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A new point of view on why (brand) nations fail


A new book comes out tomorrow entitled Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by MIT professor of economics Daron Acemoglu and Harvard professor of government James A. Robinson.

In the New York Times Magazine yesterday, Adam Davidson wrote a great piece about it. I pre-ordered the book and look forward to reading, but in the meantime, the New York Times article hints at some key conclusions the authors reach. From the article:

“…the wealth of a country is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average person shares in the overall growth of its economy… when a nation’s institutions prevent the poor from profiting from their work, no amount of disease eradication, good economic advice or foreign aid seems to help… If national institutions give even their poorest and least educated citizens some shot at improving their own lives — through property rights, a reliable judicial system or access to markets — those citizens will do what it takes to make themselves and their country richer.”

A relatively simple concept: Nations that give citizens opportunities to improve their lives—to create value for themselves—give them the incentive to create value—both for themselves and for the nation collectively.

According to the summary on the authors’ website, the book highlights examples of the theory in action around the world and throughout history, “from the Roman Empire, the Mayan city-states, medieval Venice, the Soviet Union, Latin America, England, Europe, the United States, and Africa.”

So how might this theory apply to the study of how organizations can build passionate and sustainable brand communities? If we think of brands as nations, what might make them fail or see great success?

Michael Porter wrote a now-famous piece in HBR last year entitled Creating Shared Value that to me articulates the business equivalent of the principle. Here is how Wikipedia describes Porter’s concept of creating shared value:

“The central premise behind creating shared value is that the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent. Recognizing and capitalizing on these connections between societal and economic progress has the power to unleash the next wave of global growth and to redefine capitalism.”

I think there is a strong connection here, and I would frame it as simply as this:

Brands (and nations) that exist only to extract value from their communities are, in the long run, less competitive and less sustainable than brands (and nations) that exist to create and share value with their communities.

Think about the brands you interact with on a daily basis:

– Which of them are clear value extractors (i.e. they unabashedly exist in order to extract as much money as they can)?

– Which of them are extractors in “shared-value clothing” (i.e. they hide their true selves behind a veneer of shared value)?

– Which of them truly create and share value with the communities that care about them?

If you are like me, some specific organizations immediately come to mind when you see the three categories above. Humor me for a second as I remix the quotes I shared from the New York Times article earlier, but putting them in a brand context:

“…the strength of an organization’s brand community is most closely correlated with the degree to which the average community member shares in the overall success of the organization and community… when an organization prevents the average community member from profiting from its work, no amount of PR, advertising, or charitable giving seems to help… If organizations give even their average community members some shot at becoming more successful — through providing innovative products, experiences, and connections to new people or opportunities — those community members will do what it takes to make themselves, the organization, and the overall brand community richer.”

I suspect that organizations interested in building passionate brand communities have a lot to learn from Why Nations Fail.

And I’ll let you know what I personally learn once I’ve had a chance to read it.

Thanks for reading my blog… wherever you are… and an update


I haven’t been very good about updating my blog over the past month. Turns out we have a big project we’ve been working on at New Kind. While I always try to set aside time for writing, this particular project is very important to the future of my home state of North Carolina, so I’ve tried to spend as much time as I can on it.

Yet the dark matter of organizations keeps on, well, mattering in the meantime.

Speaking of dark matter, my friend Laura Hamlyn recently pointed me to some interesting findings regarding the search for dark matter in the universe.

NPR has a great interview here with an astrophysicist named Andisheh Mahdavi, who was part of a team that recently observed a massive collision between two enormous galaxy clusters. According to Dr. Mahdavi, the dark matter in this particular collision acted much different than any collision that has been observed before, and in a way that doesn’t align with many of the current theories about dark matter. The scientists are so far at a loss to explain what is going on.

In completely unrelated news, WordPress.com recently launched a new feature that allows you to see a map showing where visitors to your blog are coming from. Here is what my map looks like:

I thought this was kinda cool. The darker the color on the map, the more visitors. So, no surprise, most of my readers live in the United States, but I also have quite a few visitors from India, the UK, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand. And I couldn’t end this post without a shout out to the folks who clicked on this blog from Kazakhstan, Qatar, Moldova, Guinea-Bissau, Cyprus, Bolivia, and Timor-Leste—I’m glad to have you here as well.

Such a small world. I’m honored to have anyone at all reading this, so thank you.

And don’t forget, if you live somewhere cool (or even not-so-cool) and are willing to take a picture of my book The Ad-Free Brand in your town, I’d love to see it and post it on the blog. Here are the full details of what I’m looking for.

Finally, I promise we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming soon!

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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