rules. Our disregard for the establishment allows us to create new styles, new formats, new experiences, and new ways of running our respective businesses. Our rebel yell has a purpose. Let’s keep fanning those flames and planting those seeds. Let those who don’t . . . follow. Dare them to keep up.
I know my grandfather would be proud.