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

26 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


  2. I’m so mad at myself for losing my copy. It might be in the basement but I fear I donated with some old books long ago. I love that you kept yours and blogged about it! Thanks!


    1. I’m impressed that you had a copy of the book! I got a copy through my school’s interlibrary loan program, so I only had it for a couple of weeks.


      1. Today I found my print /bound copy of Gray Matter! It was copyright in 1983 and has a library of congress #…. But it ends at essay # 58 (Sleeping Fox Captures no Poultry) … UT must have created at least one other version of compilations.

        On the back of each (frameable) essay it says how many letters UT received about it and requests for reprints that they had fulfilled for that particular essay, as of press time in 1983…

        one of the more popular ones ran in 1979 “It’s What You Do, Not When You Do It.” So popular they reran it in WSJ, getting even more requests for reprints … UT mailed out 224,018 reprints at presstime in response to what we’d now call “going viral” in 1983.

        No wonder , it gives hope to all of us that no matter how old or young we are, there’s still time for us to do good or even great things in our lives.

        The 16 year old Greta drawing attention to the dire consequences of climate change is proving the essay right…the kids at Stoneman Douglas HS have also accomplished more than adults could in exposing the NRA and fighting for more sane laws for gun control. (The essay points out that Ben Franklin was a newspaper columnist when he was only 16)

        Anyway, my first thought when I found my copy was to tell you! You are the only one I know who was as a big a fan of those ads as I was 🙂


      2. Hi Susan! That is so cool that you found your copy! I had to borrow one from the library, and yes, it had 75 essays, along with all those fun facts that you mention. What a great analogy with the 1979 essay to what Great is doing and what the kids at Stoneman are doing. I guess Malala would fall into that category as well. If only those in power would listen!


  3. Thanks for all your work capturing these essays online, Jim.
    And somehow YOU got me to finally start my own blog…

    don’t worry, I credited your copious work reflecting on Harry Gray’s reflections. 🙂

    Thanks again!

    (I hope this will not be my only blog entry ever, but … life gets busy …we will see 🙂

    Hope you’re enjoying London “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” ( we have a big picture with that engraved on it, can’t remember who said it!)


    1. Hi Susan,

      So happy to hear that you have started blogging; I wish you the best. Sounds like a good writing group that you are a part of, loved the story of the couple on their 80s. The one ad that always stuck me, and motivated me to try and find all of them was Get Out of That Rut:

      It sounds like you have had a fascinating career, from being an ad exec to working on Capitol Hill – much more interesting than teaching accounting 🙂

      We are loving London, really makes us want to live in a city where we can walk to everything when we retire.

      I wish you the best with your blogging; if you want some inspiration, one of my favorite bloggers is David Kanigan at He posts something every day; sometimes it his own thoughts, other times it is sharing some beautiful photos or poetry or literature.


  4. There was a book published of all Harry Gray’s ads for United Technologies in The Wall Street Journal. I’ve tried Abebooks but still can’t find a copy of this book. If anyone can help me to get aa copy of it I will be beyond grateful.


    1. Hi Michael. yes, it is hard to find. I was able to get a copy through my university library, but obviously I had to return that copy. That is why I’ve posted all of the ads on my web site, so that people can browse through them. They were great ads! (and sorry for the delay, somehow your comment was in my spam folder!)


      1. Michael Wolff, my copy says its Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is 83-051740

        But apparently there is a later edition of it too as my copy stops at 58 essays, not 75.


  5. Hello from Japan,

    Recently I read Gray Matter in Japanese and deeply impressed.
    I searched original English texts of Gray Matter on web, I came upon your blog.

    I like your warm comments written about each ad message.

    This year I would not go to any place just staying home due to Corona virus, but I am happy since I find your interesting blog!
    I am going to enjoy your old posts.

    Thank you for sharing precious 75 messages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, Yoshiko, for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the book, Gray Matter – I thought it was a thought provoking and inspirational collection of essays.

      Let’s hope that the corona virus is under control so that we can get back to our normal way of life.


  6. Just a little bit more information, each name referred to in let’s get rid of the girl were real people that I knew, one of which was my sister who complained to my father that her employer always referred to her and other women as girls – thus the birth of this particular column. Btw this column series was preceded by another similar column series for another publication with the same dynamic response

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That is so validating to know, casey. The essays sound authentic and from the heart, not your typical corporate PR or Madison Ave ghost writing, and now you’ve just confirmed they are indeed “real” … thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My personal favorite is We’re gonna miss ya, Duke. I always felt that this was the most creatiive while at the same time leading to a powerful message. Definite favorite. i once met a student from Japan who said his work was used in her class as an example of how Americans think. I have copies of some of the letters from all over the world from people who would state the impact particular pieces had on them. There were some heart wrenching letters. Of course I will always remember the occasional visit to a phone booth in Ogunquit ME (on summer vacation) when I would hand him quarters as he would dictate a piece to his secretary in New York for publication that month. An interesting life

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.