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Entrepreneurism

Why Every Entrepreneur Needs a Therapist

By Entrepreneurism, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

I was 40 when I went to therapy for the first time in 2011. At the time, I had no idea that going to therapy would transform my entrepreneurial pursuits. I just wanted to gain some insight on my (at that time) self-destructive tendencies and caustic resentment about my childhood that I’d held on to for 20+ years. My work with that therapist opened my eyes to many aspects of my behavior and life. It was my first glimpse of sitting in the witness seat of my own being.

Very people knew I was seeing a therapist. I still saw it as a sign of weakness. That I couldn’t figure my own shit out so I needed outside help. This was also reflective of the conditioning of being part of a fundamentalist church where therapy was – at best – seen as corrective. The general consensus is that if you had more faith or belief, you wouldn’t need therapy.

Over the past 10 years, I continued with a variety of therapists and modalities. I became more vocal and open about therapy – especially for men. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to truly see how therapy was benefiting me as an entrepreneur. I’ve now arrived at the conclusion that every entrepreneur needs a therapist.

Here is why …

Being an entrepreneur is a series of traumatic events and experiences. It is in direct contrast to the social conditioning of safety and stability. Even if you are not a trauma survivor, the stress and grind of being an entrepreneur can greatly impact your mental health. If you are a trauma survivor, the experiences of being an entrepreneur will inevitably be processed as trauma. In addition, the lens on yourself and your business is clouded by fear. And fear makes you either overly risk-averse and/or overly impulsive – both of which are detrimental to your business.

In my experience, the wired fear response of trauma manifests itself in your business in these ways:

  1. Seeing people as abstracts. If you have unhealed trauma, you inevitably have lower EQ and lower self-awareness. This means you are likely seeing the humans that you interact with as either threats or opportunities. This is the hero/villain spectrum being played out in who you partner with, what kinds of clients you work with, who you hire. This is also related to attachment theory (I highly recommend this book for all entrepreneurs) as well as internal family systems/parts therapy – both of which reveal that your wiring warps how you see and respond to others.
  2. Negativity bias. Trauma teaches you a worst-case-scenario mindset. It assumes that everything is negative until it proves itself to be safe. This is reflective of the wiring around threat assessments and forecasting failures. While a very useful tool for actual survival, it is a determinant to your business because it makes you miss that which is actually positive. It makes you blind to opportunities. It hijacks your imagination and turns it into a tool of projection.
  3. Inflation/devaluation. When untreated, the trauma pendulum swings between delusion and despair – often due to one compensating for the other. In my 30s and early 40s, this pendulum swung wildly between illusions of grandeur and valleys of gloom. I did not truly know my own worth, which made me in a near-constant pursuit of outside validation, legitimacy and identity. When you inflate your sense of worth, you still secretly feel like an imposter. And when you devalue your worth, you allow yourself to be manipulated and abused.

Doing the deep work of therapy reveals an important nuance for entrepreneurs: the difference between instinct and intuition. If you have untreated trauma, your instincts are going to be a faulty decision-making tool because these instincts were developed in response to emotional or physical pain. As you heal, you will access your heart and soul even more. When you do that, you will learn that your intuition is a much more accurate and powerful resource.

Ultimately, effective therapy returns you again and again and deeper and deeper to your core self. As I’ve written about, your core self is grounded in reality. It is the garden in which you grow compassion, creativity, clarity, curiosity, calmness, confidence, courage and connectedness. All of these are tremendous assets to being an entrepreneur. Any one of them can transform your business. So imagine the power of combining them all together! In my experience, a few magical things happen when you operate from your core self …

  • You attract healthy, whole people to your business – as clients, team members, strategic partners.
  • Your relationship with money is transformed and you have a much more healthy perspective on the financial aspects of your business.
  • You practice kindness with everyone. But you also take no shit from people that try to devalue you or use you.
  • You become more imaginative and innovative – with a steady stream of new ideas pouring out of you. Some will be wildly successful but many will fail, but you will have a healthy response to failure.
  • You will seek out feedback from others. And you discern the value of the feedback in a healthy way.

I continue ongoing therapy sessions. In fact, I had one this morning! Once you connect to your core self and learn to return to it daily, therapy shifts into more of a maintenance mode. It becomes more of a self-care practice than a healing modality. On-going therapy gives you a space to reflect on the influence of your ego, assess your behaviors and responses in light of current conditions, look for drift or exile from core self and much more.

