Especially powerful presentation topics often go against the grain of today’s headlines and truisms.
They make us think, make us uncomfortable, and they challenge conventional wisdom.
Often they remind us that arguments have two sides . . . and the other side, while sometimes uncongenial to us, can be logical, cogent, and powerful.
How do we handle such topics when we present them?
With relish and gusto . . . with élan and brio.
What follows is a powerful rallying cry to business, penned by marketing legend Theodore Leavitt.
An especially powerful presentation topic it is.
The Proper Role of Business – Powerful Presentation Topic
Business will have a much better chance of surviving if there is no nonsense about its goals – that is, if long-run profit maximization is the one dominant objective in practice as well as in theory.
Business should recognize what government’s functions are and let it go at that, stopping only to fight government where government directly intrudes itself into business. It should let government take care of the general welfare so that business can take care of the more material aspects of welfare.
The results of any such single-minded devotion to profit should be invigorating. With none of the corrosive distractions and costly bureaucracies that now serve the pious cause of welfare, politics, society, and putting up a pleasant front, with none of these draining its vitality, management can shoot for the economic moon.
It can thrust ahead in whatever way seems consistent with its money-making goals.
If laws and threats stand in its way, it should test and fight them, relenting only if the courts have ruled against it, and then probing again to test the limits of the rules.
And when business fights, it should fight with uncompromising relish and self-assertiveness, instead of using all the rhetorical dodges and pious embellishments that are now so often its stock in trade.
Practicing self-restraint behind the cloak of the insipid dictum that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has only limited justification. Certainly it often pays not to squeeze the last dollar out of a market especially when good will is a factor in the long-term outlook.
But too often self-restraint masquerades for capitulation.
Businessmen complain about legislative and other attacks on aggressive profit seeking but then lamely go forth to slay the dragon with speeches that simply concede business’s function to be service. The critic quickly pounces on this admission with unconcealed relish – “Then why don’t you serve?”
But the fact is, no matter how much business “serves,” it will never be enough for its critics.
Boldness is Needed
If the all-out competitive prescription sounds austere or harsh, that is only because we persist in judging things in terms of Utopian standards. Altruism, self-denial, charity, and similar values are vital in certain walks of our life – areas which, because of that fact, are more important to the long-run future than business.
But for the most part those virtues are alien to competitive economics.
If it sounds callous to hold such a view, and suicidal to publicize it, that is only because business has done nothing to prepare the community to agree with it. There is only one way to do that: to perform at top ability and to speak vigorously for (not in defense of) what business does . . . .
No Knuckling Under to Criticism
In the end business has only two responsibilities – to obey the elementary canons of everyday face-to-face civility (honesty, good faith, and so on) and to seek material gain. The fact that it is the butt of demagogical critics is no reason for management to lose its nerve – to buckle under to reformers – lest more severe restrictions emerge to throttle business completely.
Few people will man the barricades against capitalism if it is a good provider, minds its own business, and supports government in the things which are properly government’s. Even today, most American critics want only to curb capitalism, not to destroy it. And curbing efforts will not destroy it if there is free and open discussion about its singular function.
To the extent that there is conflict, can it not be a good thing? Every book, every piece of history, even every religion testifies to the fact that conflict is and always has been the subject, origin, and life-blood of society. Struggle helps to keep us alive, to give élan to life.
We should try to make the most of it, not avoid it.
Lord Acton has said of the past that people sacrificed freedom by grasping at impossible justice. The contemporary school of business morality seems intent on adding its own caveat to that unhappy consequence. The gospel of tranquility is a soporific.
Instead of fighting for its survival by means of a series of strategic retreats masquerading as industrial statesmanship, business must fight as if it were at war.
And, like a good war, it should be fought gallantly, daringly, and, above all, not morally.
Harvard Business Review, 1959
For more on developing especially powerful presentation topics, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.