A timeless classic

Abraham Lincoln (the sixteenth President of the United States) wrote this letter to his son’s headmaster. He is ranked by scholars among the top three US Presidents of all time. Simply put, the letter below is a timeless classic – as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his Son’s Headmaster

“He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true. But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero: that for every selfish politician, there is a dedicated leader…. Teach him that for every enemy there is a friend, it will take time, I know; but teach him if you can, that a dollar earned is of far more value than five found…. Teach him to learn to lose and also to enjoy winning. Steer him away from envy, if you can. Teach him the secret of quiet laughter. Let him learn early that the bullies are the easiest to lick… Teach him, if you can, the wonder of books… but also give him quiet time to ponder over the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hillside.

In school, teach him it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat… Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him they are wrong… Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with the tough. Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crown when everyone is getting onto the bandwagon, teach him to listen to all men, but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad… Teach him there is no shame in tears. Teach him to scoff at cynics and to beware of too much sweetness… Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to the highest bidders; but never to put a price tag on his heart and soul. Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob… and to stand and fight if he thinks he is right.

Treat him gently; but do not cuddle him because only the test of fire makes fine steel. Let him have the courage to be impatient… let him have the patience to be brave. Teach him to always have sublime faith in himself because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order, but see what you can do… he is such a fine little fellow, my son.”

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish

Below is the text of the commencement address at Stanford by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer delivered in 2005. This is one of the best motivational speeches I have read in my life. Perhaps the single most important learning here is that you’ve got to find what you love. I remember that when I read this for the first time, I read it over and over, somewhat mesmerised by the words. Its one of those fine things that you want to return to, and every time it just becomes better because you understand it differently.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish

I am honoured to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky – I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation – the Macintosh – a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me – I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumour on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumour. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

Apple iPod: A strong purpose brand (question mark on usability)

Today, I managed to lock my iPod again!!! I thought maybe this is THE END of the iPod! No more Apple iPod playing awesome tunes in my room and car. The poor thing regularly travels with me unprotected, jacketless. And just once in a blue moon, this beautiful thing simply refuses to behave itself. Being the proud owner of a 4th generation hot black iPod for over a year now, this was the first time that I saw this little lock icon on the top of the iPod screen. I tried pulling on a few tricks to make it work but all my endeavours rendered themselves fruitless.

So I called a trusted friend who provides expert solutions in computing matters and more. The advice was obvious (to search in Google) but with a twist (write the entire statement ‘there is a lock icon on my ipod’). So I searched Google to find a way to make the little lock icon disappear and turns out I just had to slide a switch. There is a tiny switch right at the top of the iPod which holds the magic. I had absolutely no idea that I had accidently put the iPod on hold. Now when the iPod is on hold, a patch of red colour shows from underneath the slider, which in normal conditions (that is when it is not on hold) is a hardly visible white colour. If I had seen that red colour, I would have figured that something is not right here… I need to slide this switch back. But I was looking at the screen, not at the top of the iPod. That is not the mental model… looking at the top of the iPod!! Who does that… that too when your iPod is lying on your study table?! There is a sleek ‘HOLD’ engraved on a silver surface by the side of this slider and it is so sleek and subtle that one never remembers that its there. So I am wondering if the problem that I faced today is a usability issue. Well I love iPod because it’s slick and very usable… errrrr… maybe the usability team at Apple just needs to tweak this little problem in the next generation of the iPod.

Well the music is playing now and I am loving it. Being a marketer and an individual who is deeply interested in product innovation and blue ocean strategy, Apple is the company that has it all for me. Revolutionary products that have redefined industry boundaries topped up by award-winning advertising. Oh yes, great leadership as well. Steve Jobs is a true maverick! Out-of-the-box thinking has become somewhat of a cliché in my field of work but Jobs does it beautifully all of the time. In my study of brand communities, I found that Apple enjoys one of the strongest brand communities today…. Evidence of it is the number of blogs and websites dedicated to Apple products by Apple aficionados. People are spreading the word and any marketer would know that nothing works wonders for a product as well as WoM communication. And the product delivers its promise. Remember the launch of the iPhone and people queuing up for days to buy the phone? The excitement of the customers around the launch by itself created media frenzy.

