“I have made my world, and it is a much better world than I ever saw outside.” — Louise Nevelson
Growing up in the wilds of Newton, Massachusetts, my hero was Tarzan. I admired his special relationship with animals, and hoped that I could live such a life when I was old enough to move from my suburb to a distant land.
Two summers ago, I became enthralled with Disney’s animated Tarzan movie (good thing I have two young daughters who give me an “excuse” to see Disney films). Phil Collins’ soundtrack — led by the title song, “Two Worlds, One Family” — brought Tarzan to life and articulated a sentiment I have felt since my youth.
The phrase “Two Worlds, One Family” refers to the world of animals (specifically gorillas) that raises Tarzan, and to the world of people that provides his genetic history. First there’s war, then peace, as Tarzan brings together the best of two worlds — human and animal — to create a family like no other.
As with all pioneers, Tarzan stands out as an original — a connector and a facilitator.
“I am a part of all that I have met.” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Mike Porter was born of Czechoslovakian and American blood. He became an All-American golfer and played a mean bass guitar while studying industrial engineering at Princeton. Porter finished his studies at Harvard Business School where he entered the small, prestigious joint Ph.D. program in Business Economics after receiving his MBA.
The program was Harvard’s first formal attempt to marry the worlds of public policy and business — worlds that had often been at odds in the past. Its founder, finance professor John Lintner (co-creator of the Capital Asset Pricing Model), designed the program for handpicked finance students from around the globe. Lintner saw the rigor of economic theory and the practicality of financial markets blending into a powerful set of analytical tools for his future academic, business, and government leaders.
But it wasn’t until Lintner accepted Mike Porter into the program that he came to realize the enormous potential for his vision in other disciplines.
“The eyes of my eyes are opened.” — e.e. cummings
In 1980, Porter published “Competitive Strategy.” Based on five years of field research and tested thoroughly in his popular Harvard MBA course by the same name, this breakthrough book became a global blockbuster. Now in its 60th English printing and , 19 languages, “Competitive Strategy” contains Porter’s economic analysis of industries. It captures the complexities of competition in five underlying forces and encapsulates the wiles of strategy in three basic categories.
Porter married the somewhat arcane academic world of applied microeconomic theory (a.k.a. Industrial Organization) with the world of business policy, the practical study of how companies can operate best in different business environments. In so doing, he created an enduring new field of study and re-energized the consulting industry, exemplified by his own firm, Monitor Company.
Porter went on to expand his model and new analytical field to understand how to make businesses, industries, nations, inner cities, and even musicians like James Taylor more competitive and more successful by providing for all stakeholders.
Like Tarzan, Porter walked down a risky road. He had many detractors who saw his work as “too academic” (business scholars) or “not rigorous” (economists). No matter. He remained firm in his resolve. He drafted a new way to model competition that can be used to predict winners and losers, and introduced a new category of business economics scholarship — one with more rigor applied to the study of business success, and with a more approachable explanation of the economic forces affecting competitors.
“In any relationship, two halves don’t make a whole. Two wholes make a whole.” — Jo Coudert
Brand Lifeline: Build Your Brand by Uniting Perceived Opposites
“The true problems of living are always problems of overcoming or reconciling opposites.” — E. F. Schumaker
Think of the greatest brands in the world. In retailing, Wal*Mart may come to mind; in consumer products, Coca-Cola. Wal*Mart shattered the conviction that small towns could not support big stores. Coca-Cola similarly demonstrated that inexpensive, consumer products could become national (global) brands.
In both cases, the solution was a new kind of logistics system (cross-docking of inventory and regional bottlers) that required foresight and investment. Wal*Mart and Coca-Cola revealed that two irreconcilable opposites were actually two reconcilable complements. Progress is all about making two into one.
We see it with people and personas, too. In the 1950s, Lucille Ball’s I Love Lucy became one of the most watched television shows in the United States (and by the 1990s, the most popular rerun in the world).. Her character was the first to combine physical slapstick comedy with beauty and sex appeal.
In the 1970s, David Carradine’s Kung Fu became a cult hit in three short years. The protagonist Kwai Chang Caine – half-American, half-Chinese — was raised in a Shaolin monastery in China, then ventured to the American Wild West in the 1880s. He combined the spiritual humility of a monk with the physical efficacy of Kung Fu fighting to create a memorable, unique character.
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” — E. B. White
I thank these originals for demonstrating how to build a powerful brand. I Four years after Mike Porter became the first non-finance student in the joint Ph.D. program in Business Economics, I followed as the second. His example made it easier for me to recognize that I could combine in my own way the schools of public policy and private profit.
I have combined my interest in two of the three forces that I believe motivate human beings: religion (spirituality, public good) and economics (money, material benefit). Money and meaning; success and significance. I have discovered that “humanistic business” is not an oxymoron.
Great brands are originals. Originals are built on relationships — connected, but unique — with what we know and what we care about. These creative combinations open our minds to new ways of perceiving the world and our selves — to new ways of solving important human needs better than we could ever imagine before.
“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out.” — Dee Hock
Copyright © 2000 Dr. Mark S. Albion. All rights reserved.
by Mark Albion