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Monday, July 30, 2012

Lost Brand

Earhart in the cockpit of her Electra
The damsel in distress; the bold, nonchalant tomboy; the woman who rolls into your life and then disappears—Amelia Earhart is all three ... wrapped up in a fearless, freckle faced pioneer. Her story is haunting because her final fate, while widely speculated, is still fully unknown—and despite the narrowing of modern searches and tedious review of evidence. Her brand is one of tragedy rather than epic disaster like the Titanic. Amelia Earhart is a mystery that is likely never solvable. And for that she remains in our memory—nagging us to leave a light on in the window with a candle of hope burning in our collective psyche.

Earhart caught the flying bug when she 10-years old. It was during a stunt-flying exhibition sometime around 1907, a moment when she stood fast as a pilot plunged his plane right at her. "I did not understand [the feeling] at the time," she said, "but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by." Her first flight wouldn't happen for over a decade. Pilot Frank Hawks took her up in 1920. Once two or three hundred feet off the ground, Earhart knew she had to fly, but it would take yet more time and effort, mixed with some luck, before she would take the stick. Convention of the day wasn't big on women pilots.

However, Earhart didn't hold with convention. She was a tree climbing, belly-slamming sledder and rat hunter, completely used to shocking the knickers off her contemporaries. Most certainly she had her sights set on plowing new ground for women because she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in male-oriented fields. Even more endearing is that Earhart never shirked her civic or humanitarian duties. During WWI, she left college in her sophomore year (c 1917) to work as a nurse's aide. And she later became a social worker in Boston.

But about a year after that first rush from that flight with Hawks, Earhart took a flying lesson. Six months after that, she had saved enough money to buy her first plane—a second-hand Kinner Airster biplane that was painted bright yellow. Naming it "Canary," Earhart used it to set her first women's record by reaching an altitude of 14,000 feet. And in 1923 she became only the 16th woman to earn a pilot license.

Earhart's early flying efforts did not blanket her with glamour. In fact they were quite the reverse. Conditions for a woman in the early days of flying were less than luxurious or convenient, and the training was hard work. Still, this is where Earhart began her branding transformation. Very aware that male aviators would judge her, she began to cultivate her look with a simple act of sleeping in a brand new leather jacket to give it some wear. She also short-cropped her hair like other female flyers.  

Amelia Earhart
Things got tough for Earhart's career in 1923. Her family fortune had been lost, so she worked in jobs outside her preferred career to earn a living and save money. She managed to stay involved in aviation, but nothing significant. Then, on a spring afternoon in 1928, Earhart got a call from George P. Putnam. His simple question was if she'd like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Earhart's answer was equally simple and succinct. "Yes!"

Putnam hooked her up with pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. And the team flew a Fokker F7 from Newfoundland to Wales in June of 1928. It was a 21-hour flight. And as a publisher and publicist, Putnam was in a position to generate press for Earhart, making her a star. The landmark flight to Wales made headlines worldwide. Three women had died on previous attempts to be that first woman. So on their return to the United States, the team was received with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

The trip might seem like no big deal now. Dozens of flights depart each day around the world for destinations 21 hours away. But remember that when Earhart and the team made this flight, the Wright Brothers had only first pushed the Kitty Hawk aloft just 25 years earlier.

All the fanfare launched Earhart into the limelight and she became an instant celebrity. Endorsement deals rolled in and earned more than enough money to fund her flying. It also opened the door to her teaming up with the likes of Charles Lindbergh to promote commercial air travel, a ground floor opportunity for investment in a developing TWA, and to serving as VP of what would become Northeast Airlines

The stars aligned for Earhart and her career took off. She became the first woman, and only the second person, to solo across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was the first. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and broke major ground for women in her field. From there, she cruised into the history books by breaking records all along the way. But it was where she was headed next that sealed her immortal fate in the public heart.

