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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Original Inglorious Bastard

Churchill –– the name is synonymous with British resolve, toughness and pure grit. While Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II, Winston Churchill was singularly defiant of Hitler and his repeated assaults on the Brits. From the air war during the Battle of Britain to the last ditch lobbing of Nazi flying bombs onto London, Churchill always spoke truthfully to his people about their situation, yet shored up their fortitude with his signature gruff voice, while inspiring their courage with the most eloquent of speeches. Churchill would not relent, nor would he allow the whole of England to falter.

A deep dig into his biography reveals that Churchill was, indeed, a lot of things. There was his bright side as a historian, a writer, and an artist. In fact, he was a recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature. Then there was his dark side as a proponent of eugenics and harsh British dominion over the colonies -- including India.

Through it all, Churchill was also considered a maverick –– seemingly always leading the opposition party, which ever party happened to be out of favor at the time. Yet he was also widely considered and admired as a a noted statesman and orator. And as a brand, he is ever iconic of England and its resoluteness against a deadly foe.

Born to an aristocratic family (1874), his father was the son of a Duke and his mother an American socialite, Churchill's contradictions came early. As a boy he was independent and rebellious and, for the most part he ... well, sucked in school. Interesting for such a man that would later be celebrated for his prose and intellect.

His failings as a student faded as he gravitated to the military, though not with ease at first. On the first and second attempts Churchill failed the entrance exam to a military academy, but in typical Churchill fashion, he hunkered down and kept on until he succeeded.

On admission, he immediately mounted up with the cavalry rather than stomping around with the infantry. Yes, cavalry –– this was around 1890. Besides, the grade requirement was lower and also meant that he could avoid mathematics, which he "disliked." Ultimately, the young cadet with a poor academic history graduated eighth out of a class of 150.

A natural companion to Churchill's emerging military service was a parallel career as war correspondent. He never intended on a conventional path of promotion through army ranks. Churchill sought every possible chance to participate in military action. And he used whatever family influence he could to secure postings where that action was. In doing so, he wound up filing noteworthy commentaries on the Empire's military excursions. Those reports for several London newspapers, as well as extensive books on campaigns, positioned Churchill in the eyes of the public, like Caesar, as a warrior.

One of the signature characteristics of Churchill was born out of his time in Cuba. In 1895 he was there to observe the Spanish fight against Cuban guerrillas. There he came under fire for the first time––standing fast without fear. What's more, his time in Cuba fostered a fondness for the island as well as for Havana cigars.

Churchill served for another 20-years, from Cuba to India, Sudan to South Africa, and finally in the trenches of World War I. Reckless and courageous, the man never shied away from combat or his duties to the crown. Once he was even captured by the enemy, but made a daring escape which made him a national hero. Of course, every moment of each adventure was well documented for public consumption.

On and off from 1900 through 1939, and between military actions, Churchill was deeply entrenched in British politics. He led the Conservatives and then the Liberals, and then Conservatives again. Even during his "wilderness years" where he held no official post or was aligned with any party, his commentaries on events of the time were widely read and often stirred controversy.

When the shadow of Nazi Germany fell over Europe, it was apparent to Parliament, to King George, and even to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain himself that only one man was the right one to growl against Hitler. Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Never waver, never surrender--victory for the empire! That was Churchill, perhaps more like a Spartan than a child of an aristocrat. His signature traits were toughness, courage under fire, and the unpredictability of a maverick. His military career, and even his politics, show a aptitude for confrontation in the face of unlikely odds.
Tough like a junkyard dog.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.

"We have but one aim and one irrevocable purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi regime. From this nothing will turn us - nothing. We will never parley, we will never negotiate with Hitler or any of his gang."

These are Churchill's own words, spoken in his growling, voice with resolute tone.

Growling, Resolute and Inspirational

3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
The Russians best described Churchill with a brand personality that has stuck. It aptly describes Churchill's shared traits with the beast. "... a mischievous dose of stubbornness, the English Bulldog is incessantly loyal."
 The British Bulldog
4. Establish graphic standards.
The British Bulldog was all about persona, but Churchill was an image unto himself. Caricatures, photos, logos (the Churchill Center) all share distinct symbols of the brand––his victory sign, the Bowler hat, and a Cuban hanging off one corner of his mouth. 
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
Churchill's management style was a mix of MBWA (management by walking around) and pestering. He was an admitted pain. His work ethic was prodigious and he expected as much from others. He met frequently with his teams to make sure things moved forward.
 Churchill hate the idea of progress being stalled due to decision by committee. He was a tough boss and he knew it. But his sometimes rude and irritable behavior was often overruled by his great charm and personal contribution. His teams were very loyal to him.  
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
"Action is paralyzed if everybody is to consult everybody else about everything before it is taken. Events will outstrip the changing situations." These are Churchill's own words and an attitude that didn't sit well with his colleagues. In all things that Churchill did, however, his efforts were driven strongly forward, and often with intended result. 
If there were a slogan that exemplified Churchill, it was his own "KBO," which means Keep Buggering On!

