Thursday, May 17, 2007

Galapagos. “The archipelago of good behavior” (Paul Allen)

In his last post, fellow Trustmeister Jarvis Cromwell made mention of my recent journey to the Galapagos Islands. My wife, 13-year-old daughter and I had the good fortune to go on an expedition to this isolated archipelago; one of the most remote, unique and protected ecosystems on this planet.

The reputation of Galapagos* precedes it. It is the land of Darwin and his many finches. It is home to endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. It is made of active volcanoes. It is at the crossroads of four major ocean currents converging 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It is a very cool place that a lot of people feel is important to experience in their lifetime.

I, for one, couldn’t agree more.

Like any vacation, this trip was planned as an escape; an immersion into an environment so interesting and stimulating that it left daily concerns irrelevant and quietly tucked away for another time. But, as it turns out, Galapagos dramatically brings to life fundamental qualities that cross traditional borders between the personal and professional. So it was more than vacation; it was a looking glass in which to view our own relationships, priorities and actions.

Pretty heavy stuff, eh? Particularly for a vacation.

So what are these “fundamental qualities” and what the heck has this got to do with the Reputation Garage? My answer is that what I observed and experienced in Galapagos are at the core of managing reputation – observed unfettered and uninterrupted. They are:

1. Unspoken Trust.

Perhaps the first and most startling impression made by Galapagos is the fact that the creatures who reside there have no fear of man. None. To be among sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and white-tipped sharks (to name a few) and be accepted as unthreatening was a remarkable experience. Sea lions would curl up on guests’ beach towels. Galapagos mockingbirds would sit on your hat. Giant sea turtles permitted a swim beside them. Penguins dried themselves on warm lava rocks and posed for your photos. Nobody fled. Everybody behaved naturally. No one violated personal boundaries (touching the animals is forbidden).

There was trust in the air. Very refreshing.

This aura of unspoken trust very quickly permeated the expedition group, our tour leaders, and other indigenous life to make us one in the mission of comfortably, naturally and permanently being enriched by Galapagos.

Talk about team building.

2. Unwavering Stewardship

The enchanted, trustful world of the Galapagos is no accident. It is the result of a number of organizations, private and public, all over the world deciding what guidelines would foster and preserve this ecosystem. The implementation of these guidelines is unwavering. Visiting Galapagos is only possible in the company of licensed guides and their organizations - dedicated individuals who have decided to make the sustainability of the Galapagos their vocation; accepting the responsibility of educating while guiding, of protecting while making things accessible.

Perhaps the most powerful example of this stewardship was when, on one trek, our naturalist stooped to pick up something miniscule on a trail to place it aside, off the trodden path. Invisible at a glance, we asked what he moved. It turned out to be an insect. Endemic to the islands. An important part of the food chain. One that should not be altered by an errant Teva.

Excellent attention to detail. No "green lipstick" here.

And while the rules of visiting first seemed limiting, it became starkly apparent that it was exactly these rules, and the unwavering stewardship of the naturalists, that would make our Galapagos experience as connected and authentic as it was.

(Interesting to think about how good guidelines can make things more authentic.)

3. Respectful Behaviors

One of the creatures talked about often during ship-board lectures was us – human beings. We were mostly referred to as the “world’s most invasive species”. Great pain was taken to illustrate that in order for ecosystems to thrive, humans must be managed accordingly. Otherwise, for sure, we will begin to behave badly and do something counter-productive. Guaranteed.

So emerged the notion of respectful behaviors. Not just between humans and the other species present in Galapagos. But amongst the variety of humans who chose to participate in this expedition and experience the Galapagos. The crew and guests of the MS Polaris** (our expedition ship), men, women and children, from age 90 to age 8, regardless of demographic or socio-graphic background, all learned how to respect and be respected in their Galapagos experience.

And that, my friends, is good behavior.

This brings me back to the reputation thing. As a Trustmeister here in the Reputation Garage, I felt the need to share these three dimensions of reputation as experienced in Galapagos. Personally, I find them to be highly actionable experiences. My hope is that reading this may cause you to think about these issues in a more palpable manner. And perhaps ask yourself some questions.

How does one foster unspoken trust in life and in commerce?

What kind of colleagues make for an unwavering commitment to an organization, belief or cause?

When does mutual understanding and unexpected common ground act as catalyst for enjoyable and respectful behaviors?

Important questions, I think, on the road to a good and strong reputation.

I started this post by noting that the reputation of Galapagos preceded it. Now for me, it follows it. More alive and vibrant than I expected and imagined. The reputation of Galapagos was eclipsed by the visit itself. How often does that happen? Imagine making that happen for your business, and your life. Sounds pretty good.

So at the end of the day, people ask me a simple question.

Q: “How was your trip?”

A: “It was a privilege.”

Q: “What do you mean a privilege?”

It was a privilege to see three vital forces at work in their most primal, passionate form: unspoken trust, unwavering stewardship and respectful behaviors; indelible images that will influence my personal choices and professional endeavors moving forward. And maybe, through this post, yours too.

“Good reputation is a privilege and an increasingly precious commodity in our trust-starved world.

Create it. Live it. Protect It.”



*the locals never precede the name with “the” – they speak it as a living name – these islands are simply “Galapagos”.

** in the spirit of spreading some good reputation information – our trip was run by Lindblad Expeditions aboard the MS Polaris. They did an exemplary job exceeding all
expectations on a “high-expectation” trip. You can check them out at

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