Personally speaking, I find Apple iPod to be quite an amazing companion. For once, people replaced their habit of carrying books around in trains and tubes in the UK with carrying an elegant iPod on the way. Carrying an iPod is considered “cool” and rest assured people will turn around when they see the distinctive white headphones. Now Londoners seldom take a note of anything that a passerby may be doing. Everyone is just too busy to bother with such trivialities. Where no big brands of clothes or accessories get attention, aha, in comes Apple comes with its iPod, and voila!

I owe some of the inspiration behind some rather gruelling projects complete with tight deadlines to the iPod and Tiesto. Playing In Search of Sunrise3 on the iPod makes me focus a 100% on the work that I am trying to get done. It works like a miracle.

The Story of the Pencil (short. simple. superb)

I have read most of Paulo Coelho’s books in the last few years. My favourites include The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes, and last but no the least Like the Flowing River. I strongly recommend Like the Flowing River to all those who like to read something that is full of hope and leaves you with a warm feeling inside. It is a book about Paulo Coelho’s thoughts and reflections over the last decade or so and it’s The Story of the Pencil that I like the best. I bought the hardcover edition when I was in the UK and I read a story or two every night before going to sleep. Some weeks back, my eight year old niece was looking at this book and I read my favourite story to her. And she loved it! I am not sure if she totally understood the essence of story but I think she will grow up with it… and I think it will do her good.

 

The Story of the Pencil

A boy was watching his grandmother write a letter. At one point, he asked:

‘Are you writing a story about what we’ve done? Is it a story about me?’

His grandmother stopped writing her letter and said to her grandson:

‘I am writing about you, actually, but more important than the words is the pencil I’m using. I hope you will be like this pencil when you grow up. ’

Intrigued, the boy looked at the pencil. It didn’t seem very special.

‘But it’s just like any other pencil I’ve ever seen!’

‘That depends on how you look at things. It has five qualities which, if you manage to hang on to them, will make you a person who is always at peace with the world.’

‘First quality: you are capable of great things, but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God, and He always guides us according to His will.

‘Second quality: now and then, I have to stop writing and use a sharpener. That makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, he’s much sharper. So you, too, must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows, because they will make you a better person.

‘Third quality: the pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps to keep us on the road to justice.

‘Fourth quality: what really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior, but the graphite interior. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you.

‘Finally, the pencil’s fifth quality: it always leaves a mark. In just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in your every action.’

— Paulo Coelho (2006), Like the Flowing River, HarperCollinsPublishers.

Purpose brands: A Likely Cure for Marketing Malpractice

Purpose brands create powerful means of differentiation in the minds of customers as they are tightly associated to the job for which customers hire them. Advertising and WoM communication play a vital role in building awareness for the purpose brands and creating positive and strong brand associations, which result in brand equity. Brand equity is the added value a brand name brings to a product or service besides the functional benefits. Brand equity in case of purpose brands is built when the product does the job and people talk about it. High brand equity implies that customers perceive that the brand is of high quality, have positive and strong associations related to the brand, and are loyal to the brand.

The in-depth interviews conducted in my research revealed that the purpose brands in the selected product categories of Search Engines and Portable Digital Media Players were closely tied to the job for which customers hired these brands, and they were primarily built on WoM communication. The findings of the online questionnaires suggested that the two purpose brands had relatively higher mean scores, and enjoyed significant differences in mean scores in terms of the three core dimensions of brand equity (brand awareness / associations, perceived quality and brand loyalty), compared to the relatively more generic brands. It was concluded that there is a difference in the influence of purpose brands, compared to relatively more generic brands, on brand equity, and the influence seems to be positive.

The purpose brand approach has significant implications for marketing communications. Job-specific brands create meaningful differentiation in the customers’ minds, which could imply that marketers may need to spend less on overall advertising, other than the occasions of creating brand awareness when the product is launched and for reminder advertising. This in turn could improve the profitability of the companies. Purpose brands should be able to create a strong ‘pull’ for a brand and in this event, Internet marketing becomes a powerful tool for information dissemination. The limitations of the research were that the brand selection could be refined to enable selection of more combinations of purpose brands and relatively generic brands, and the sample could include more than just student samples.

