A healthy company balances five elements

My friend and co-mentor Dain Dunston is live-blogging a new book called Branded to the Bone. In this excerpt he isolates the five Ps of a company that is “branded to the bone.” He suggests that all are addressed very neatly with one attitude: integrity. We couldn’t agree more. —MA


When a business is created without clarity of purpose, it is, essentially, doomed: if not to instant failure, at least to a short and mediocre existence. Purpose drives not only employee engagement but customer and investor engagement, as well. Look at Nike, as an example. Founded to create a shoe that would make elite runners faster on the rack and on the road, Nike soon developed a clear reason for being: to help you and me reach our fitness goals (and, by extension, all of our goals). Are their shoes better than those made by Adidas, Converse or Puma, against whom they were competing in their early years? I don’t know. But I also don’t know what those companies stand for. With Nike, the message is clear: Just Do It. Nike stands for you being a winner.


“Hell is other people,” says Joseph Garcin, a character in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit. Garcin’s hell is to be locked in a room for eternity with two other people–a great metaphor for life; particularly our work lives. We are locked into this life together and we can’t escape. People are the problem in any business. They are also the solution to every problem. So many managers simply grit their teeth and try to get things done in spite of people. Leaders, on the other hand, are fascinated by the possibilities of the human experience. They design their companies and their products exploit those possibilities. They serve human needs by human means. I once met the editor Robert Giroux, of the publishing house Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, who had been the editor of writers like TS Eliot and Jack Kerouac. He told me about the day that Kerouac walked into his office a roll of teletype paper and rolled it out on the floor. It was the manuscript for his ground-breaking novel, On The Road. Kerouac had fed one end of the roll into his typewriter and in a blast of inspiration, wrote the whole thing out in just ten days. Imagine a business model that depends on receiving product from unpredictable sources and repackaging it for sale to unpredictable response. Undoubtedly, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux could have made more money publishing bond ratings or selling life insurance. But they built a business based on the fundamental human need to share stories. Every human life—and every organization of human life, from nations to dinner tables—is a story waiting to be told. Great leaders know how to frame that story and engage their followers in moving the story forward.


There’s a myth in business—a myth created largely by business literature—that every business success story starts with a great product. But that’s not true. Business success comes from purposeful people who find a process or processes —ways of working—that lead them to the discovery of better methods of production, better business models and better designs. There used to be a billboard I could see when I was running through airports. It said, “A great idea is a job half done.” It always struck me as an absurd statement: A great idea is nothing without great execution. So while most companies search for the next great disruptive innovation, great companies are searching for disruptive execution. They search for ways to take costs out of their walls so they can invest it where the customer can see it. They search for ways to streamline processes so they can respond to innovation faster, with pin-point precision. They search for efficiency and effectiveness in everything they do. You say you have a great idea? Sorry, but that’s not enough. Because while you’re perfecting the idea, someone else out there is perfecting the execution. They’ll bring your same idea to market faster, cheaper and better than you, unless you focus on the processes of disruptive execution.

So many people use Apple as an example of a great, innovative company that it’s getting boring to bring them up. But I would suggest that it is worthwhile looking at Apple not just as source of game-changing products but as a source of game-changing processes. How else do you explain the leap from the so-called “smart” phones of 2006 to the iPhone of 2007? What are the processes in place that allowed Apple designers to leapfrog generations of evolutionary development of mobile phones and land suddenly on a new species of mobile device? Or look at the other “house of Jobs,” Pixar: Pixar has produced thirteen feature films seven of which have won Academy Awards and all of which have been financially successful. Pixar is the most successful film company in history. Why? It’s not because of one mad genius churning out incredible ideas (they have several mad geniuses who do that!). It’s because of the processes they’ve developed to turn those mad ideas into brilliant finished and reliably satisfying products.


We’ll use the word product to represent the output of work, whether that output would normally be described as a product or a service. And we’ll throw in the idea that a product line is a conversation between your company and your customers. It has to be a timely conversation, particularly at a time when the pace of change is accelerating so quickly. And it has to be a conversation that leads to a surprising conclusion. It’s not enough to ask customers what they want. One has to keep asking until you begin to see that outline of a new customer need emerging and see it before the customer does.

