The “famous” college quarter-inch drill conundrum

Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt has famously said that, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

But that doesn’t go far enough.

They want the shelf they hang on the wall.

Actually, they want the sense of accomplishment of finishing a project. They want the status it brings. They want it to match the story they tell in how they decorate the wall. They want the wall to say something about themselves.

Understanding that, lets step sideways and examine the problem of parents over scheduling their kids.

It has become clear that kid’s schedules today are much more filled than ever before. If you are going to go to one of those famous colleges, you need straight A’s (and not just the regular classes but the honor classes), play an instrument, be captain of the football team, volunteer at the animal shelter, be the next class President and it helps to be part of the prom court—all in an effort to get into a famous college.

But what makes a college famous? Is college algebra so much different at Stanford than it is at CalTech?

Of course not. What makes a college famous is the football team.

There is no data that suggests that by going to a famous college you are going to be more successful.

So why are parents spending a fortune in time, money, energy and hopes that their kids will go to one of the elite schools? Because of the way it makes parents feel to send their kids to a famous college.

We have to understand, that we are not doing these things for them. We are doing this for me.

Parents want the status, the story, the badge, the believe that comes with sending their kid to the best. It signals that you as a parent have done something right. 

The bottom line: Be careful what kind of selections you make to solve your problems. The tools you use is all part of the story you tell.