…standing for something also means standing against something.
JOHN LAURENS: Burr, the revolution’s imminent. What do you stall for?
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?
Seven minutes into Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece Hamilton, the forgotten founding father lands a philosophical blow to the man who would eventually cut him down.
I hear this question two ways:
1: If you have no commitment to a cause, why even bother?
2: If you have no firm beliefs, how easily are you duped?
Miranda asks a worthwhile question. What do you stand for? If I ask 50 people about you or your business, can they clearly answer that? Clearly. Not a fuzzy kinda-sorta… but, an emphatically clear answer.
Brace yourself, because standing for something also means standing against something. Some people just aren’t gonna dig your business. What do you stand against? What customers do you not want?
It seems counter intuitive to suggest there are customers you do not want… because, ya know, money. But, it is indeed an important question to ask.
Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, set out to build a discount airline. At the time, flying was only for those of means. Kelleher’s mission was to invent THE low fair airline. This meant that anything that may cause Southwest to raise their prices unnecessarily needed to be eliminated. No meals. No first class. A purely functional airline that got everyday people from place to place. Kelleher tells of a time when wealthy friends said they would love to fly his new airline, but they only fly first class. “Put a few rows of first class seats in your planes, Herb, and I’ll gladly fly Southwest.” Herb said, “No thank you, you’ll have to find another airline.”
An undeniable commitment to a belief. You have a pack of wealthy business executives willing and ready to hand over MORE money than you usually make. Herb said, “No thank you.”
Kelleher knows who his customers are, and who they are not. Southwest continues to be the lone airline that has posted a profit for 43 straight years. That includes the recessions in 1981, 1990, 2001 and 2007. He has outlasted giants like Pan Am, Eastern, TWA, Northwest, and Branniff.
You can’t tell me what any of those last 5 airlines stood for. Or against. You do know, with undeniable clarity, what Southwest stands for. And against.
AARON BURR: Alexander, please!
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Burr, I’d rather be divisive than indecisive, drop the niceties.
If you stand for nothing, what is it all for?