Michael Basch, Fred Smith, and the other senior executives at FedEx were justifiably anxious on the new carrier’s first day of operation on March 12,1973. After years of planning, FedEx has 23 airplanes positioned in 10 cities. Dozens of salespeople were ready to accommodate the flood of orders. There was one thing they didn’t expect — no packages.
On the first day of operation, FedEx delivered exactly two packages! Founder Fred Smith has the great ida of creating a customer-focused delivery system based on the motto, “People-Service-Profit”. But the company would be out of business within a week if it didn’t get the packages.
FedEx managers made the decision to communicate the vision - get the packages - and get out of the way of employees who were tasked with accomplishing the vision. In his book, Customer Culture, Basch tells the story of Diane, a tracking clerk, who received a call from distraught bride-to-be who need a wedding dress to be delivered for her big day, which happened to be the next day. The dress, however, was 300 miles away. Diane had internalized the vision and did what had to be done. She lined up a Cessna and a pilot to fly the package to Florida. Th bride was so ecstatic she called Diane from her honey-moon! She said the FedEx story stole the show. Everyone at the wedding was talking about the company that gave a wedding dress its own plane.
When Diane told Basch about the situation, he was taken aback. They would surely go bankrupt if they kept pulling these stunts, he thought. But Diane could not be faulted for creatively executing on the vision. It didn’t take long for Basch to come around. One company executive who heard the wedding story assigned his company’s shipments to FedEx and began sending twenty packages via the service. Other at the wedding began using FedEx as their exclusive priority delivery company and continued for years.
Charles Schwab had a mill manager whose people weren’t producing their quota of work.
"How is it," Schwab asked him, "that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?"
"I don’t know," the manager replied. "I’ve coaxed the men, I’ve pushed them, I’ve sworn and cussed, I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. Butnothing works. They just won’t produce."
This conversation took place at the end of the day, just before the night shift came on. Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked: "How many heats did your shift make today?" — "Six."
Without another word, Schwab chalked a big figure six on the floor, and walked away. When the night shift came in, they saw the "6" and asked what it meant.
"The big boss was in here today," the day people said.
"He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor." The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out "6" and replaced it with a big "7."
When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big "7" chalked on the floor. So the night shift thought they were better than the day shift did they? Well, they would show the night shift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering "10." Things were stepping up.
Shortly this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant.
In 1983, a talented young guitarist was kicked out of his band in the worst possible way. The band had just been signed to a record deal, and they were about to record their first album. But a couple days before recording began, the band showed the guitarist the door - no warning, no discussion, no dramatic blowout; they literally woke hip up one day by handing him a bus ticket home.
As he sat on the bus back to Los Angeles from New York, the guitarist kept asking himself: How did this happen? What did I do wrong? What will I do now? Record contracts didn’t exactly fall out of the sky, especially for raucous, upstart metal bands. Had he missed his one and only shot?
But by the time the bus hit L.A., the guitarist had gotten over his self-pity and had vowed to start a new band. He decided that this new band would be so successful that his old band would forever regret their decision. He would become so famous that they would be subjected to decades of seeing him on TV, hearing him on the radio, seeing posters of him in the streets and pictures of him in magazines. They’d be flipping burgers somewhere, loading vans from their shitty club gigs, fat and drunk with their ugly wives, and he’d be rocking out in front of stadium crowds live on television. He’d bathe in the tears of his betrayers, each tear wiped dry by a crisp, clean hundred-dollar bill.
And so the guitarist worked as if possessed by a musical demon. He spent moths recruiting the best musicians he could find - far better musicians than his previous bandmates. He wrote dozens of songs and practiced religiously. He seething anger fueled his ambition; revenge became his muse. Within a couple years, his new band has signed a record deal of their own, and a year after that, their first record would go gold.
The guitarist name was Dave Mustaine, and new band he formed was the legendary heavy-metal band Megadeath. Megadeath would go on the sell over 25 million albums and tour the world many many times over. Today, Mustaine is considered one of the most brilliant and influential musicians in the history of heavy-metal music.
Unfortunately, the band ha was kiced out was Metallica, which has sold over 180 million albums world-wide. Metallica is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
“I’ll give you two bucks an hour,” I told this starving artist in the hallway at Portland State. “To do what?” she asked. “Design print ads,” I said “do some lettering, logos, maybe a few charts and graphs for presentations.”
It didn’t sound like much of a gig. But the poor kid was desperate. She wrote her name on a piece of paper. Carolyn Davidson. And her number. I shoved it in my pocket and forgot all about it.
