Remember how Apple Inc. borrowed a page from Nike’s playbook with the iconic “Think Different” campaign?
“Nike sells a commodity, they sell shoes,” said Steve Jobs. “And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don’t ever talk about the product, they don’t ever talk about their air soles, how they’re better than Reebok’s air soles. What’s Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That is what they are about.”
It’s strange to think Apple took a leaf from Nike’s book. But they did. Borrowing from others happens every day in business.
Let’s look deeper into the art of borrowing values and how important it is to be authentic when defining them.
How Businesses Often Borrow Values
Regardless of their size or industry, businesses often find themselves inspired by the values of others.
What’s gone before continues to guide others today.
But borrowed values can’t exist on their own. We cannot pick them up, drop them on a business, and expect success. Blindly copying values without introspection can lead to disaster.
Instead, borrowed values should complement the authentic ethos of your business.
How can you do that?
Aligning Borrowed Values with Genuine Business Ethos
One of the values I hold dear is “Tell the truth to power.” It’s a value borrowed from a broader ethical context. Organizations share this value because it resonates with universal principles of honesty and accountability.
However, the true power of this borrowed value lies in how well it aligns with an authentic ethos. It’s not enough to adopt a value because it sounds good. To make it truly effective, it must resonate with your business’s core identity.
Detailed Examination of Examples
“Truth to Power”
Let’s take a closer look at “truth to power.” This value is a call to confront difficult truths, regardless of hierarchical positions. Too often, employees are afraid to tell CEOs and other senior leaders anything negative. They don’t want to “rock the boat”. It’s easier to stay silent.. By telling the truth to power in a way that someone can hear and accept allows senior leadership to gain a deeper understanding about their impact and modify actions that they otherwise would not even be aware of. For my business, it’s not just a catchy phrase; it’s a fundamental principle that guides our interactions with clients.
But remember, authenticity is key. If your business doesn’t genuinely believe in and practice this value, it becomes superficial. Authenticity ensures that “truth to power” isn’t just a slogan but a living, breathing part of your organizational culture.
Another value close to my heart is “Everything we do starts with the client.” It’s a value borrowed from the wider service industry, where client satisfaction is paramount. This value is authentic for my business because we always prioritize our clients’ needs and desires. For example, we do not offer “off the shelf ” products. When I worked for The Coca-Cola Company, I hired a lot of companies and consultants for specific projects. Everyone wanted to work with TCCC. So they’d bring their product and pitch how they could change it to meet our needs. Of course, the cost was always much higher than their initial pricing because their off the shelf products required extensive modification. Off the shelf products serve a useful purpose and are often sufficient or require minimal customization to work effectively for some clients. I’ve chosen to work with clients who have highly specific needs and challenging human dynamics. Our family businesses and philanthropy clients have unique needs that can’t be addressed through software or a “one size fits all” approach. They also don’t want to pay for customization. They want a tailored product or service that is cost effective and meets their unique needs. We start with the questions our clients need to answer and focus on possibilities that will meet their needs.
But blindly adopting this value won’t automatically lead to success. It requires a genuine commitment to putting clients first in every decision and action.
The Call to Action: Authenticity in Business
As we continue this series, I you to evaluate your organization’s existing values authenticity. The values you choose to embrace must reflect the organization’s core purpose and guide everyone’s actions. Borrowed values can be powerful, but only when they align with your genuine business ethos.
In Part 3 of our series, we’ll explore the practical applications of these values. We’ll discuss how they draw lines and boundaries, define your organizational culture, and guide your decision-making processes within the unique context of family businesses.