COPYRIGHT 1996 - 2008

Marketing Myopia Article

March 30 2007


There seems to be a touch of constructionism in the development of the Levitt story.
Have you read the "Case of Little Hans" (Freud)?
Source: [Online]:

"The aim of the case study was to report the findings of the treatment of a five-year-old boy for his phobia of horses. Freud was attempting to demonstrate that the boys (Little Hans) fear of horses was related to his Oedipus complex. Freud thought that, during the phallic stage (approximately between 3 and 6 years old), a boy develops an intense sexual love for his mothers. Because of this, he sees his father as a rival, and wants to get rid of him. The father, however, is far bigger and more powerful than the young boy, and so the child develops a fear that, seeing him as a rival, his father will castrate him. Because it is impossible to live with the continual castration-threat anxiety provided by this conflict, the young boy develops a mechanism for coping with it, using a defence mechanism known as 'identification with the aggressor'. He stresses all the ways that he is similar to his father, adopting his father's attitudes, mannerisms and actions, feeling that if his father sees him as similar, he will not feel hostile towards him

Freud used a case study method to investigate Little Hans’ phobia. However the case study was actually carried out by the boy’s father who was a friend and supporter of Freud. Freud probably only met the boy once. The father reported to Freud via correspondence and Freud gave directions as how to deal with the situation based on his interpretations of the father’s reports.
Freud noted that it was the special relationship between Hans and his father that allowed the analysis to progress and for the discussions with the boy to be so detailed and so intimate. The first reports of Hans are when he was 3 years old.

The first reports of Hans are when he was 3 years old when he developed an active interest in his ‘widdler’ (penis), and also those of other people. For example on one occasion he asked ‘Mummy, have you got a widdler too?’ Throughout this time, the main theme of his fantasies and dreams was widdlers and widdling. When he was about three years and six months old his mother told him not to touch his widdler or else she would call the doctor to come and cut it off.

When Hans was almost 5, Hans’ father wrote to Freud explaining his concerns about Hans. He described the main problem as follows: ‘He is afraid a horse will bite him in the street, and this fear seems somehow connected with his having been frightened by a large penis’. The father went on to provide Freud with extensive details of conversations with Hans. Together, Freud and the father tried to understand what the boy was experiencing and undertook to resolve his phobia of horses.

Hans’ anxieties and phobia continued and he was afraid to go out of the house because of Hans’ anxieties and phobia continued and he was afraid to go out of the house because of his phobia of horses. Hans told his father of a dream/fantasy which his father summarized as follows: ‘In the night there was a big giraffe in the room and a crumpled one: and the big one called out because I took the crumpled one away from it. Then it stopped calling out: and I sat down on top of the crumpled one’. Freud and the father interpreted the dream/fantasy as being a reworking of the morning exchanges in the parental bed. Hans enjoyed getting into his parents bed in a morning but his father often objected (the big giraffe calling out because he had taken the crumpled giraffe - mother - away). Both Freud and the father believed that the long neck of the giraffe was a symbol for the large adult penis. However Hans rejected this idea.

When Hans was taken to see Freud, he was asked about the horses he had a phobia of. Hans noted that he didn’t like horses with black bits around the mouth. Freud believed that the horse was a symbol for his father, and the black bits were a moustache. After the interview, the father recorded an exchange with Hans where the boy said ‘Daddy don’t trot away from me!’;

Hans' became particularly frightened about horses falling over. He described to his father an incident where he witnessed this happening (later confirmed by his mother). Throughout this analysis the parents continued to record enormous examples of conversations and the father asked many leading questions to help the boy discover the root of his fear. For example: Father: When the horse fell down did you think of your daddy?

Hans: Perhaps. Yes. It’s possible.

Hans’ fear of the horses started to decline and Freud believed that two final fantasies marked a change in Hans and lead to a resolution of his conflicts and anxieties.

Firstly, Hans had described a fantasy where he was married to his mother and was playing with his own children. In this fantasy he had promoted his father to the role of grandfather.

In the second fantasy, he described how a plumber came and first removed his bottom and widdler and then gave him another one of each, but larger.

At age 19 the not so Little Hans appeared at Freud’s consulting room having read his case history. Hans confirmed that he had suffered no troubles during adolescence and that he was fit and well. He could not remember the discussions with his father, and described how when he read his case history it ‘came to him as something unknown’

Freud believed that the findings from the case study of Little Hans supported his theories of child development.

In particular, the case study provided support for his theory of Oedipus Complex in which the young boy develops an intense sexual love for his mother and because of this, he sees his father as a rival and wants to get rid of him. Freud believed that much of Hans’ problem came from the conflict caused by this wish. The final fantasy of being married to his mother supported this idea.

