On Getting Out of the Way

I had a great conversation with Jedd Rose of Topo Designs this week. Eventually, it will be a podcast episode everyone will be able to share, which I’m super-excited about. But I wanted to share something Jedd talked about that I think has important application for us in our life and work.

Topo Designs, Colorado USA

Topo Designs is an outdoor gear and lifestyle company merging the throwback asthetic of 60’s and 70’s gear with modern materials. If you haven’t heard of their stuff, it’s definitely worth a look, just to see why and how they work, and what the end result looks like. When I asked Jedd why their gear is so stripped down (compared to most packs) he gave a very profound answer, and it wasn’t what I expected.

We want Topo gear to do exactly what is needed in your outdoor adventures, but nothing more. The pack should be a integrated in to the experience, and not conquer it. In a way, we want the gear to get out of the way and allow the outdoorsman to take in the majesty of the outdoors without fussing with his pack.

Dang.

Jedd’s words have resonated with me throughout the day, when I think about how often I try and trade up again and again for the latest and greatest, thinking more bells and whistles will improve my performance or experience. Obviously there’s a baseline of tech which helps, but I think mentally we stuck on the hamster wheel of “if I had this tool things would be better”. The value of continually upgrading isn’t always worth the energy, and I certainly believe the returns diminish quite rapidly after hitting the baseline.

I remembered I had seen this in real life, sitting at Yellowstone and waiting for Old Faithful to blow. We sat next to an elderly man, toting an old 35mm. Behind us, a man in his early 30s sported a new Canon DSLR. This 2nd man was like me. We waited, waited, and waited for the geyser to spout. Each time Old Faithful looked ready to fulfill her earthly duty, Canon man took about a dozen pictures in burst mode. This happened about a dozen times. He probably took 200 pictures of nearly the exact same view. The old man took one, maybe two. I was in the middle, taking more and less, mostly trying to video.

Finally, Old Faithful did what she was created to do, and let loose. Water shot in to the air, reaching towards the sky, falling back in thick mists that pelted our faces and fogged our lenses. Canon man was a fury of snapping, adjusting, and recording. I filmed most of the eruption, but simply held the camera steady as I watched with my own two eyes. Again, the old man took one, maybe two pictures, and watched.

Afterwards, Canon man fussed about his pictures, while the old man remained steady, watching the spray as it dissipated in to the air. Canon man had barely seen the show, and he will have 500 pictures to remind him of the time he took 500 pictures of Old Faithful. The old man experienced a stunning display of the earth’s power and force, and will have a couple of pictures to help him recall the prismatic effect of sky, sun, and water, the feel of mist on his cheeks, and the sound of untold gallons of water pumping through the earth.

The old man didn’t let the equipment get in his way. The camera integrated perfectly in to his experience. Topo tries to follow this process and mindset of simplicity and experience in the outdoors and in life. Jedd summed up their ethos with this quote:

Think canoe vs. motorboat. We’re the canoe. Handmade, artistic, and gliding smoothly along the water, connected to the environment.

I certainly hope to embody this more in my life and work. Jedd and I talked a lot about simplicity and priorities, and I look forward to sharing the full conversation with you.

In December, I’ll be launching a podcast called Story Signals. I’ll be learning from artists, entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, writers, and many other people who are living great stories. The best part is, we’ll all be learning together! To claim your spot on the launch list, and get access to a curated list of 9 videos to build your story, click here