No One Wants a Drill. What They Want Is the Hole

Clayton M. Christensen? Theodore Levitt? L. E. ‘Doc’ Hobbs? Percy H. Whiting? Leo McGivena? Robert G. Seymour? Zig Ziglar? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Companies sell products to solve the problems that their customers encounter. An emphasis on existing products and incremental changes causes an organization to ignore or misunderstand customer motivations. Here is one version of a popular business adage:

People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

The message is cautionary. If a company obsessively focuses on selling drill bits and their customers start to cut holes with waterjets or lasers, then the company is in deep trouble.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen has employed this adage; however, he credited Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: A thematic precursor that did not mention drills appeared in a Reno, Nevada newspaper in 1923 within an advertisement for plumbing. Several products were mentioned together with the implicit goals of customers: 1

When you buy a razor, you buy a smooth chin—but you could wear a beard. When you buy a new suit, you buy an improved appearance—but you could make the old one do. When you buy an automobile, you buy speedy transportation—but you could walk. But when you buy plumbing, you buy cleanliness—for which there is no substitute!

The earliest strong match for the adage located by QI occurred in an insurance advertisement in a Manhattan, Kansas newspaper in 1946: 2

We don’t want to sell you Life Insurance . . we want you to know and have what life insurance will do. A 1/4 million drills were sold last year, no one wants a drill. What they want is the hole.

Your Own Local Life Insurance Company has only the sincere desire to furnish food, clothing and shelter to your loved ones if you die too soon . . .

The advertisement was run by L. E. ‘Doc’ Hobbs who was the District Sales Manager of The Manhattan Mutual Life company. Yet, QI conjectures that the drill adage was already in circulation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No One Wants a Drill. What They Want Is the Hole

Notes:

  1. 1923 August 18, Reno Evening Gazette, (Advertisement title: There is no Substitute! Advertisement for: Reno Master Plumbers Association), Quote Page 8, Column 6, Reno, Nevada. (“razor” was misspelled “rozar” in the original text) (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1946 November 10, Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle, (Advertisement title: Who Sells Life Insurance?, Advertisement for: L. E. “Doc” Hobbs, District Sales Manager of The Manhattan Mutual Life in Manhattan, Kansas), Quote Page 10, Column 6, Manhattan, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

What You Get By Reaching Your Goals Is Not Nearly So Important As What You Become By Reaching Them

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Henry David Thoreau? Zig Ziglar?

achieve08Dear Quote Investigator: Many self-help and inspirational books contain this guidance:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

These words have been ascribed to three disparate individuals: German literary titan Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famed transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and popular motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Goethe or Thoreau employed this expression.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the curiously titled 1974 book “Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles” by Zig Ziglar. One section of the work discussed the necessity of formulating and striving for goals. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I want to emphasize that what you get by reaching your goals is not nearly so important as what you become by reaching them. What about you? Are you sold on the necessity of having goals?

The phrasing above differed from the common modern instance, e.g., the word “reaching” appeared instead of “achieving”. Nevertheless, the statement provided a strong semantic match.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading What You Get By Reaching Your Goals Is Not Nearly So Important As What You Become By Reaching Them

Notes:

  1. 1974, Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles by Zig Ziglar, Segment 4: Goals, Chapter 4: Reaching Your Goals, Quote Page 171, Published by Update Division of Crescendo Publications, Dallas, Texas. (Verified with scans)

We Cannot Go Back and Start Over, But We Can Begin Now, and Make a New Ending

Zig Ziglar? Carl Bard? James R. Sherman? Philadelphia Eagles Football Team? Barrie M. Tritie? Dennis Reinhart? Maria Robinson? Jessie Jones?

Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I reach a dead-end or feel that I am stuck in a rut I can be re-energized by the following inspirational saying:

Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

These words have been attributed to the prominent motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and someone named Carl Bard. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: Zig Ziglar did employ this saying, and he credited Carl Bard. However, the earliest citation located by QI was written by another individual. In 1982 the author James R. Sherman, Ph. D. published a book titled “Rejection” which included the following prefatory statement:

All of us have been rejected more than once. We’ve been turned down for jobs, had applications refused, and lost out in romance.