According to Freud the cause of Little Hans’ phobia was related to his Oedipus complex. Little Hans’, it was argued, was afraid of horses because the horse was a symbol for his father. For example the black bits around the horses face reminded the boy of his father’s moustache, the blinkers reminded him of his fathers glasses and so on. Freud believed that as Little Hans was having sexual fantasies about his mother he feared his father’s retaliation. Little Hans therefore displaced his fear of his father onto horses who reminded him of his father."

Freud used symbols to confirm a "his" story. Explicit events are tacitly enjoined to predispositions. In Psych. III, we were given a more comprehensive account of what happened to "Little Hans". A horse wagon collapsed, fell, and Little Han's mortality was very nearly a memory. My story is derived from a time at University having written a 5,000 word paper on Systematic Desensitisation and the somatic effects of stress leading me to believe Hans had been frightened and had developed an adverse autonomatic response to a stimulus, horses. (like the bodily response of seeing a snake) I have a different story.
I think Levitt's account, like Freud's account, is a little too selective. Both stories have sought verification of an entrenched position, drawing from a pocket fall of symbols/marbles: "I will use my best steel Bodge (Oedipus complex) and shoot real hard!"

Are my own symbols more potent? Perhaps, not. Just the same, I do feel one could complement the basic symbolism with what is known about the nervous system and stress biochemicals. (Of course, these are part of my story) Moreover, the science associated with my story is itself is a powerful, nay, very powerful symbol.

I think the way Freud and Levitt see things goes back to the from-to construct posited by Polanyi. We all interpret meaning outwards from ourselves. Freud and Han's father concurred as to tact-explicit symbolism. (Perhaps, Han's father had a rule, "I will believe what Herr Professor Doctor Freud tells me".) What is interesting is that Freud and Han's father (a medical doctor and disciple of Freud, if I recall) didn't listen to own Han's perfectly rational story. Surely, some of Levitt's readers felt uncomfortable with the cited examples. Emperor's new clothes? How did/would Levitt respond?
When using the from-to construct, I think Polanyi would have it that the storyteller cannot be separated from their story. Communication is not ping-pong. Rather, I feel conjunctions are the overlapping of stories and disjunctions are the absence of the same. Trust my interpretations do not seem too weird to you?

I would need check, but if memory serves, Levitt wrote a highly regarded paper on Customisation versus Standardisation. I will have a look. What you say about many accolades for minor effort is noted. Sort of a Liberace Syndrome... I am told Liberace was not a concert quality pianist, yet he was better known than Rubenstein. Have you noted the popularity of matrices in the Marketing literature? Excellent explanatory devices but often limited or misrepresentative of complex phenomena.


Post script: When I was about 4 years old, my brother (ten years older) would take me to the train station to watch the Sydney to Melbourne Spirit of Progress thunder through at high speed... And I thought I was frightened by a 350 ton Garrett shaking the platform to its foundations. ;-)

Peter. Of course the lesson of Marketing Myopia is only derived from a story. Levitt was perhaps so committed to this story that he saw things in his own way. Or he saw it the way he was told to see it. He may not even have written the article. How many other articles has he written? Comparing this to his other limited writings would be interesting. HBR rewrites all submissions. Such fame for so little contribution is always the path of story devotees that will say and do anything? One has to wonder? To encourage business to not diversify? It seems to have been successful. David

Peter Sinclair

David: I read with interest your comments on Theodore Levitt's renowned "Marketing Myopia" paper. You provide excellent examples. Are you saying that his lesson is wrong? ... not just the examples. That is, the idea of defining a domain rather than a specific industry? Around 1880-1910, I guess there would have been considerable inventiveness flowing from the Second Industrial Revolution. There were theorists but also practical guys like Edison who would try something a thousand times until it worked: Railways would have been a much more developed industry than road transport. Had US rail companies backed the very early horseless carriages, I wonder if a penchant towards "steam" related engineering skills would have them look more towards steam cars? At that time, (to be) successful automotive companies were engineering companies which branched into both aircraft and automobiles. As you would know, BMW, Merc and Saab have propellers as hood mascots. Rolls is also into cars and aircraft. What might be being leveraged here is " mechanical engineering" not "transport". But perhaps Levitt might see it otherwise. A case in point to support the "mechanical engineering" might be some of the Japanese Zaibatsu. Some companies (Toyoda/Toyota) moved from sowing machines to planes (WWII) and cars. Here Levitt would have had Japanese companies provide services to the garment industry and advise building garment stores, or something. Just the same, I do see benefit in defining one's scope widely... However, enterprise knowledge, learning curves, distinctive competencies and as you rightly point the Law have to be recognized too. It is a complex story. Peter p.s. The sizable Bank I once worked with, in the exuberant '80s, went on an international spending spree buying up gold brokers, insurance companies and stock brokage houses. In 1992, a badly burnt Bank declared, "we must go to core business"! Admittedly, there was bad lending too.