Drums In The Jungle
The thing about drums in the jungle is that everyone can hear them - but few understand their
message. It's the same in business.
Most are oblivious to the signs of change around them. Forty
years ago Harvard Professor Ted Levitt warned that there's no such thing as a growth industry.
Has IT changed that rule? If you say yes, Levitt has a story for you about railroads.
Once upon a time railroad companies were the kings of industry. The ability to move people by
rail was a monumental development in business and civilization. Nothing heretofore had seemed
so important and so none of the old barometers of business applied.
Communicating value to the
customer became a secondary concern-because the flow of customers was incessant.
shorter, though, with the arrival of the airlines. And now, when's the last time you took a trip by
rail? Sure, it's a great way to see the land, but not exactly top of mind when you absolutely have
to be there, oh, anytime soon.
Forty years ago Harvard Professor Theodore Levitt pointed out, in the Harvard Business Review,
that the railroad industry fell out of favor because it failed to realize the true value it provided
customers. His by now legendary anecdote, in what may be the finest marketing treatise of the
century, "Marketing Myopia," demonstrated that while the railroads thought they were in the
business of using their rails to move people and cargo, the value they provided customers had
nothing to do with the rails at all. The lesson: a focus on the means and processes comes at the
communication of value
. Marketing myopia leads to senescence.
And the railroads weren't alone in their myopia. Same applied to Hollywood. It once thought of
itself as being in the movie business, instead of entertainment. Along came television.
Hollywood has successfully remade itself, of course-in entertainment.
In his work,
Levitt, now a 73-year-old (in 1999) Edward Carter professor of business
administration emeritus at Harvard University,
implored entire industries to realize the true value
they provide customers.
"No one needs a quarter-inch drill," he's famous for saying. "They need a quarter-inch
Teacher’s note: This focuses you on the benefits.
Forty years and many growth industries later, Levitt's work still applies. Given the pace of
development in information technology, the rigid focus on manufacturing, and the fact that
computers and the Net are on the center stage-making them seem oh so very immortal-Levitt's
warning signs are more relevant than ever.