If you are an entrepreneur that regularly sees a therapist, I’d love to hear more about your experiences. If you are an entrepreneur that is currently not in therapy and are curious about therapy’s impact on your business, just send me a message. I’m happy to visit!

 

And Then …

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Me. Bear tracks on the trail in Alaska.

Like many words in the too-much-information age, we often reduce the meaning and power of words. Adventure is one such word. “Adventure” too often means a planned experience. Activities marketed as “adventurous” have agendas, itineraries, safety rules, insurance waivers, name tags. Of course, there are gradients of danger and risk that require these things. And there many experiences that could cause injury or death from poor preparation and planning and brash behavior. But most of the things that we’re calling adventurous are really just scheduled activities that provide a temporary jolt; a respite from boredom.

So what is an actual adventure?

I think an adventure is any experience where you can say “And then …” and have no idea or clue of what’s next.

There is a myriad of options to find these kinds of experiences in the world. The kinds of things that end up on bucket lists. And I want to do many of them! But most of the “and then …” adventures are right in front of us or within us.

Art is like this. You can have all the supplies and knowledge, but every artist knows that what actually becomes art is an enormous mystery. This is why most great art is made in experimentation, failure, iteration. Each piece of output is a blend of the mystical and the material. A real-time example: when I started this essay, I had no idea what would come out. And here it is!

Soulful connections are like this. You can have your preferences and interests and plans. Then someone can enter your life and completely change your trajectory or transform your perspective. Or you can feel a soul connection with someone and begin to craft some assumptions about it or plans for it — only to discover that the “and then …” is that they are experiencing the connection in a different way than you. I am certain most heartache comes from the creating of expectations that disintegrate on impact with mystery and timing.

Entrepreneurism is like this. Too often we use data and systems and plans to remove all the mystery from business. We are told that the unknown is a threat. Yet almost every great invention or lasting business was born in failure or struggle. I’ve been calling this ability to live in the known and unknown at the same time “mystical leadership”. I will be sharing much more on this idea in the next few weeks but here is a summation:

Mystical leadership is a philosophy that holds logic and faith as equally essential traits of a leader. It recognizes humility, compassion, moderation, intuition and wisdom as necessary leadership qualities. Mystical leadership embraces all the dichotomies and paradoxes of being a human — the divide between ego and soul. It acknowledges and accepts the natural volatility and uncertainty of life and leaves room for mystery and possibility.

Inner work is certainly like this. Someone that I was mentoring earlier this year expressed that he was terrified to do inner work because “of what I might find in there.” Here’s the irony … if we don’t do the inner work, life will appear only as fate or luck. When we go on the grand adventure of exploring our inner world, we find the parts of ourselves (the soul) that loves the mystery, that relishes the void. Inner work involves going on an expedition to find your soul and discover its pricelessness. Inner work involves understanding your mind and beginning to master it. Both of these are adventures unto themselves, but nothing may be more dangerous and riskier than going into the heart.

Here’s why: the heart feels what it feels and wants what it wants. And the mind (the keeper of order) has no control over that. When we begin to expand your heart, to operate from your heart center, you begin to see just how much we don’t have control over. That much of what we think is real and solid is, in fact, an illusion created by the mind to make us feel comforted and comfortable. Heart work strips everything down to what it is. It eliminates both wishful thinking and wishful feeling.

I believe it requires a certain level of mysticism to navigate life in a way that produces meaning and joy and growth. A mystic is someone that is in touch with Reality (the spiritual realm) and reality (the material realm) and knows how to create moderation and harmony between those two realms. This balance lets each part do the thing it was designed to do. The body is designed for sensation. The soul is designed to experience. The heart is designed to feel everything. The mind is designed to think and plan. When these four elements are working in equanimity, then mystery arrives as lessons and opportunities. “And then …” shifts from the mundanity of tasks to the magic of the ever-unfolding present moment.

The Door Makers

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

David North’s “Door to the Imagination”. Photo credit: David North

“When opportunity knocks, answer the door.” We’ve all heard this, right? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes through your own efforts and a lot of serendipity, opportunity does knock.

Some people miss it because they don’t hear the knock.

Some people miss it because they are too afraid to answer.

And a lot of people miss it because … well, I like how Herbert Prochnow says it: “The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.”

But there is another level far beyond answering the knock at the door.

