I was eager to dig into my research paper for the coaching program at Columbia University. I wanted to discover ways to make tools for my clients really stick. You know what I’m talking about: you read a great book or take a workshop and have inspirational aha’s. You mark pages with sticky notes and can’t wait to put it all to use. Only you don’t.
My first interview was with Amy Hiett, General Manager of The Table Group, home of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, one of the most effective tools out there to help teams work better together. After some mild celebrity worship, I asked Amy how they helped teams deeply use the tools, and really make them stick. She said, “We don’t. If the team doesn’t pull the practices in, they’ll never work. We can’t push this on people or organizations.” She finished with, “If a potential client doesn’t fully commit to the work, we won’t take on the engagement.”
I changed my research topic.
Nothing brings this “ya gotta wanna” truth alive more than Allbirds. Right after the launch of the Wool Runners, Tim and Joey invited me to help their team put words to their mission and values. They had already done deep branding work with Red Antler that oozed authenticity and staked out no-compromise brand values of simplicity, comfort, and materials made from nature. That work fueled a wildly successful launch.
As we were getting started on the mission and values work, I introduced Tim and Joey to a new-to-me visioning tool via Building a Great Business. They read the book, had their small team read it, and said, “Let’s go.” They PULLED this in. In the midst of launching a shoe brand, dealing with pesky start-up glitches such as inventory shortages and distribution headaches, and overwhelming work demands for dozens of people with only 10 on board, they found time and made this a priority.
While I provided the framework and facilitated a process, Tim, Joey and the team did the heavy lifting to get it done. It was an inclusive effort bringing in new staff as they joined, BOD members, advisors, and investors.
In forming Allbirds, Tim and Joey acted with deep intention, were open and curious, and dedicated to simplicity guided by the wisdom of our natural world. These became the core values — the timeless tenets that guide decision making and behavior. Making better things in a better way through nature and serving as a driving force in a new age of sustainable manufacturing captured the why, the mission: Allbird’s true north. The 2026 vision painted an inspiring and vivid picture of a multi-product company with global reach, a hub for natural materials innovation, operating excellence driving global environmental standards, and a proud culture of care that stayed true to itself.
The real work always comes after the vision, mission, and values are inaugurated. The true power is unleashed through living them. Jay Coen Gilbert’s interview with Joey earlier this year in Forbes says more about how this core drives Allbirds than I ever could.
Allbirds is living the dream. Yes, AND, Tim and Joey created the conditions for the dream to be realized. Perfect company? Culture? Of course not. Things always go smoothly? That’s ridiculous. What was created serves as the bones of an operating system that guides business decisions, helps recruit people who share their ethos, and is fully equipped with a GPS to get them back on track when things get out of whack. And things always get out of whack.
Allbird’s Wool Runners launched just over three years ago. Time Magazine declared them the “World’s Most Comfortable Shoes.” They’re worn by tech giants, millennials and Gen Xers, and people of a certain age. In just two years, a million pairs were sold, and they exploded into unicorn status with a reported $1.4 billion valuation. Founded and led by Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds is almost 200 people strong, has added materials sourced from trees and sugar cane, and introduced several true-to-brand styles with staying power. There’s much extraordinary about this story including that the original design, making, and launch of the shoes happened without any shoe experience. They just figured it out. The flight of this flock’s only just begun.
Sunday Morning Reflection
What would make a difference for you, your work, your company, or your family if you really PULLED it in? What’s gonna make ya wanna?
Sunday Morning: 104