Glossary

Advertising

Any paid form of nonpersonal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor

Brand awareness

The ability for a buyer to recognize or recall that a brand is a member of a certain product category

Brand associations

Anything linked in memory to a brand

Brand equity

The added value a ‘brand name’ brings to a product or service besides the functional benefits

Brand loyalty

Tendency to be loyal to a brand, which is demonstrated by the intention to buy the brand as a primary choice

Perceived quality

The consumer’s [subjective] judgement about a product’s overall excellence and superiority

Purpose Brand

The brand of a product that is tightly associated with the job for which it is meant to be hired

WoM communication

Oral, person-to-person communication between a perceived non-commercial communicator and a receiver regarding a brand, a product, or a service

The genius of all geniuses… Einstein quotations

It is no surprise that Albert Einstein was named ‘Person of the Century’ by Time magazine in 1999. Not only has his name become synonymous with genius but his rather unique hairstyle lends itself well to the brand personality of mad scientists and .. ahem yes.. absent minded professors. Here are some of my favorite Einstein quotations.

  • The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.
  • The important thing is not to stop questioning.
  • The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.
  • The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
  • The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life. Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat.
  • Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT’S relativity.
  • People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
  • Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.
  • Never regard your study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs.
  • Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.

Words of Wisdom

I have been reading, writing and savoring words of wisdom since as long as I can remember. Below is a small collection of quotations that can be food for the soul!

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;

To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

We protest against unjust criticism, but we accept unearned applause.
Jose Narosky

In order to awaken the people, it is the woman who has to be awakened. Once she is on the move, the household moves, the village moves, the country moves and thus we build the India of tomorrow.

Jawaharlal Nehru (First Prime Minister of India)

It seldom happens that a man changes his life through his habitual reasoning. No matter how fully he may sense the new plans and aims revealed to him by reason, he continues to plod along in old paths until his life becomes frustrating and unbearable – he finally makes the change only when his usual life can no longer be tolerated.
Leo Tolstoy

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

— Oscar Wilde

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.
— Ayn Rand

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it. The man who knows how will always have a job. The man who also knows why will always be his boss. As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It may be urged that every individual man carries, within himself, at least in his adaptation and destination, a purely ideal man. The great problem of his existence is to bring all the incessant changes of his outer life into conformity with the unchanging unity of this ideal.
— Friedrich Schiller

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

— Oscar Wilde

The millions are awake enough for physical labour; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?
— Henry David Thoreau

We find frequent instances in literature, where hatred supplies the place of genius, and where small talents appear important, by coming forward as organs of a party. Thus too, in life, we find a multitude of persons, who have not character enough to stand alone; these in the same way attach themselves to a party, by which they feel themselves strengthened, and can at last make some figure.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Stupid people like to delude themselves that while they may not be clever, they were at least able to compensate with feelings and insights denied to the intellectual….It was precisely this kind of false belief that made stupid people so stupid. The truth was the clever people had infinitely more resources from which to make the leaps of connection that the world called intuition. What was ‘intelligence’ after all, but the ability to read into things?

— Stephen Fry

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

— Oscar Wilde

I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.

— Socrates

Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.

— Oscar Wilde

Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.

— Socrates


I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.

Jack Nicholson (Opening lines of the film, The Departed)

Purpose branding

Making a decision about one’s MSc research project is a daunting one. That too when one wants it to act as a foundation for a PhD in the future. Well there I was, sitting in my small and rather pretty room in Guildford, thinking through all the things that ever fascinated me in the world of marketing. And it was an awakening – I thought of the article on Purpose Branding by Christensen et al (2005) published in Harvard Business Review. From there on purpose branding and the holy grail of brand equity, as some may put it, is a passion for me. Much of this blog is dedicated to marketing and a few other things that act as a source of inspiration for those who want their spirit kindled.