keystoneThe keystone
is a wedge-shaped stone at the very top of an arch. It was the last
piece to be placed in the construction and completes the curved
structure. The other stones push against it and as a result the arch
does not collapse. This is why it is
, earning its name and providing safety to all who pass below.

Interestingly, it takes the least amount of stress of all the stones in
the arch. Its primary purpose is not to bear the load above, but to
receive the force coming from the adjacent stones.

Legend has it in ancient Rome that the architect would stand beneath
the keystone when the scaffolding was removed from the arch and put his
life on the line to demonstrate the efficacy of his design and work.

Heinz ketchupPA turnpikePennsylvania is known as the keystone state because of its
importance among the original thirteen colonies of the United States,
due in large part to its central location as well as being the nexus
for commercial and political power in the early days.

As a result, a stylized keystone icon is used for Pennsylvania’s
highways, the logo of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Little League Baseball
(founded in Williamsport), and even Heinz Ketchup (headquartered in

What is your keystone?
Every organization has a central feature it
uses to establish its place in the market. For Walmart it is saving
money. For Apple it is high-design lifestyle technology. For the USA
it’s independence, freedom, leadership, and innovation. (Happy Fourth
to all my American friends!)

Your keystone is what balances the array of products and services you
provide, making it possible for them to stand together as a cohesive
group in your customers’ minds. Like a literal keystone, your central
feature should not bear immense weight by itself. Instead it should
transform the pressure of internal forces so they compliment each other
and present a unified thrust in the marketplace.

Just as the ancient Roman architects put their lives on the line when
the scaffolding was removed, so your market survival is determined when
you pull away your marketing and PR. Without you there to make a pitch
your customers, members, and clients will decide for themselves whether
or not your offerings form a cohesive whole and are a brand worth
supporting with their time, energy and money. 

Quartermaine Coffee RoastersFor the sake of demonstrating the keystone on a more
personal scale, there is Quartermaine Coffee Roasters in Bethesda,
Maryland, not too far from my house. It is there that I wrote my
bestselling book, Getting Change Right.

Their keystone is providing locally roasted coffee in a community
environment, building their clientele one person at a time. Their beans
are always fresh and the atmosphere is warm.

Often when I stop by to pick up my beans I sort through the bins with
Calvin. In addition to his broad grin and welcoming attitude, he is
knowledgeable about what’s on hand and the attributes of each. He works
the roaster as well as the store, so he knows first hand. He always has
time to help me search for just the right coffee to grind at home. He
often asks what my next book will be about. After I have picked up a
pound of whole bean I often retire to the benches out front to enjoy a
cup of Joe and people-watch. It’s a community coffee shop at its best.

Knowing whom you are is key. Take a lesson from those who do it well
and make it central to your efforts.