Earhart with her Lockheed Electra.
Earhart wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Period. She had tried once before and tore up her signature plane, the twin engine Lockheed Electra. Earhart said of this effort, "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it." On June 1st, in her rebuilt Electra, she and navigator Fred Noonan left Miami on the first leg of a 29,000-mile air trek. Within a month they had 22,000 behind them, and the world was watching. Most people never knew that bad maps dogged the navigation effort for Noonan. That made the next leg even trickier. It was Howland Island—a sliver of dry land on the Pacific Ocean about a mile and a half long and a half-mile wide.

After eight hours in the air, the Earhart team was frantically looking for their target. One of her final transmissions to a US Coast Guard ship tracking her was, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." After 8:45 pm on 2 July 1937, nothing more.


The world loved her for her audacity to attempt what few, if any women or even men had dared. She courted danger with a quiet resolve and a forced smile. She wasn't into the publicity, but it came with her achievements, and her ties to Putnam. Suddenly Amelia was gone—but where? What happened and why? Even after an exhaustive $4 million dollar and 250,000 square mile search, there was no trace, nothing but a sudden emptiness that drives our continued longing for Amelia Earhart.

Update - 09.10.2016: The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) continue gathering a good deal of evidence now supporting a 23-year old theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, survived a forced landing on the island of Nikumaroro, a very small, inhospitable spit of sand just over 400 miles south of their intended target of Howland Island. A recent expedition recovered video and artifacts consistent with items of Earhart's era, and possibly parts of the plane. As well, TIGHAR has collected verified reports of Earhart transmitting calls for help following her crash. Read more HERE.

Side Bar: Amelia was the most famous, but there other women who pierced the fog of early women's flying successes. Follow the links below to get introduced to them.

Bessie Coleman
Matilde E. Moisant
Harriet Quimby
So many more...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Samurai Jacked...

The samurai are a shining example of truth and mythology swirled together. Like the Spartans, though not as old, the samurai remain an enduring and celebrated brand. They transcend culture, race, and time. Surrounded by a romantic fondness, samurai are Japan's classic warrior icon, symbolizing courage, devotion, service and honor. In the early 20th century, the Japanese military built its identity around the samurai's Bushido code. And to this day, the samurai spirit still beats quietly, if not secretly, in the hearts of most Japanese.

But not only in Japanese hearts.

The writers of Star Trek used the Bushido code to weave texture and personality into the Klingon race, and before that, the classic western, The Magnificent Seven was adapted from the original Japanese story, The Seven Samurai. And more recently, The Last Samurai conquered audiences with themes of honor and tradition, along with undertones paralleling the demise of American Indians, as well as a climax echoing Spartan glory at Thermopylae.

Okay, so we have these guys in funky armor that are "all in" when it comes to battle, discipline and self-sacrifice. But just how did these legendary BAs get kicked off?  The answer takes you back to the 8th and 9th centuries when the power of Japan's emperor was in decline, and he was unable to maintain an army to control his empire. Powerful warrior clans, and the heads of these clans were given the title of shogun. A shogun did not have political power—at first, but he was the military commander of his clan, and was responsible for defending whatever territory his clan called home.

Around the 10th century is really when the samurai were unsheathed. The shoguns began organizing soldiers and police, and to collect some tax. Most of their jurisdiction was limited to keeping civil order and maintaining army provisions. Eventually, the shogun expanded their control, and merged with other clans through marriages and alliances—and that's where the samurai as we know them emerged and began their rise as a political ruling class.

The Bushido was an oral tradition, not
written until the 20th Century (1965).
Along with developing political clout, the samurai came to embrace the Bushido, which ran through the warrior class as easily as a Masamune katana sword. Also known as the "Way of the Warrior," Bushido is a philosophy of honor, emphasizing duty and whole devotion to one's master. The samurai absorbed this and it became part of their DNA. Then they jacked it up, extolling reckless bravery, fierce family pride, and that unto-death-loyalty to the master. The latter was at the center of many writings by samurai wise men. 

