Shortly after I begin my five year employment stint at Nike, the entire campus population was shuttled to the Portland Convention Center in waves for the roll out of what is known as the Nike Maxims. The Maxims were rolled out with great fan-fare and ado, as is the nature of things at Nike. World class athletes, Phil Knight, trinkets, t-shirts and a highly stylized booklet greeted every employee; again consistent with all things Nike. The presentation was professional in its production values and high in energy; also trademarks of anything rolled out by Nike Inc., and consequently produced by Michael Doherty.
I left with a sense of awe, and I felt that this was the way that all companies should do business. As someone highly down on “the next great thing,” “the flavor of the month,” or “jargon-de-jour,” however I wasn’t too sure that I was sold on the Maxims themselves. I thought that like most “next great things,” these new catch-phrases would go into the dust bin with the likes of platform shoes, beta-max, and Kobe Bryant’s Nike endorsement deal. But they endured, and the closer I studied them the more I understood why.
While I was not privy to the behind-the-scenes development of the Nike Maxims, it is easy to imagine that any kind of committee work is likely to produce little of value, much less something with relevance or longevity. It is why I am still impressed with the Nike Maxims today. At least eight years after the lights dimmed on Phil Knight and Marion Jones, and four years after I left Nike, they are relevant and adaptable. It is a testament to the creativity of Nike leadership and the quality of work that they produced, rarely matched in my experience before or since.
The Nike Maxims are intended to provide a ready guide for those times that Nike employees at all levels found themselves asking the question “What do I do now/next?”
The Nike Maxims are intended to help focus and give synergy to the efforts of all Nike employees worldwide, and to help Nike leverage those synergies to their business advantage.
The Nike Maxims act as a compass and prevent organizational wandering and hence organizational chaos and ineffectiveness.
And as with any well-written piece, the Nike Maxims can be interpreted and adapted to help organizations and individuals in ways, I am sure, Nike never intended or envisioned.
This is why the GOP and Michael Steele need to take a look at them, embrace them, and mold them into a guide for all Republicans from this point on. The GOP is sitting where it is because it lost its way. It overspent and ear-marked. It failed to tackle the tough issues and therefore fixed very little. It mimicked the behaviors of Democrats instead sticking to Reagan-esque principles. It abandoned the strategies and beliefs that swept them into power in 1994. It wandered aimlessly as a collection of loosely associated individuals. It lost its soul and its collective foundation. It begs for re-alignment.
What the GOP needs to do now and into the future is to examine the guiding document served up from one of the experts in brand development and brand management, and develop a scheme of maneuver for the immediate future and a strategic vision for the long-term. I’ve substituted GOP where Nike would have been. Read and heed.
1. "It is our nature to innovate." The Reagan election to the Presidency. The Republicans taking the house and Senate. And the two-term GWB Presidency are all ripe with innovation. The performances of Congressional Republicans, and domestically by President Bush, were in many cases pathetic variations of elaborate Democratic vote buying schemes usually punctuated by give-aways and unnecessary pork. Avoid the old; develop the new. Too much effort? Welcome to the Obama Presidency.
2. "GOP is a Party." While it has a big tent, the GOP still stands for certain principles and going off the reservation is enough to deserve an opponent in the next primary. Blind Party loyalty is not expected, but contrarian voting in an effort to keep one’s seat should be rewarded with a highly qualified opponent in the next primary season. Don’t fit under the tent? Run as an independent and let a true conservative run under the GOP banner.
3. "GOP is a brand." These are the core GOP principles that do not change in a tough campaign, or because we are in the majority, or because we want to keep our leather chair on the House floor. We are fiscal and social conservatives who support the second amendment and prefer the culture of life over the culture of death. Pretty easy. Not your brand? Buy adidas.
4. "Simplify and go." Always stick to the basics. The American people get it. Convoluted arguments, and multi-tiered positions on simple issues only erode the clarity of the message and undermine the confidence others have in your motives and ability to produce results. Get lost? See #3.
5. "The voter decides." The Party is keenly aware of the sophistication of the voter and it treats them as its key stakeholders. It doesn’t act if they can be bought with pork products. The GOP needs to trust that the voters grasp the key issues and that they understand that compromises and tough decisions are part of political leadership and often put one’s leather chair into the hands of the voters.
6. "Be a sponge." The GOP needs to completely dump inside the beltway conventional wisdom. They need to be tapping into fresh sources for ideas and leadership. They need to go to our vets for ideas and candidates. They need to engage young Americans as equals. They need to cultivate young minds by sponsoring clubs and conventions of young conservative thinkers. They need to actively counter the liberal messaging that permeates our educational systems, with precise messaging to those even younger than voting age -- much like little league or pee-wee hockey. Just because you won in your district, doesn’t mean you know what is going on in the rest of the country. Open your ears and shut your mouths. Listen to those in talk radio. You don’t have to be dictated to, but their analysis covers your blind spots.
7. "Evolve immediately." Fix the things that are wrong with the party now. Eliminate GOP pork. Develop a new contract with America; and keep your word this time. Recruit winning candidates; don’t let losers percolate up from local committees as rewards for “paying dues.” Bring energy and innovation into the campaigns and advertising by charting new ground in advertising and in the new media. Think, then do. Countless retreats with sycophantic party wonks produces inside-the-beltway, nonsensical drivel.
8. "Do the right thing." Only compromise when the results do not impact core principles. See #3.
9. "Master the fundamentals." Be expert at organization and fund-raising. Always have the candidate best for the Party, if not, push a competitive primary. Never get out-maneuvered on the Census, selection of judges, or procedural antics. Re-define, modernize, and solidify the roles of Minority/Majority leadership as appropriate; all plays go through the quarterback. Don’t concede anything; start cultivating winning strategies and candidates in “Democrat” districts. Re-define the political map.
10. "We are on the offence--always." Start running the next campaign right after the last election. Push hard in toss-up districts. Cultivate winning candidates Democrat districts. Start keeping detailed notes on incumbents and start messaging their voting records to their constituents now. Continually research for weaknesses and faults. Be aggressive in campaigns; hit every serve back over the net. After the handshake, stop being polite. Don’t negotiate with the Dems, they don’t negotiate back. Always pick aggressive Party leaders.
11. "Remember the Man." It all began with Reagan and his new vision for conservatism; no reason to stray too far from his basic ideas of strong defense, family values, fiscal restraint, and less government. Get too far from that, you’ll lose the base and your leather chair.
My sincerest apologies to Nike for pilfering their Maxims, but I think I have given them the appropriate respect.
To Republicans everywhere it is time to close ranks, get active, and start to coalesce into the dynamic force that is cloistered at home during the Limbaugh, Hannity, Medved and Hewitt shows. It is time to do more.
To the Party, evolve now by adopting these Maxims, anything less won’t allow you to take advantage of the huge opportunity looming in 2010.
Fortune favors the brave; drop the usual inside-the-beltway protestations against change and shift gears.