Correction: This post originally stated Winston Churchill was the son of a Duke; he was not. Churchill was the grandson of a Duke. His father, Randolph Churchill, was a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough. Thanks to reader "FlickSheridan" for making BIH aware of the error.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taming of the Screw (or how we found hydrostatics)

The life of a theorist is tough. You work hard, laboring through formulas, sometimes reaching dead-ends or sketchy proofs. Most people have no interest in your equations or what they mean, except for other thinkers. It’s been the same throughout history, all the way back to Archimedes.
Archimedes Thoughtful by Fetti (1620)
Just as today, solving theoretical problems in the second century BC really didn’t earn one much of a living. Therefore you took up other lines of work in order to eat. When not buried in some calculation, Archimedes dabbled in mechanisms that were usually military-related –– where the money was –– which meant they were probably intended for his patron, King Hieron of Syracuse, Sicily.  
Indeed, Archimedes was a highly sought after brand in the area of military innovation –– and it would ultimately lead to his death during the Second Punic War* in 212 BC. But there is more on that later.
We sometimes think of the ancient people as static –– that it was only the conquering armies or explorers that travelled. Citizens did a lot of travelling and Archimedes was no different. Egypt was just days away by boat, and as a young man he is known to have spent time in the city of Alexandria with other great thinkers of his period. No one knows for sure but that’s where it is said that Archimedes either invented the water screw or came across it, in the latter instance that it wasn’t an original development.
Different descriptions of the screw lightly dot history dating back to Babylon, making it an unknown who first came up with it. It may well have been Archimedes. But an original idea isn’t always as important as knowing what to do with it –– how to market it. And Archimedes just rolled the screw right into his brand.
Imagine Archimedes taking a rare break from his calculations to converse with an old crony over cups of wine and cheese on a sunny Sicilian day. His friend asks what’s up and Archimedes sips his wine in preparation for a lengthy reply, in which comes the essence of a new product strategy.
Think about how he might explain the concept that the screw helps move water from a low position to a higher one. In practice it can be used for several applications, including pumping bilge from ships, draining water from mines, or irrigating crops. It even moves grains up to drying to lofts.
A natural question likely put to Archimedes was how he’d profit from the screw. Clearly the screw was unique and that one might consider it a product category by itself.
For ships, new or old, it is easily employed. Adding to the pitch on benefits are that the screw needs only a simple refit to any boat and only one or two men easily operate it. Thus bilge is quickly reduced compared to repeatedly filling buckets and emptying them overboard. The take away is it makes a faster, better process, and allows crewmen to return to more profitable work sooner.
Positioning the screw is as simple as identifying it as an efficiency tool –– a time saver that also reduces manpower waste. One or two men now do the job of a bucket brigade, making the screw a practical innovation that solves a problem and improves safety.
For farmers or landowners, the screw reduces dependence on the gods for the blessings of rain. Workers can raise water from nearby creeks, rivers or lakes into a network of irrigation ditches to keep crops hydrated.

Likely there would be few, if any real obstacles to success. 
Overall, the screw would add to the idea of Archimedes innovations. Reinforcing his brand position as an innovator/inventor. As a matter fact it would ultimately become known as the “Archimedes Screw.”
Pricing for ancient innovations is not in the books, but it is probably safe to say the contraption, unique and with such obvious benefits, might demand a premium. But it shouldn't be too high a premium as to overrule the need, especially where farmers or landowners are concerned. 
Obviously Archimedes would have to pick a market for his initial introduction, and the most ready was certainly shipping. That market makes distribution readily available from Sicily, and especially in Syracuse. Adding to the possibilities are military contracts because of the Punic War. With the Romans to the north in Messina, and the Carthaginians to the west in Himera, contract negotiations should be quick and simple. One side will want to equalize benefits of the other.
And, too, King Hieron will want first rights for his ships. What’s more, the success of those installations will spread to every port and to every ship owner from Corsica to Carthage to Athens.
That leads us to production. A new product is worthless if you can’t produce it. So at some point there would have been a manufacturing discussion. Essentially, however, your great thinkers got paid for being idea men rather production managers. More likely is that once the design was proven out with a prototype, the patron took over and produced the screw. Still, somebody had to arrange for the wood, a carpenter or artisan to carve and create the screw, perhaps even a blacksmith to clad the screw blades in copper. 
Obviously there were no Gantt charts Archimedes used to schedule this project. Again, once he pitched the idea to King Hieron, another grant of funds to continue research was likely given, and on Archimedes went about his calculations or seeking the next big idea for the king’s navy or army. Perhaps a "laser..."

Side Bar: The Punic Wars and How Archimedes Died
*The Second Punic War, between Rome and Carthage, lasted about 16 years. As with the first, there was fighting over control of the island of Sicily, on which Rome, Carthage, and even Greece had colonies. Archimedes resided in Syracuse and history records his death as during the Siege of Syracuse.
Roman forces under General Marcus Claudius Marcellus captured the city of Syracuse after the two-year-long siege.  The popular account given by Plutarch states that an order was given Archimedes not be harmed because he was a valuable “asset.” It goes on to say that Archimedes was so preoccupied with a mathematical diagram, that when a Roman soldier commanded him to come and meet General Marcellus, Archimedes declined. He said he had to finish working on the problem. Enraged by this, the soldier killed Archimedes.