There were great thought leaders among the samurai. One during 13th century was Hojo Shigetoki—maybe not a Yoda-like guy, but certainly a Mace Windu.  He wrote: "When one is serving officially or in the master's court, he should not think of a hundred or a thousand people, but should consider only the importance of the master." Another writes, 
In matters both great and small, one should not turn his back on his master's commands...One should not ask for gifts or enfiefments from the master...No matter how unreasonably the master may treat a man, he should not feel disgruntled...An underling does not pass judgments on a superior.
On the whole, this philosophy bound the samurai. They were of different clans and served different masters, but this philosophy was the standard they all pursued. They were a band of brothers bound by a common code. Much of that code wove their way into the fabric of the Japanese people. St. Francis Xavier spent a number of years in 16th century Japan. He observed that no nation in the world feared death less. He described the honor and manners of the Japanese as this: 
I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger.  
St. Francis was in Japan toward the end of a wildly violent period in the nation's history. Firstly, Japan wasn't unified. On the contrary, the emperor was simply unable to control all the provinces, resulting in an amalgam of warring territories with warlords vying for control of overlapping territories. This era is known as Japan's medieval period, or more formally the Heian Era. It was a rambunctious time when the samurai developed and honed their fighting skills, while deservedly earning their reputations as great warriors.

The samurai carried two swords—the katana blade most commonly identified with samurai, and a short sword called a Tanto. The Tanto had a couple of purposes. The first was that when a samurai was in the imperial court, he relinquished his katana—partly out of respect and partly because the thing was so long, it would bang into everything. The Tanto allowed a samurai to remain armed to protect the emperor. And it served as the blade of choice for ritual suicide. 

As he carried two swords, the samurai also had two sides. These weren't killing brutes. Rather, they were also artisans, poets, philosophers, and teachers. When not in battle, they spent considerable time and discipline on perfecting whatever they set their sights. These were a greatly refined and literate class. And following the Heian era, during the peaceful 250 years of the Tokugawa era, the samurai philosophy rose to its height. In the process, the samurai solidified a warrior brand that burns with admiration to this day. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Like the Spartans, samurai began training at a young age. The goal was to build discipline and to reinforce loyalty to the master. Student samurai were clad in centuries of training in the law of honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice. Historian Arthur May Knapp wrote, 
As a child he had but to be instructed, as indeed he was from his earliest years, in the etiquette of self-immolation. The fine instinct of honor demanding it was in the very blood.... 
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
Mere mention of the Bushido tells one all they should know. It is the "Way of the Warrior," a philosophy of honor, duty and whole devotion to the master—the very fabric of the samurai.
 Bushido—The Way of the Warrior 
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
The word samurai evolved from this root Chinese character, 侍— to mean wait upon or accompany a person of upper society. Eventually the Japanese term would be, "saburai," defined as "those who serve in close attendance to the nobility," The final and gentle morph into the word "samurai" first appeared in a poem in early 10th century. And it stuck. As the warrior class rose in political clout and social standing, samurai and Bushido became synonymous. So to say samurai warrior is actually redundant. 
4. Establish graphic standards.
A samurai did not always wear his armor. But he was never without his sword—the katana sword. Making one is an art form in Japan, and the result is, to quote Obi Wan Kenobi, "an elegant weapon from a more civilized time."
The primo blade from the 14th century on was a Masamune sword. Masamune was a legendary swordsmith. He refined the sword style we associate with samurai today—a weapon so precise, it can slice through flesh and bone with one swipe.

5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
The samurai was expected to not think of himself or of reward, although they were somewhat mercenary. They had to be. Their only source of income, or sustenance was from their master in exchange for service as soldiers. They paid no taxes or tariffs. Still, there were often lands awarded or position. 
Yet the Bushido clearly demanded that samurai "consider only the importance of the master."
 6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
The samurai as we know them lasted some 600 years and attained the top position in Japanese society. Even during times of extended peace, the samurai were examples of discipline, not just in military pursuits, but also literature, art, and craft. Their code was applicable to all walks of Japanese life. 
It wasn't until the Meiji period when Japan rushed into modernization of the late 19th century that the samurai fade, but not their spirit. The samurai inspired a nation's military, and provided a society with rules of social conduct—even into the 20th century. The samurai inspire to this day.