The following is also my latest MediaPost column…
Move Over, Seth Godin, Einstein’s Here
January 25th, 2008 by Max Kalehoff
I read my fair share of business books and marketing punditry. In the trendy stable are works by authors Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, James Surowiecki, Don Tapscott and Malcom Gladwell. On the more academic side are the likes of authors Gerald Zaltman, Clotaire Rapaille and Steven D. Levitt. All these guys are great, really. They’ve taught me a lot and informed my outlook. But none of them compare to Albert Einstein.
Who? Albert Einstein, the German-born theoretical physicist, best known for his theory of relativity, and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics? Yes. For all the brilliance, punditry and eloquence of today’s marketing pundits, the teachings of Albert Einstein offer far superior insights and lessons into business and marketing – even life, for that matter. Moreover, his singular quotes are more concise and valuable than most entire chapters of today’s best-selling marketing gurus. Of course, this wasn’t even his intention.
If I had to source Einstein quotes as chapter titles for a modern-day marketing book, here are the ones I’d likely pick. The beauty of these chapter titles is that they can live on their own, without the padding of excess words and long-winded narratives in between. While they are timeless, I offered my own commentary to connect to our year, 2008.
1. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” So why not cultivate imagination? Why not seek it out when screening new hires, or emphasize it in professional development, or cherish it when problem-solving?
2. “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.” What really are you trying to achieve? How well is your mission defined? Perfection of everything else is meaningless if you and your organization don’t know where you’re headed. This is where leadership begins.
3. “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” This is an ideology of humbleness, selflessness and authenticity. Embodying this ideology creates longer-term, competitive advantage. Value to customer is what really matters, not whether you’re successful. You’ll end up successful if you create value.
4. “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” In an increasingly quant-driven marketplace, it’s easy to obsess on what you can count and disregard the rest. This paradox contributes to the confusion of aims mentioned above. To be successful, it’s critical to find alternative means of codifying and leveraging the important things you can’t count.
5. “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” Perhaps violence is less relevant in most businesses, but size and complexity are major problems. For reasons I can’t explain, marketers too often get obsessed with size and complexity – as if they’re desirable. The fact is they’re the opposite, and they’re offensive jabs at our most precious assets: time and attention. Marketers may not see this, but customers do. Customers delight in simplicity and efficient use of space and time.
6. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” This is true for internal employee communications, as well as customer communications. Master your subject matter so you can confidently pick the language, concepts and style that communicate with the greatest ease and efficiency.
7. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Mistakes and losses should actually be rewarded. Fear and low tolerance for mistakes breads stagnant cultures and boring products.
8. “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” When you enable passion, you drive focus, cultivate mastery, leverage spontaneity, foster creativity, build intuition and live toward mission. The dots connect, clarity emerges.
9. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” Truth is paramount, but carelessness with what is small is a window into how one may handle anything large. The small stuff matters.
10. “Most people say that is it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” Same for marketing and business in general. Need I say more?
Now, what should the title of this book be?