It is the impossibly hard and very risky act of creating a door where one doesn’t exist. Answering opportunity’s knock is a matter of paying attention, perseverance and knowing how to grind. Creating an opportunity door requires all of those plus alchemy, audacity and a touch of madness.

Artists are creators of opportunity doors. Using existing materials, they create a portal to a place that didn’t exist before. To experience something truly artful feels spiritual, magical – because it is. More than anyone, artists seemed to be wired to create doors. This is why they often feel miscast and misunderstood in society. Many artists deal with depression, anxiety, isolation. Which turns out are some of the key materials of door making.

For entrepreneurs, crafting opportunity doors is the work of innovation. Using existing resources, they tap into an unspoken need and create a third way that didn’t exist before. In our work at Root + River, we refer to this as category design. When working with individuals, we help craft a “category of one” – the door to an idea that didn’t exist before. When working with brands, we help create a category for them to own – a big idea that transcends current offerings. In both cases, knowing your category gives your door making efforts a place to start and a point at which to focus on.

Crafting opportunity doors does take raw ability. It also takes the work of discovering or embracing those raw abilities. If you don’t accept your own gifts and talents, it’s virtually impossible to become a door maker. And you do need to do the hard work of turning your ability into expertise and competency. And, of course, it takes courage to be a door maker.

But you can’t stop there. This is why it takes an exceptional human to become a master craftsman of opportunity doors.

I have been privileged to know a number of sensei-level door makers in my life. They have these four common traits:

  • They see the opportunity within the problem. There are lots of problem-solving experts. But the door maker is not motivated to just solve the problem. She wants to use the problem to create a door that didn’t exist before. This is what Sara Blakely did.
  • They have a robust creative practice. They understand that door making requires a ton of creative energy and creative discipline. So they place a premium on spending their time developing and nurturing creative habits. They know a consistent, robust creative practice will always produce the fruit of new ideas, new ways of thinking.
  • They have faith. For some door makers, faith can be directly related to religious or spiritual beliefs. But I’m more referring to the kind of faith that it takes to step into the void, to operate in the unknown. The kind of faith that embraces mystery’s role in creation. This is the kind of faith that encourages you to embrace your higher imaginations and doubt your lower impulses. This kind of faith only comes from within. It can’t be given, sold, borrowed.
  • They are action-oriented. When door makers have a spark of inspiration, they take immediate action. Maybe they sketch something out. Maybe they do a little research. Maybe they make a prototype. Whatever the response, they don’t just sit and think about ideas. They do something with them. When they are stuck and don’t know what to do, they just create.

Every door maker I know or studied has these four traits. But they also all have a fifth trait that is expressly and specifically unique to them. Maybe it’s calmness under pressure. Maybe it’s being great at promotion. Maybe it’s financial acumen. Maybe it’s strategic thinking. Maybe it’s charisma. I’m not entirely sure what to call this fifth trait, but I’m quite certain it is the healthy incorporation of the ego into the door making process.

Who are door makers you’ve known? What traits did she or he have that I didn’t mention?

The Mystery of Business

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipNo Comments

An accurate picture of the future.

Much of the doctrine of modern business is based on establishing a predictable level of certainty. After all, predictability is comforting – to leaders, employees and shareholders. Removal of uncertainty, therefore, a constant task. This is why much time and energy is spent at the altar of planning. Plans make the unknown future more predictable, right?

It is in this pursuit of predictability that systems and processes and models and formulas are developed and adhered to. Predicability is at the root of the reliance on data. Predictability is the reason for the question “what’s the ROI?” Within these systems and processes is an emphasis on productivity – getting the maximum out of all resources.

The enemy of predictability, by default, is the unknown. The unforeseen. The unexpected. Billions are spent on consultants and programs to battle the unknown. Yet, very few predict when a new competitor will emerge. Even fewer predict globally altering events like terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

This worship of predictability has largely removed the role of mystery in business. Ironically, mystery has a way better track record than predicability. Our greatest industries and enterprises and inventions did not come from the safe confines of predictability. They came from vision, creativity, risk, intuition. They came from the embracing of the unknown; of harnessing it like the wind, not controlling it.

Of course, I am not saying give up all systems and processes. They are useful, important tools. I am saying make room for mystery. When done in the proper order, systems serve mystery. They make it real and tangible.

Consider these areas of allowing mystery into your business …

Incorporate the power of intuition into decision making.

Let iteration replace perfection as the baseline of performance.

Embrace love, not power, as the primary intention and action towards who your business is serving.

