How REI discovered their purpose

REI’s Seven Steps to Discovering Purpose

Doesn’t it seem that stores are opening earlier and earlier every year for Black Friday? Sometimes I feel bad for those who have to work on Thanksgiving evening.

Looks like I’m not alone.

If you love the outdoors, you probably know REI (which stands for Recreational Equipment Incorporated). Since 2015, REI closes its stores for Thanksgiving and Black Friday. In fact, Black Friday is a paid holiday for its employees; REI encourages its employees as well as customers to go outside on Black Friday. Here’s what the current CEO Jerry Stritzke said:

We believe that being outside makes us our best selves — healthier and happier, physically and mentally. But as a nation we’re still spending over 90 percent of our lives indoors and it’s a trend we need to tackle. I love that there is a community of people in this country who dedicate their lives to that mission, so together, we are asking America “Will you go out with us?”

I’d like to share with you about how REI’s leadership team clarified and discovered their purpose. Straight from REI’s former CEO Sally Jewell, she describes how they discovered their purpose:

We spent time as a large leadership group, 150 people asking, “Why does REI exist?” Then we asked ourselves five times, “Why is that important?” And two more questions: “What would happen if REI went away?” and then, “Why do I devote my creative energies to this organization?” We took those couple hundred sheets and came up with one core purpose: to inspire, educate, and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. While we make money be being an outfitter, what we really do is inspire people to do things they aspire to do — educate them so they can try something that they’ve been uncomfortable trying before. And if we do that well, it works its way into their everyday lives and they begin to give back, and that’s the stewardship component.

Whew. That’s quite a dense and powerful quote. Let’s unpack it.

REI’s Purpose Discovery Process

  • Gather your team.
  • Ask: Why do you exist?
  • Ask “Why is that important?” five times.
  • Ask: What would happen if you went away?
  • Ask: Why do you devote your creative energies to your organization?
  • Gather everyone’s answers.
  • Review and internalize the results to craft your purpose statement.

There you have it - seven steps to discovering purpose.