11th December 2013

Who warrants ‘Global Legend’ status?


So Nelson Mandela is definitely up there. But who else?

After our Christmas lunch last Friday, we reassembled in the pub and started a very heated debate about what it takes to be a true global legend. At the time, we thought it was a brilliant debate and that we were all equally brilliant. On Monday, it took us a while to even remember which pub we had been in.

In conclusion to our discussion, we boiled ‘legendary status’ down to this:

To be a true global legend, you have to meet 3 essential criteria:

1. You have to change the world

2. You have to have a clear vision and strong personal values

3. Your legacy has to be enduring

We had a few other thoughts: Incrementalism doesn’t do it. Accidental heroes aren’t the same. Baddies can be legends too (as the definition of a ‘legend’ is ‘an extremely famous or notorious person’).

So alongside Nelson Mandela, we decided that Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci and Julius Caesar also made the grade. JFK was a legendary figure but it’s questionable if he really changed the world. Did Neil Armstrong have a clear vision and live by strong personal values or was he just in the right place at the right time? Is Hitler a legend even though he’s an anti-hero?

We went one step further and discussed the existence of ‘levels of legendary’. For example, there are those national legends such as Admiral Nelson in the UK or George Washington in the US. Some may even classify their friendly pub landlord as a type of local legend.

You may even say sector specific legends exist. Tim Burners-Lee in the world of technology, Walt Disney in the world of film or the Beatles in the music industry as some examples.

We really want to know what you think so join in our debate and comment your thoughts below!

Or hit the pub with your own teams to discuss…

What does ‘Global Legend’ mean to you?

  • I wouldn’t have said this until I read Walter Isaacson’s biography, but Steve Jobs has certainly had a profound effect on the world. Whilst not the inventor of the computer, smartphone or MP3 player (or indeed tablet etc) his vision and influence on these (as well as digital music becoming a mainstay none thought possible through his liaisons with major record labels) led Apple’s products to become household names, as well as generic brand names for their category. of course the designers and other Apple colleagues played their part, but love him or loathe him, I think Steve meets the three criteria above.

  • Is Jonathan Ive a legend? Or, have the products he has created become legendary?

    He has changed the world through the design of user interfaces; he has changed the way we view technology and interact with each other.

    He has incredibly strong personal ideas regarding what makes good design, which in some ways have influenced the aesthetic values of the people who use his products.

    Will the legacy of his products endure?

    • Begs the question.. can you be a true legend if people don’t know who you are? Not everyone will know who Jonathan Ive is, so can he be a true global legend? When most people think of Apple.. they think Jobs.

  • I’d definitely say Nelson should be on the list, and add Wellington. They shaped the 19th Century world just as much as Churchill, Gandhi et al the 20th. By defeating Napoleon on the sea and land, they prevented French domination of Europe and paved the way for the British Empire (without making a moral judgement on the Empire itself, it undoubtedly *did* change the world).

    They both had a strong sense of patriotism, duty and personal bravery.

    And in terms of legacy…well, you can’t remember the name of the pub you were in. Was it the Lord Nelson perhaps? Or the Duke of Wellington? I don’t think there’s any better legacy than having a boozer named after you.

  • I would have thought Isaac Newton or maybe Benjamin Franklin would have made it on to the list. Acknowledged for the understanding of gravity and electricity, they definitely changed the world, they had a clear vision for their discoveries and their legacy forms the foundations of many aspects of the modern world we live in. Difficult topic to nail down though!

  • Strong individual identities could be another contributing factor? If you think through that list; Winston Churchill was known for his bowler hat and cigar, Gandhi had his famous round spectacles, small physique and white robes, Nelson Mandela wore his distinctive African shirts. You could say Lincoln was a legend whose identity was defined by his tall stature and long top hat. Maybe appearance didn’t make them legends but it definitely helps with their legacy.

  • Does a legend have to have charisma?
    Take Bill Gates and polio eradication – changing the world / changing lives for the long term, clear vision, strong philanthropic values… but we don’t immediately think of Gates as a legend. Is it because we expect there to be ‘something about’ legends? An extra special quality?

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Rebecca Battman

Managing Director

Rebecca is the founder and Managing Director of rbl. An experienced brand and marketing professional, Rebecca has spent over 30 years helping clients to build, design and manage their brands.

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