Category Archives: Thomas Friedman

The Stone Age Did Not End Because the World Ran Out of Stones, and the Oil Age Will Not End Because We Run Out of Oil

Ahmed Zaki Yamani? Don Huberts? Nader H. Sultan? Andrew Hoskinson? Jeroen van der Veer? Thomas Friedman? William McDonough?

Dear Quote Investigator: A recent presentation about advances in renewable energy emphasized the dramatic cost reductions occurring in solar and wind power. The speaker argued that reliance on fossil fuels would decrease substantially in the future. The following cogent remark exemplified the thesis:

The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.

The words were credited to Ahmed Zaki Yamani who was the Minister of Oil for Saudi Arabia for more than twenty years. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This statement is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many ways. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in July 1999 in the London periodical “The Economist” within an article about fuel cell technology. Don Huberts who worked for the oil company Royal Dutch/Shell as the head of a division called Shell Hydrogen delivered the line. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“The stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones, and the oil age will not end because we run out of oil.” Thus Don Huberts, who is convinced that fuel cells, which generate clean energy from hydrogen, will soon begin replacing power stations and cars that mostly burn coal, oil or natural gas.

Yamani employed the saying the following year in June 2000 (see further below). The influential “New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman has stated that Yamani used the expression in the 1970s, but QI has not yet found published evidence to support that assertion.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1999 July 24, The Economist, Section Business, Article: Fuel cells meet big business, Start Page 59, Quote Page 59, Economist Group, London, England. (ProQuest; also accessible via economist.com; article date on economist.com is July 22, 1999) link

The Fable of the Lion and the Gazelle

Thomas Friedman? Dan Montano? Arthur M. Blank? Sue Tabor? Herb Caen? Christopher McDougall? Roger Bannister? Anonymous?

gazelle08Dear Quote Investigator:  Last year I saw a motivational poster with a portrait of a lion. The text was a fable about lions and gazelles, and the title was something like the “The Key to Survival.” Paraphrasing: To survive the lion must catch the gazelle and the gazelle must outrun the lion. Do you recognize this saying, and do you know who created it?

Quote Investigator: Thomas Friedman helped to popularize the proverb about the lion and the gazelle by including it in his 2005 bestseller “The World is Flat” 1. He said that a sign written in Mandarin on the factory floor of an auto parts manufacturer in China recounted the tale. Friedman labeled the passage an “African proverb” and did not attempt to determine its origin. The quotation was disseminated via multiple avenues including his book and a motivational poster with the title “The Essence of Survival” that reprinted the text.

The earliest instance located by QI appeared in the Economist magazine in 1985 in an article titled “Lions or gazelles?” where the words were credited to a securities analyst named Dan Montano: 2

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Stockbrokers and bankers at a recent London conference on financial technology* laughed appreciatively at this sally from Mr. Dan Montano of Montano Securities, an American equities dealer. They chuckled, perhaps, a touch indulgently at predictable American excess.

* The Stock Exchange: Deregulation and New Technology: Oyez International Business Communications. London June 5th and 6th.

Montano may have constructed this proverb himself, or he may have relayed words that he heard or read elsewhere. The Economist gave no other ascription. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2005, The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Page 114, [1st edition], Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. (Amazon Look Inside)
  2. 1985 July 6, Economist, Special added section: “The other dimension: Technology and the City of London: A survey”, “Lions or gazelles?”, Page 37, Economist Newspaper Ltd., London. (Verified on microfilm)

No One Washes a Rental Car

Thomas Friedman? Lawrence Summers? Jack Kemp? Bill Creech?  Aircraft Maintenance Chief? Thomas Peters? Nancy Austin?

Dear Quote Investigator: New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has used the following catch phrase several times:

No one washes a rented car.

I think this saying encapsulates an important idea. There is little incentive to wash or maintain a car that one does not own. For example, the renter does not benefit from the resale of the rental car. In fact, the renter may never see the car again. However, a person who owns something has a strong incentive to take care of it.

I searched through the New York Times archive and found that Thomas Friedman attributes the phrase to Lawrence Summers, an economist and former President of Harvard. Currently, Summers is Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council. But I think I originally heard the aphorism from a conservative, Jack Kemp who was a Congressman from New York. Could you investigate this quote?

Quote Investigator: Evidence indicates that the originator of this adage was not an economist, politician, or businessman. The saying comes from an aircraft-maintenance crew chief, and it was popularized in a bestselling book in 1985.

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