Trust the timing. Short-cuts, unethical behavior, the attitude of lack are all indicators of not trusting the timing.

Paraphrasing Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, let your customers tell you how profitable you will be. And let the market tell you what they need.

Take 20% of the time you spent on planning and redirect it to investing in the culture of the business.

If you want some predictability, here are a few things that are 99% predictable:

  • Shitty leadership is expensive – and often fatal. When the culture of a business becomes toxic, its inevitable end is death.
  • Shoddy products and services will be rejected by the marketplace. Which, in turn, will increase your ad spend.
  • If your people operate in fear, are over-taxed and over-systemized, innovation will suffer and new competition will emerge to replace you.

On the positive side, there is one thing you have the most control over: your brand. As a leader, you decide the language, the purpose, the experience of the brand. You establish the standards. You decide the category you want to own. You have a tremendous influence on your brand’s reputation. Your behavior is a direct contributor to word-of-mouth. How you treat yourself and others is directly reflected in the culture. But here’s the paradox: in order to embrace that which you have the most control over, you must make room for mystery.

Because business is ultimately about humanity, I believe that business is art mixed with science. And all real art and science make room for mystery. Will you?

Everything is Obsolete

By Entrepreneurism, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

 

Credit: Libreshot

 

Your business model is obsolete.

Your leadership style is obsolete.

Your skills are obsolete. 

Your systems are obsolete.

Your marketing is obsolete.

None of these may be true for you (yet), but what if they were? What would you do? 

Kind of depressing, right? But there is hope! 

Here are some questions to arrive at some hopeful, honest insights …

What are my non-negotiables? This can be a combination of beliefs, standards, mindset, behaviors. They are the fertile soil of what you will do next. They become organizing principles for planning and taking action. For me, it’s freedom. Freedom is oxygen for my soul. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Nor would I take it from anyone. Knowing what matters most to you gives you a starting point from which to rebuild.

 

What is my vision? If everything is obsolete, your first task is to survive. But even in the darkest moments of survival, there needs to be a vision of the future. Not a delusion or escaping to some sort of “happy place” to deny reality. But a picture of your future world. An exercise we do with our clients is “Will/Create/Become”. The instructions are simple: craft a short paragraph describing your future state (you choose the timing). Use those three words. Be declarative and specific. Note: this exercise is one of the modules of our new course. Check it out here.

What is my mission? This is that elusive “WHY” that becomes a fuel source for purpose, systems, planning, allocation of resources. It’s what you are here to do. It’s the story you want your life to tell. In my experience of coaching hundreds of people in the finding and articulation of their mission, I’ve always found it to be in the same place: inside you. This is why having some sort of contemplative or inquiry practice is so essential. 

What do people need? Selling 101: find out what people need it and provide it for them. This is often one of the lost arts of selling. For the past 4 – 5 decades, there has been an increasing amount of selling the non-essential due to many recent innovations that are more entertainment than essential. Finding out what people need and providing it to them is the bedrock of community-level capitalism. From it springs the marketplace, the provisional storehouse, the crop grower, the craftsman.

What am I working with? Talent is the blend of natural gifts and learned skills. Your natural gifts never become obsolete. Your learned skills most certainly do. As we shared in a recent webinar (watch recording here), taking inventory of your life includes both spiritual assets and material assets. Spiritual assets are most often related to your natural gifts: ingenuity, creativity, courage, futuristic thinking, problem solving. Material assets are most often related to learned skills and existing resources: technology, know-how, your network, access to capital. 

Straight lines don’t exist in nature. Everything grows in a spiral and exists in a circle of life. The cycle of everything is order, corruption and chaos. This makes life iterative. It is a comforting illusion that what got us here will never go obsolete. All it takes is one unplanned crisis. 

The Eternal Groundlessness of the Entrepreneur

By Entrepreneurism, Leadership, LifeOne Comment

The caption for this post was inspired by this quote from Pema Chodron:

“ … it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality …”

I was asked recently by a friend who is also an entrepreneur: “How do you get rid of the uncertainty?”

My answer: You don’t.

Uncertainty is to the entrepreneur what the sky is to the bird, the water is to the fish, the plains to a lion. We need it. It sustains us. It keeps us moving towards the edge of things; to the great beyond that propels all adventurers and artists.

But we are not birds, fish or lions. We are humans. And we have this highly evolved minds that are designed to keep us alive, productive and happy.