In our book, Nanovation: How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold, Kevin and Jackie Freiberg and I explored an amazing company most Americans had never heard about, India’s Tata Group. The book was a three year case study of Tata Motors’ epic adventure in creating the world’s least expensive car, the Nano. Inside that story was another story, the development of a small truck just a few years earlier, that was designed to bridge the gap between the small and smoky three wheeled autorickshaws you see in Asia and the far more expensive pickup trucks. Tata’s engineers knew there was a gap in the market but to understand it, they went out and spent months riding work and delivery routes with both rickshaw owners and large truck owners. They asked lots of questions about what would make them move up (or down) to the small truck they were considering. And they kept asking questions until they got some surprising answers.

Girish Wagh, who led the small truck project and later went on to lead the Nano project, spent a day riding with a rickshaw driver and learned all the rationale reasons such a man would use to justify buying the more expensive truck: a bigger payload, faster, more money per trip. But, at the end of the day, he learned one more point, a point even the customer struggled to articulate: Real men don’t drive rickshaws! By making the move to a four-wheel truck—even a small one—the man was making a move up the ladder of dignity in his village. “With a truck like you are talking,” he confided in Girish, “I will get better marriage proposals in the village.” (Freiberg & Dunston, 2011)

That’s the kind of conversation great companies have with their customers. And it’s from conversations like that that great products come.


Notice the fifth P is not “Profit” but “Payoff.” That’s because profit, though important, is just one of the payoffs of building a company that’s built on purpose. Think of payoff as the cumulative good resulting from the organizations output. Providing jobs is one payoff, certainly a very important one these days. When your business success improves the economy of a community or an entire country, that’s a payoff. Does the output of your organization improve life? Does it make a better world or a better human experience? My first writing assignments for money were all done on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Editing a manuscript—even changing a single word—meant retyping that page and possibly several others. You will never convince me that Microsoft Word did not make the world a better place. So did the Internet, I believe. The iPhone. Social media. Those are huge payoffs for billions of people in world. And they are big payoffs for the companies behind them. They payoff in pride as well as profits. As Steve Jobs famously said when he invited John Sculley to become CEO of Apple, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want to change the world?” We all have to ask ourselves our own version of that question.

My answer to that question is what lead to this book and to the books that preceded it. Because my purpose is very clear: to help make work more meaningful. And the payoff is to see it happen inside organizations where my work has had even a small effect. I like a paycheck as much as you do, but I like it more when I’m proud of the work that earned it.

And now the “I” word: Integrity

This is the word that changes everything. Because there’s a slight but critical difference between having a purpose and having integrity of purpose. Integrity comes from the Latin integer, meaning whole or complete. Integrity means having internal consistency. Now put the word before the five we just went through:

Integrity of Purpose
Integrity of People
Integrity of Process
Integrity of Product
Integrity of Payoff

See what happens? When you have integrity woven through your organizational fabric, you have a company that is true at every touchpoint, a company that is Branded to the Bone. Branded to the Bone describes an organizational “ecosystem” that is in balance. An environment where people and ideas can bloom. Where toxic environments are eliminated and unhealthy relationships are avoided. Where mediocre ideas can’t get traction. Where people really, finally learn that it is better to give than to receive and where a culture of giving—to each other, to customers, to investors and to the public at large—reaps rich rewards.

And a final note to those who still believe the only purpose of a business is to maximize profits. For you, I have a question: Really? Is that really all you can imagine? Think about Thomas Jefferson writing the United States Declaration of Independence, setting forth the purpose of the new nation as the protection of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If a nation can be founded on the idea that happiness is a legitimate payoff, why can’t a company? Think about the Statue of Liberty standing there in New York Harbor. If America can take as its purpose to reach out to those who are tired, poor and yearning to be free, why can’t you? What would it be like to work for a company where you really believed you were making the world a better place? And what would it be like if doing so was profitable? What if it turned out to be more profitable than just focusing on the bottom line alone?

Read Dain’s whole post here.

(Image by Tim Haynes)

Leave a Comment