Beyond Personal Brand: Why You Need To Pursue Originality

iStock_000067954529_XXXLargeThese 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.

Pursuing Originality

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.

Young beautiful business lady is thinking about new business ideas. Business icons and a rocket are drawn on the concrete wall.

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?

Are You Avoiding the “Dark Side” of Personal Branding?

Dark Side of BrandingThese days, many people believe that if you want to achieve success, you really need to have a personal brand. While only an emerging idea with Tom Peters’ 1997 article, “The Brand Called You,” personal branding has taken on considerable momentum. In his seminal article, Peters asserted: “Starting today you are a brand.”

Yet, initially, many people misunderstood personal branding. Still, it clearly held appeal for some, prompting them to consider the distinctive value they deliver, opening the door to the possibility of becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents. With the pioneering work of early thought leaders, increasing numbers of people undertook the process of discovering and communicating their brand in terms of their unique promise of value.

Over the years, personal branding has become more mainstream. Today, consultants and coaches practicing in a wide variety of specialties, including resume writers, image consultants, and social media advisors, offer advice on how to create a personal brand. In fact, if you google “creating your brand,” you can tap into an abundance of advice of varying degrees of quality and usefulness.

What concerns me, as a long-time personal branding strategist, is the degree to which so much advice has drifted away from the disciplined process built on external feedback, introspective exercises, and the ongoing inquiry needed to grow and develop. Today, the emphasis is on creating, building, and promoting your personal brand – and the shortcuts to get it done fast. [Tweet this]

The Big Me

While I’ve always considered the superficiality of created personal brands to be problematic, the real danger of such an effort was only recently highlighted for me, albeit indirectly, by David Brooks in his interesting new book, The Road to Character. In it, he makes a case for building character, saying:

“We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.”

Without a strategy for building character, he says, people can put too much emphasis on external factors at the expense of internal life – and risk seeing both fall apart. Among the factors he points to as essential to character is humility, and he sees it lacking in today’s culture:

“…we have seen a broad shift from a culture of humility to the culture of what you might call the Big Me, from a culture that encouraged people to think humbly of themselves to a culture that encouraged people to see themselves as the center of the universe.”

Among the personal outcomes of living inside the Big Me culture is a “a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.” While he doesn’t say it directly, I think it also can lead to limiting exposure to people and ideas that can challenge – and maybe shatter – one’s worldview. Yet, people typically rely on others for self-validation. So, the Big Me culture generates a kind of herd mentality that gets continually reinforced. [Tweet This] And that can lead to groupthink, where dissenting viewpoints are actively suppressed, or where people isolate themselves from outside influences in safety zones akin to safe spaces or hugboxes.

But let’s face it. Creating a brand without first uncovering and challenging Big Me cultural beliefs is dangerous. Why? Because it creates a new conformity that constrains differentiation. Worse, it also limits personal growth. And people who don’t grow, and brands that don’t evolve, become stagnant and irrelevant. [Tweet This]

Something You Earn

Frankly, the Brooks piece opened my eyes to the potential dark side of personal branding. Still, I’m not the first to take a critical look at branding generally, and personal branding in particular. Yet, being a certified personal branding strategist does, I believe, afford me a unique perspective. One that I hope can save you from creating a brand that serves only as an exercise in superficial self-promotion.

Remember: A personal brand is a reputation. It’s something you earn through your consistent service to others. [Tweet This]

Sure, you can raise your visibility on social media. And what you show and how you behave will influence how people see you. Yet, the kind of reputation that will stand as “your brand” is determined first and foremost by your ability to truly serve your community. In turn, that can be influenced by how well you do what you do, what you’ve accomplished, actions taken to correct your faults, your record of meeting challenges, and your success in overcoming adversity.

Sure that’s a lot to think about. Yet, if you construct a brand without taking a long hard look at yourself, you may hurt yourself in the long run. [Tweet This]

An Ongoing Process

At the core of the process is the pursuit of personal clarity – which is the true basis for your success. Think about it. If you have a grasp of the attributes, strengths, beliefs, and life transitions that make you who you are, you don’t have to worry about conforming to an image you created. Different, leader, best, unique and discrimination conceptYou simply get to be you — and that’s a big difference!

Being you is not static, though. As your circumstances change, you need to adjust how you approach things. That means always “living in the inquiry.” That is, always examining your beliefs in light of new ideas, spotting potential weaknesses that point to personal growth needs, and even ongoing nurturing of relationships that will keep you relevant and successful in serving your community.

The self-examination that comes from living in the inquiry takes discipline and even humility. [Tweet This] Yet, by committing to this long-term process, you can avoid slipping into the comfortable limits of your own safe space. You can more effectively respond to what life throws at you. Best of all, you get to take true ownership of your destiny in all parts of your life – from the way to run your career, to the various activities you engage in, to the relationships you develop and value.

Should You Work on Your Personal Brand or Your Personal Attraction?

Cool EggHave you ever noticed how some ideas or activities can get caught up in the causality dilemma? Not sure what that is? Well, you probably know it as “the chicken or the egg?” Certainly, it’s not often that we need to ponder what came first. Yet, there are aspects of our careers and business lives that can benefit from considering causality. Personal branding is one of them.

As I would frame it, the causality dilemma for branding is this: Does “your brand” find its grounding in the carefully crafted word picture you present to the world, or in the way you engage the world every day?

The Brandwagon

As personal branding has become mainstream, there’s been a flood of advice on how to create, or build, yours. These days, it’s not just brand strategists who promote the importance of branding, but also career coaches, resume writers, social media strategists, and other experts. Lots of people are jumping on the “brandwagon.”

As you might expect, the spectrum of advice ranges from on-target and useful to misguided or superficial.  Even detractors have offered advice; namely, personal branding is loathsome, so don’t do it. Yet, the consensus is that you need to have a personal brand, leading more and more people to buy in.

And why not? Building a brand is generally perceived as the hallmark of success in business. It is believed to offer a differentiation that supports competitive advantage. But does it really?
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