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Gray Matter: How We Perform as Individuals Will Determine How We Perform as a Nation

Every Monday for the past 18 months I have been posting and commenting on a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s.

Last week I wrote about the 75th, and final one, of those ads.

Today I thought I would share the preface to the book that Harry Gray compiled, known as Gray Matter, that contained all 75 of those ads. The book also contained background and statistics on each ad. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the highlights of those stats, as well as the Table of Contents, with links to each of my posts.

I always looked forward to my Monday blog for a couple of reasons. First, it was nice knowing in advance that I would have something to write about. Second, it was always fun, educational, and thought provoking to see what Harry wrote about.

Now Mondays will become like every other day, wondering what I’ll be writing about that day. I wish Harry Gray had written 750 ads…

Without further ado, here is the preface to Gray Matter.

In 1979, when I was chairman of United Technologies, some of us at that corporation decided we needed to let the business world know more about UTC through advertising. We had a choice to make:

We could launch the traditional sort of ad series to explain our product lines, our research investments, our operating philosophy, our financial results. Or we could take a flier on a strikingly untraditional series of messages, which would discuss life in general instead of life at the corporation.

The conventional approach probably would have worked as a way of telling what the corporation does. But the messages we decided to go with – the messages in this book – have let the world know about the kind of company UTC is. It has done that job with extraordinary effect.

The corporation has received requests for more than 4,225,000 reprints. It has opened over 850,000 letters – many of them long and thoughtful. I have been sent candy, flowers, product samples of various kinds, offers for investment, civic awards.

Johnny Carson read one of our messages on his show. Ann Landers has reprinted many of them. School boards in several big cities have made copies by the thousands for distribution to students. Military leaders have told me our ads are used by the services as motivational messages. Five of these messages were among the 10 best-read ads to appear in The Wall Street Journal in the past decade. 

I don’t know why for sure why this series has been so astonishingly effective. But I have some theories.

For one thing, I believe we were right to invite readers to think – instead of telling them how to think.

I believe we did well to discuss everyday subjects that affect everyone in some way, instead of talking about ourselves.

I think we were wise to stay with problems that can be solved rather than tackling complex, abstract problems that elude solution.

Most basically, I believe we struck a responsive chord with the underlying theme for this campaign:

How we perform as individuals will determine how we perform as a nation.

In a democracy, this has to be so. In a corporation, too, individual behavior is the key to organizational performance. Readers evidently find the theme sensible and inspiring at the same time.

So do I, and I was proud to put it forth as the premise for this unique communications effort.

I hope you enjoy this collection of Wall Street Journal messages.

– Harry Gray

Table of Contents, with links

  1. Keep It Simple
  2. Why Does Everyone Hate Meetings?
  3. Do You Remember Who Gave You Your First Break?
  4. Let’s Get Rid of “The Girl”
  5. We’re Gonna Miss Ya Duke
  6. The Slim Margin of Success
  7. It’s What You Do – Not When You Do It
  8. I Pledge
  9. To the Kid on the End of the Bench
  10. Hold the Phone
  11. The Most Elusive Gift of All
  12. You’re the Finest
  13. This Will Make You Feel Better
  14. I Take Pride in My Work
  15. What Are We Going to Do about Fred?
  16. Anything You Can Do They Can Do, Too
  17. Will You Commit Larceny Today?
  18. The Most Creative Job in the World
  19. In the Next 45 Seconds Your Resume May Not Look So Hot
  20. Memo to Those Who Write Memos
  21. Get Out of That Rut (my personal favorite)
  22. Here’s an Idea That Can Strengthen Your Family
  23. Have You Looked in Your Backyard Lately?
  24. The Dumbest Person in the World
  25. Johnny and Suzy Better Get Cracking
  26. The Snake That Poisons Everybody
  27. Whatever Happened to “Yes Please”?
  28. Do You Owe Something to Eliza McCardle?
  29. Aim So High You’ll Never Be Bored
  30. Oops
  31. Rustproof Your Retirement
  32. Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?
  33. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
  34. The Onside Kick
  35. Can Eight Words Make a Better World?
  36. If You Think You Know a Lot, Try This Test
  37. The Decline of Standards
  38. Stop Screaming
  39. Where Do You Get Your Information?
  40. What Are We Doing to Ourselves?
  41. Find a Leaking Ship
  42. Stick Your Neck Out
  43. Decisions, Decisions
  44. On Patriotism
  45. Little Things
  46. Stay in Touch
  47. Do It Now
  48. Make Something Happen
  49. Hey, Kids
  50. Something to Cheer About
  51. Will the Real You Please Stand Up?
  52. Workmanship
  53. How Important Are You?
  54. Don’t Be Sorry You Said It
  55. The Power of Parents
  56. Snob Appeal
  57. The Sleeping Fox Gathers No Poultry
  58. Don’t Quit
  59. Start Something with a Good Idea
  60. Innovate or Abdicate
  61. Let’s Get Rid of Management
  62. Clear the Air
  63. Get the Drunks Off the Road
  64. Once an Acorn
  65. Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver
  66. Common Courtesy Is No Longer Common
  67. The Two Penny Difference
  68. Thanks to Sue
  69. Common Sense
  70. Where Are You?
  71. You Ain’t What’s Wrong with America
  72. When’s the Best Time to Stop Talking?
  73. Brighten Your Corner
  74. A Day to Remember
  75. Doolittle Did a Lot

Some facts and figures:

Keep It Simple was the first WSJ message and was included in the 100 Greatest Corporate and Industrial Ads by Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. It started a steady flow of business cards, with ideas on the back, to Harry Gray.

Ads that received the greatest number of reprint requests:

  • I Pledge – 405,000 requests
  • Onside Kick – 207,000 requests
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Fail – 123,000 requests
  • Hey, Kids – 116,000 requests
  • Dumbest Person in the World – 104,000 requests

Ads that received the greatest number of letters:

  • Don’t Be Afraid to Fail – 36,000 letters
  • Dumbest Person in the World – 28,000 letters
  • Little Things – 26,000 letters
  • Aim So High – 23,000 letters
  • Keep It Simple – 21,000 letters

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

3 thoughts on “Gray Matter: How We Perform as Individuals Will Determine How We Perform as a Nation”

  1. Hi Mr. Borden,

    I’ve been trying to find a hardcopy of Gray Matter and here it is in print! Thank you so much for posting it.

    My best,
    PL Gray




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