Friday, July 07, 2006

Harvard Professor Who Coined "Globalization" Dies

One of my favorite people (minds) on the planet and the person who coined the term "globalization" died at age 81: Theodore Levitt. The reason why Professor Levitt became such a force in my life was because in the '80s -- before any individual or company was thinking about going global -- he turned me on to the importance of looking at the world as your market. He also knew how to deconstruct and solve problems by asking the right questions. Something to this day I still find myself doing. Here are some things I will remember the most about Levitt:

• Harvard Business Review -- He holds the record with Peter Drucker for publishing the most articles in HBR.

• What turned me on to Levitt -- "The Globalization of Markets" and five other great articles authored by HBR talents.

Using the term "globalization" in a 1983 Harvard Business Review article about the emergence of standardized, low-priced consumer products. He defined that globalization as the changes in social behaviors and technology which allowed companies to sell the same products around the world.

• Marketing Myopia -- HBR Classic: A groundbreaking article originally published in the Harvard Business Review (1960) in which he asked managers, “What business are you really in?” And that's probably why Starbucks is doing so well with its business model because they figured out early on that they were not just in the "coffee" business but in the "people" business. Levitt would be proud that his ideas were turned into practical solutions. Even Wikipedia features Levitt's work. We all know that focusing too narrowly on anything creates limited results.

Another way Levitt posed a question is like this: “What problem are we trying to solve for our customers?” For tool makers, the implication is that it is not really about the tool. Rather, it is about the resulting condition that customers desire from the use of the tool. That is to say, it is holes in the ground they want, not shovels. Fascinating stuff. So pure. So simple. But so many people just don't get it. Levitt did.

Design Sense magazine No. 26 -- And I bet you didn't know Levitt contributed to this publication. Here's the title his work went under:

"How Major Companies Change Their Names"

An analysis of successful -- and not-so-successful -- name changes by New York Stock Exchange-listed corporations in the late 1950s and early '60s. Also: excerpts from Innovation in Marketing, by Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt.

Marketing Imagination by Theodore M.Levitt -- My absolute favorite book (and according to my notes in the inside cover, I read it in 1984) on marketing that I still refer to today. It's so relevant that you never want to put it away.

• Two favorite remarks by Levitt that were made in "The Marketing Imagination" -- Henry Ford's: "They can have any color car they want, so long as it's black." -- Page 142. And Levitt's: "The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer." -- Page 5.

HBR obituary on Professor Levitt can be found here. My sympathies go out to the Levitt family during this time of great sadness.

May Professor Levitt rest in peace in our brave new world and I thank him for helping me and millions of other people understand (global) marketing.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog,
i didn't know this person,
thanks to you, i know a little about him now.
For sure, he seemed wise and smart.

I love the name of your blog, the little companies becoming global!
Just little art and music through tools like myspace and peer to peer !

Laurel Delaney said...

Thanks Carl. Ted was a genius in his own right. He will be missed by many, including me. But Seth Godin is the next new way of the future on marketing and he sure makes it a heck of a lot more fun for us!

I visited your blog and it's very interesting. I noticed you are a fan of Ayn Rand and so am I. "Atlas Shrugged" is a classic. Have you ever read, "Ayn Rand and Business" by Donna Greiner and Theodore Kinni? It's a must-read for thought-leaders.

Take care, stay in touch and thanks for blogrolling The Global Small Business Blog.

All the best,

Anonymous said...


A nice tribute to someone who was obviously a deep influence. It's always sad to lose someone like this -- thank goodness his mind lives on through his numerous works.

I was familiar with some of Professor Levitt's ideas, particularly as one of the prime movers in the "What business are you really in?" thread of analysis -- a powerful and enduring concept. I was not aware until reading your post, however, that he coined the term "globalization". Sometimes it seems that the term was coined by the "anti" forces to name what they perceive to be the evils of globalization. As someone who has seen first hand the great positive effects of global integration of business, it is partciularly hearteneing to see that the term originated as a positive description by someone who was obviously a visionary global thinker.

As always, thanks for the insights.

Craig Maginness
ExIn Global Strategies

Laurel Delaney said...

Thanks Craig. You might also be interested in a blog created as a tribute to Professor Levitt:

Another person who coined a word close in meaning to "globalization" is Dr. Kenichi Ohmae. In the early eighties, I believe he was the first to use the word "borderless." He, too, is another great visionary. If you want to learn more about his work, do a Google search but Amazon is a fast way to see all his published books. He's amazing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much Laurel,
i didn't finish Atlas Shrugged, but almost, and i can already say it's one of the best book ever.
I didn't know at all about the book "Ayn Rand and Business" (Atlas Shrugged is not even translated into French yet !!! I don't even know how many people in France know the existence of it).

Thank you about my blog,
French people are not thinking "small", as they don't believe small can make BIG things...
I think most of french people see globalization as a tool used only by big corporations, and didn't even think about this impact of it on little companies.
I don't know myself all the impact of it, as i didn't study economics (I studied media), but I'm REALLY curious about it, and i'm reading everything i can discover about it, as i believe the new media evolution (blog, peer to peer, etc) could have a lot of influences on economics (i think so, but i'm not that sure).

Before to read Ayn Rand and Business, I will have to read another book i bought few days ago, maybe you heard about it : The world is flat, by Thomas L. Friedman, seems really interesting.

Keep in touch and wishing you all the best


Laurel Delaney said...

Carl -- Yes, I read Friedman's "The World is Flat."

Separately and back to Levitt, some of you might want to add your tribute ...

All the best,

Claire Lee said...

Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is great blog. A fantastic read. I'll certainly be back.