I love Chip Hanauer, and I hate McDonald’s. I bet you didn’t expect to see those two cultural icons in my opening line. What’s more: What do they have to do with “On Watch” and legislative affairs?
Let me explain. You may have seen in recent months that McDonald’s has entered into the business of selling chicken wings. For someone like me who knows his way around a wing, I guarantee that better alternatives exist than the buck-a-wing you’ll find at the Golden Arches.
Apparently, I’m not alone. As McDonald’s looks to unload their inventory of 10 million wings, they are realizing that they are trying to solve a problem that does not exist. No one has an issue of finding wings. That’s because there are are two types of people in this world: Wing lovers and infidels.
And that’s where famed hydroplaner Chip Hanauer comes in. As Chip says, “Leadership is not a build-it-and-they-will-come process. Rather, it’s taking a community that already exists and leading them into a direction, connected and in concert. It’s about solving problems.”
Chip is our community’s Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Even better, he has a personality. And it’s not enough for him to head out on the water as much as possible. That would be fun, but for him it’s about promoting the water around us to everyone who lives here. “Imagine if you lived in Vail, Colorado and you didn’t ski. That’s the Northwest and boating,” says Chip.
As this story goes to print, the Seahawks and their ads, clothing and billboards are everywhere. As Chip says, “Sports teams do not define us, it’s the water.”
As the sage Jerry Seinfeld puts it, “Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team could move to another city . . . you’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You’re standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they’ll boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt, they hate him now!”
So, what’s Chip setting out to do? He has built a brand (“The Boat Guy”) around a community that is waiting to get led. His attention is focused on the curious class of boaters that are yearning for good times on the water (and land). I bet you know this person. His call to action is quite simple. He just needs the fun-loving freaks and geeks (that’s you and me) to watch his “The Boat Guy” stories (www.theboatguy.com).
I guarantee that once you do, you will tell a few friends. In turn, they will tell a few friends and his idea takes off.
And you will love his stories. He’s zany and quirky, eloquent, passionate and self-deprecating. I can’t help myself by not talking about his videos.
Just look at what he and Dwight Jones of Elliott Bay Marina have planned after the Seattle Boat Show. Their off-the-wall-idea is that once the Seattle Boat Show has concluded, people want to use their boat. I told you they were crazy. He’s pinpointed the problem: there are no planned outings for boaters in February. (Chip laughs at the notion that you can’t boat in the Northwest year-round.) “What upsets me more than anything is that people do not use their boats. The problem is that not enough people use their boats right after the Show,” says Chip.
That is, until this year. He is leading a trip to Poulsbo, Washington from February 7-9 that involves pubcrawls, concerts, bon fires, glogg tastings and boating. The catch (and what makes this a real tribe) is that there’s an exclusive part to it. As Dwight tells it, Poulsbo’s Chamber was so excited about this idea that they wanted their entire community to take part. Dwight and Chip, both in full agreement to who their tribe is and isn’t, quickly stopped that excitement. “This event is for boaters,” Dwight said in response. (Fortunately for you, there are tickets that remain. Check out their website for more information.)
Boating tribes do not stop there. Maybe you have heard about the community organizing taking place in the west Lake Union area of Seattle to find a better solution than cutting out fifty percent of the parking for a dedicated bicycle lane.
You see once upon a time, Seattle existed as a maritime community. The Westlake area perfectly exemplified this heritage. Every day, workers and boaters would roll into the working waterfront. Over time, the elected officials and bureaucrats have looked the other way with ever increasing regulations and zoning. Because of that, what we cherish as our water-dependent community has arrived at a crossroads.
Fortunately a group has formed (called the Westlake Stakeholders) to remind our city’s leaders that the working waterfront and water-dependent city are worth fighting for.
You can be assured that you will read about this issue often in my column, but for now it is about celebrating a boating leader that has emerged to lead us forward. His name is Cam Strong. As he tells it, this is not about bicycles or bicyclists. “This is about the city’s soul. Our maritime heritage is at a crossroads and it’s incumbent upon each of us that have maritime song in our hearts to step forward and protect what we have. If we don’t, we will lose what we love.”
There’s even more good news than Cam’s leadership style. For too long, this Westlake water-dependent community has existed without a real identity. When that happens, bad things happen. Now, a galvanized community made up of Westlake true believers (including me) have brought in top notch experts (think zoning attorneys and public affairs experts) to create the proper story for this remarkable community. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.
In their own ways, Chip and Cam are challenging the status quo with a story that needs to get told. They are heretics. They have found boating problems, applied a quartercup of jujitsu and have asked us to jump on board. In their own ways, they are preserving our culture by creating a tapestry of fresh ideas. Got glogg? Let’s raise our glasses to them. Now, go out and follow this tribe (and/or create a new one.) NWY
Westlake Stakeholders: westlakestakeholders.com
The Boat Guy: theboatguy.com
Inspiration for this column: Seth Godin’s Ted Talk on Tribes.