Sherman’s work was designed to help readers constructively overcome the psychological pain resulting from rejection. A chapter called “How to Survive Rejection” contained an instance of the saying under examination. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

First of all, you have to accept the fact that your rejection is over and done with. There’s nothing you can do now to change what has already happened. If you spend time worrying about it, you’ll lose sight of the present and stumble into a cloudy future. You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.

This was the first instance located by QI, but the saying can be phrased in many ways; hence, earlier instances may exist. This entry represents a snapshot of what QI has learned, and other researchers may build on this information in the future.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Cannot Go Back and Start Over, But We Can Begin Now, and Make a New Ending

Notes:

  1. 1982, Rejection by James R. Sherman, Chapter: How to Survive Rejection, Quote Page 45, Published by Pathway Books, Golden Valley, Minnesota. (Verified with scans)

A Statue Has Never Been Set Up in Honour of a Critic

Zig Ziglar? Jean Sibelius? Bengt de Törne? Martha Graham? Agnes De Mille? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When the famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar died last year I saw a list of ten quotations ascribed to him. One was about criticism:

There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.

I thought this was first said by a prominent music composer or dancer. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this saying known to QI appeared in 1937 in “Sibelius: A Close-Up” which discussed the life and works of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. This book was authored by another composer named Bengt de Törne, and he described an exchange he had with Sibelius. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Then his voice changed in tone as he told me that he wanted to give me some good advice. ‘Never pay any attention to what critics say,’ he proceeded, and expatiated on this theme. When I ventured to put in the remark that their articles might sometimes be of great importance, he cut me short. ‘Remember,’ he said, ‘a statue has never been set up in honour of a critic!’

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Statue Has Never Been Set Up in Honour of a Critic

Notes:

  1. 1938, Sibelius: A Close-up by Bengt de Törne, Quote Page 27, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts. (An edition from Faber and Faber, London was published in 1937) (Verified with scans in 1938 edition)

Attitude Is a Little Thing That Makes a Big Difference

Winston Churchill? Theodore Roosevelt? Zig Ziglar? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I work in an office where they hang inspirational posters on the wall. The caption of one sign credits the following words to the master orator Winston Churchill:

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

I think that the person who created the poster knows that a distinguished attribution is a little thing that can make a big difference in the perception of a quotation. But this ascription seems laughably unlikely. Could you examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: This expression is not listed in “Churchill by Himself”, a comprehensive collection of Churchill quotations, 1 and QI has not located any substantive evidence linking the statement to him.

Writers have been deploying sentences that emphasized the contrast between a “little thing” and a “big difference” for more than one-hundred years. Here is an example in a letter about photography printed in Recreation magazine in 1895: 2

In our High School Scientific Association we founded an amateur photographic club, of which I was elected president, and we have pecks of fun out of it. Some of us learned, in a short time, that “little things make a big difference in the wonderful art of photography.”

Here is an example in 1920 from a book by an advertising specialist: 3

In the offices of most newspapers and many magazines there simply isn’t time to fuss over the little things that make such a big difference in the appearance of advertisements.

In 1977 a famous motivational writer and speaker named Zig Ziglar wrote a comment about attitude in his popular book “See You at the Top” that matched the saying under investigation: 4

Attitude is the “little” thing that makes the big difference. The story of life proves that it is often the minute things that spell the differences between triumph and tragedy, success and failure, victory or defeat. For example, if you call a girl a kitten, she will love you. Call her a cat and you’re in trouble.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Attitude Is a Little Thing That Makes a Big Difference

Notes:

  1. 2008, Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, Edited by Richard Langworth, PublicAffairs, New York.
  2. 1895 May, Recreation, Editor and Manager George O. Shields, (Letter to the editor from Paul A. Ulrich), Volume 2, Number 5, Quote Page 390, Column 2, Published by G.O. Shields (Coquina), New York. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1920, Making Advertisements and Making Them Pay by Roy S. Durstine (Roy Sarles Durstine), Quote Page 164, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1977, See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar, Segment Five: Attitude: Chapter One, Quote Page 204, (Twenty-seventh printing in January 1982), Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, Louisiana. (Verified on paper)