It is not primarily sweat and muscle that build an empire, and it is not enemy spears and chariots that destroy it. Rather, empires – and organizations – rise and fall on the basis of ideas. As Victor Hugo put it, “One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.”
Rome was doomed to defeat by conflicting internal ideas long before its fall in the fifth century A.D. The United States was founded on the ideas of truth, justice, and freedom. This idea of a free world was instrumental in defeating the competing idea of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Don’t underestimate the power of ideas to determine the trajectory of your organization.
Anthropologist and author Simon Sinek discusses how great leaders inspire, arguing that vision – not process – should lead in business ventures. “People don’t buy what you do,” he says. “They buy why you do it.” His cites the innovative ways Apple markets and sells its products, how the Wright Brothers became the first to take flight, and how Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and led the civil rights movement (the famous speech was called “I Have a Dream,” after all – not “I Have a Plan”).
To capture your audience, whether in business, art, non-profits, or politics, you must first show them how the world would be better through what you offer. Show them the vision, the why, and then make a killer product/system/event to fulfill that vision.
The record of history is not kind to the dreamers who never do and the visionaries who never try. Time is decidedly not on their side. They are buried and forgotten. An idea without action is a dead idea.
“We are what we repeatedly do,” wrote Will Durant, a 20th century American historian and philosopher. “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” As the writer Annie Dillard observed, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Similarly, Clay Christensen says, “Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.”
What are the presiding habits of your organization? How can you make excellence a regular habit and not just an isolated act, both corporately and individually?
Design is central to success in the modern marketplace. One of the most influential industrial designers of the last 50 years is Dieter Rams. You may have seen his work in your Braun electric shaver or radio, or experienced his influence indirectly in numerous Apple products. In the late 1970s, Rams defined 10 Principles for Good Design so he could answer this simple question of his own work: “Is this good design?”
As Rams put it, good design is Innovative, Useful, Aesthetic, Understandable, Unobtrusive, Honest, Long-lasting, Thorough, Environmentally Friendly, and Simple. How would adhering to these principles help strengthen your brand and market position?