These days, it’s almost a sacrilege not to have a personal brand. After all, if you want to be successful, you need to stand out! Yet, if you think about it, making sure you have a personal brand could be just one more conformist thing you do in pursuit of success.
The Content of Your Character
Still, as a personal brand strategist, I can tell you that the process of personal branding can bring amazing personal clarity and confidence. Not only is that an asset in your career, but also in your life generally. So, from my vantage point, there is a huge benefit in doing the deep work of uncovering the story, attributes, strengths, beliefs, and external perceptions that make you who you are.
Yet, I continue to believe personal branding – at least as most people approach it—needs to be re-imagined. It’s a conclusion, I came to after being inspired by Harvard Business School professor, Youngme Moon, in her remarkable book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd. And based on her analysis, I’ve offered several ideas for developing a truly differentiated personal brand grounded in who you are and what you bring to the people you serve. As I see it, while professional competence matters, the essence of your personal brand is found primarily in the content of your character.
Being Different. Doing Different.
Essentially, though, establishing a personal brand is an activity in being. Clearly conveying who you are helps you build relationships inside of the community you serve. The more your qualities resonate with your audiences, the more likely they’ll want to work with you. Fundamentally, however, your core service may actually be the same as what’s provided by other people in your industry. For example, even as an accountant who’s closely aligned with small business owners who, like you, see themselves as corporate refugees seeking more freedom and fun in their work life, you are still delivering accounting services.
In many respects, personal branding, for many people, has meant delivering commodity services inside of a uniquely personalized package. Actually, it’s a model that has proven stable and sustainable over time. Provided your client base remains fairly stable, and happy with how you work with them, they’ll likely remain loyal well into the future. Unfortunately, things change. People change. Tools change. So, to stick with the accountant example, clients may buy and learn the latest Quick Books and Turbo Tax versions, and soon have less need for what you once provided.
Let’s face it. Whatever your personal attributes, your reputation is grounded in the outputs you produce. In a stable world, your biggest risk is the other people who package the same outputs in an attractive set of personal attributes.
But we don’t live in a stable world.
Saying we live in an age of disruption seems almost cliché. Sure we all know that there are people out there who aim to become successful by uberizing their industry. Yet, for most of us, that’s not a realistic aim. More likely, to the extent we crave change at all, it’s probably about reinventing our careers. And the degree to which we seek out personal transformation is usually related to the extent of dissatisfaction we feel.
Yet, I’d argue that even those of us who are reasonably satisfied in our careers and lives are at risk of being blindsided by change if we don’t actively embrace it. But how do we actively pursue constructive and meaningful change?
In his remarkable new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant examines what drives originality and what it takes to develop, voice, and champion new ideas. It’s an amazing and well-researched book rich in storytelling and surprising insights. While Grant provides a complete and detailed treatment of what it takes to produce creative and original ideas, here are six ways to get started on making changes in your work and life:
Question the default. Don’t take the status quo for granted. Consider why it exists in the first place, and how it can be changed or improved.
Generate more ideas. Studies have found that masters, such as great composers and artists, produce a great volume of work, with their best work being only a small part of what they create. You boost your originality when you increase your output.
Immerse yourself in a new domain. Expand your frame of reference by diversifying your experience with creative activities such as photography, learning about new cultures, or even by starting a new job or project.
Procrastinate strategically. Take breaks from creating or brainstorming so that your ideas have time to incubate.
Seek feedback from peers. Because you may be too emotionally invested in your idea, it’s hard to see its viability. Your peers, however, often have the objectivity to give you valuable assessments.
Balance your risks. When you’re going to take a risk in one part of you life, offset it by being extra cautious in other areas of living.
Ultimately, you may choose to continue conforming to the standards that brought you success in the first place. Or you could engage in a kind of “creative destruction” that can shift work and life advantages in your favor. In deciding, consider the words of George Bernard Shaw:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
What do you think?