My new soccer-qua-football shoe would need something to set it apart from the stripes of Adidas and Onitsuka. I recalled that young artist I’d met at Portland State. What was her name? Oh, yes, Carolyn Davidson. She’d been in the office a number of times, doing brochures and ad slicks. When I got back to Oregon I invited her to the office again and told her we needed a logo. “What kind?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “That gives me a lot to go on,” she said. “Something that evokes a sense of motion,” I said. ‘Motion,” she said, dubious.
She looked confused. Of course she did, I was babbling. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t an artist. I shoed her the soccer-football shoe and said, unhelpfully: This. We need something for this.
She said she’d give it a try. Motion, she mumbled, leaving my offie. Motion.
Two weeks later she came back with a portfolio of rough sketches. They were all variations of single theme, and theme seemed to be… fat lightning bolts? Chubby check marks? Morbidly obese squiggles?
Her designs did evoke motion, of a kind, but also motion sickness. None spoke to me. I singled out a few that held out some promise and asked her work with those.
Days later - was it weeks? - Carolyn returned and spread a second series of sketches across the conference table. She also hung a few on the wall. She’d done several doze more variations on the original theme, but with a freer hand. These were better. Closer.
Woodel and I and a few others looked them over. I remember Johnson being there, too, though why he’d come out from Wellesley, I can’t recall. Gradually we inched toward a consensus. We liked… this one… slightly more than the others.
It looks like a wing, one of us said.
It looks like a whoosh of air, another said,
It looks like something a runner might leave in his or her wake.
We all agreed it looked new, fresh, and yet somehow - ancient. Timeless.
For her many hour of work, we gave Carolyn our deepest thanks and check for thirty-five dollars, then sent her on her way.
After she left we continued to sit and stare at this one logo, which we’d sort of selected, and sort of settled on by default: “Something eye-catching about it,” Johson said.
Woodell agreed. I frowned, scratched by cheek. “You guys like it more than I do,” I said. “but we’re out of time. It’ll have to do.”.
“You don’t like it?” Woodell said.
I sighed. “I don’t love it. Maybe it will grow on me.”.
We sent it to Canada.
No we just needed a name to go with this logo I didn’t love. Over the next few days we kicked around dozens of ideas, until two leading candidates emerged.
And Dimension Six.
I was partial to the latter, because I was the one who come p with it. Woodell and everyone else told me that it was god-awful. It wasn’t catchy, they said, and it didn’t mean anything.
We took a poll of all our employees. Secreatires, accountants, sales reps, retail clerks, file clerks, warehouse workerks - we demanded that each person jump in make at least one suggestion. Ford had just paid a top-flight consulting firm $2 million to compe up with the name of its new Maverick, I announced to everyone. “We haven’t got $2 million - but we’ve got fifty smart people, and we can’t do any worse than… Maverick”.
Also unlike Ford, we had a deadline. Canada was staring production on the shoe that Friday.
Hour after hour was spent arguing and yelling, debating the virtue of his name or that. Someone liked Bork’s suggestion, Bengal. Someone else said the only possible name was Condor. I huffed and groused. “Animal names,” I said. “Animal names! We’ve considered the name of just about every animal in the forest. Must it be an animal?”
Again and again I lobbied for Dimension Six. Again and again I was told by my employees that it was unspeakably bad.
Someone, i forget who summed up the situation neatly. “All those names… suck”. I thought it might have been Johnson, but all the documentation says he’d left and gone back to Wellesley by then.
One night, late, we were all tired, running out of patience. If I header one more animal name I was going to jump out a window. Tomorrow’s another day, we said, drifting out of the office, headed out to our cars.
I went home and sat in my recliner. My mind went back and forth, back and forth. Falcon? Bengal? Dimension Six? Something else? Anything else?
The day of decision arrived. Canada had already started producing the shoes, and samples where ready to go in Japan, but before anything could be shipped, we needed to choose a name. Also, we had magazine ads slated to run, to coincide with shipments, and we needed to tell graphic artists what name to put in the ads. Finally, we needed to file paperwork with the U.S. Patent Office.
Woodell wheeled into my office: “Time’s up” he said. I rubbed my eyes. “I know.”.
“What’s it going to be?”
“I don’t know”.
My head was splitting. By now the names had all run together into on mind-melting glob. Falconbengaldimensionsix.
“There is… one more suggestion,” Woodel said.
“Johonson phoned first thing this morning”, he said. “Aparently a new name come to him in a dream last night.”
I rolled my eyes. “A dream?”
“He’s serious,” Woodel said.
“He’s always serious”
“He says he sat bold upright in bed in the middle of the night and saw the name before him,” Woodel said.
“What is it?” I asked, bracing myself.
“N-I-K-E.” Woodell said.