Things were grim on June 4, 1940, particularly if you were a British citizen.
World War II was in full swing, and the German army – called the Wehrmacht – was tearing across the face of Europe. France was one of Britain’s last hopes for defense against the invading Germans, and news had just reached Britain saying the French defenses were going to break any day.
Morale wasn’t low in Britain. It was nonexistent.
That made Winston Churchill’s job extraordinarily difficult. As Prime Minister, he had a speech to give. And in it, he had to convey three key points to his constituents…
- France’s defenses were probably going to fail, causing France (Britain’s primary ally) to opt out of the war entirely
- The Wehrmacht was probably going to invade Britain (leading to the subjugation and death of many of Churchill’s people)
- Despite those things, Churchill totally expected to win the war. And he expected his citizens to feel the same way
But there was a problem with these talking points. If Churchill said too much, his people would rebel. If he said too little, their confusion would breed terror. His speech – the process through which he would try to deliver inspiration – had to be perfect. There was no room for error.
Churchill’s Ties to Lean Six Sigma
Churchill understood his role. He wasn’t just a politician or an orator. He was a manufacturer. Think about it like this – the British army created a military offensive by mass producing guns, bombs, tanks, planes and land mines. Their processes involved bending steel and reinforcing iron.
Churchill, conversely, mass produced courage and pride. He created tenacity, resilience and hope in those who listened to him. His process involved bending words and reinforcing emotions. And so he stood in front of his beleaguered and devastated citizens, and he spoke like a Lean Six Sigma practitioner, removing the uncertainty and fear from his voice, and delivering only the words his audience truly needed to hear.
He told them that France was failing.
He told them the Wehrmacht was coming.
And then he manufactured the most extraordinary bit of inspiration he would ever create in his legendary life. He told his people to take heart, because they were ready for anything:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
Re-read that paragraph. Is there a single thought or idea you’d remove to make the message – the product – stronger? Was there a more efficient way Churchill could’ve manufactured inspiration and courage through his words?
He knew what his consumers needed, and he delivered it to them without wasting time, without wasting effort, and without over-manufacturing his product. And that’s why history remembers it as one of the greatest speeches of all time.
“That [speech],” said British Parliament member Josiah Wedgwood, soon after it was delivered, “was worth 1,000 guns and the speeches of 1,000 years.”