But how …

First, we must understand it’s not the uncertainty that causes suffering. It is the expectation that there shouldn’t be uncertainty that causes suffering. When we accept the uncertainty and embrace it, the suffering is greatly dissipated. But we can make the suffering worse.

Here’s how …

  • Ignore biology. My business/creative partner, Emily Soccorsy, sums it up nicely with this mantra: “don’t trust a tired mind.” Yes, we need to work hard and put in the time. But hustling and grinding (insert your favorite bro start-up term) too much, too often will make you short-sighted, irritable, fuzzy headed and in constant search of stimulation. It will make you stupid. It will dull whatever creative edge you have with your knowledge, skills, ideas.
  • Unhealthy behaviors. Coping mechanisms are part of our ancient programming to keep us alive. However, for many entrepreneurs, coping is often a justification for unhealthy behavior. Too much processed foods (which pretty much all foods that sell on speed are). Too much alcohol consumption. Too much caffeine. Too much Netflix binging. And not enough brain food, movement. And almost always not enough stillness and silence. Not controlling what we put into our bodies contributes to the biological part of us that fears uncertainty.
  • Over-dramatizing the facts. When we spin out from the fear of uncertainty, it feels like danger and death. So we use the language of danger and death to express this fear. We use the language of panic, urgency. Which adds fuel to the mind that something is wrong. This causes us to go into primal state and take a defensive posture. It’s nearly impossible to be an effective entrepreneur when our minds are clouded with fear hormones and we are in hunker-and-hide mode. This is why survivalists teach you to take an inventory of assets immediately.
  • Not enough systems of discipline. Jocko Willink makes the profound observation “discipline equals freedom.” My modification to that is that systems of discipline equal freedom. I strongly believe entrepreneurs need their own systems of discipline (also called “practices”) in the most mission-critical aspects of their lives. For me, this is faith, physical health, knowledge, mastery of mind, creativity and relationships. In the business, we have systems of discipline for sales pipeline, marketing, client delivery and experience, ops, finance, culture. To be clear, these aren’t someone else’s systems. You can learn from others but following someone else’s formula just breeds more uncertainty. Take the time to make your own systems of discipline.

When we examine each of these four areas, we will see the pervasive influence of the ego-mind. Attempting to eliminate uncertainty is most certainly a futile attempt by the ego to take control and eliminate the feeling of danger. But when we listen to the ego, we contribute to the illusion of certainty. And to the illusion that the ego is right. Entrepreneurs are artists. Ego kills art because it needs rules, stability, order. It needs to be safe. Art needs freedom.

When we listen to our biology, master our power of choice, get real about our assets and establish our own systems of discipline, uncertainty becomes our natural habitat. Where we swim, fly, run like we belong there. Because we do.

Three Obsolete Mental Models (that might be hurting your brand)

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipOne Comment

Our minds are one massive input receiver. These inputs become systems, structures, practices, habits, beliefs, biases. Our minds are highly adept at sorting through all of this input by creating mental models to increase the speed of decision making, preserve mental energy and provide situational context — especially in day-to-day situations. Leaders with an elevated level of consciousness (or in Maslow’s terms “self actualized) are aware that these mental models become obsolete and need to be frequently upgraded. Low conscious leaders lock into these mental models so much so that they become institutionalized and create the cult-like nature of many organizations.

For many leaders, the definitions and roles of brand and branding often come from a fixed or static place. It could be from formal education, past experiences, advice from other leaders — or a combo of all three. These fixed ideas about branding are the mental models that inform strategy, prioritization of resources, and assigning value. Upgrading these mental models goes beyond information and knowledge — both of which are a commodity (just do a Google search on branding, and you will see what I mean).

Here are three obsolete branding mental models that might be negatively impacting your brand:

  1. Audience – Demographics are essentially a dead language; a relic of how things used to be measured. Yet demographic profiling remains a stubborn mental model for many leaders. Leaders of B2C companies will say some variation of “our target audience is Millennial-aged urban buyers with college degrees” or “our target audience is 55+ retirees with net worth of greater than $250,000”. Leaders of B2B companies will say “our target audience are companies in the _______ industry.” Yes, these are data points, but they are not an audience. Upgraded model: Focus on the psychographic profile of your ideal audience. What do they believe in? What do they value? What is their unspoken need? What are they attracted to? For B2C brands, these questions will help you form an archetype to speak to. For B2B brands, these questions will remind you that companies don’t buy things, people do. And a free hint … if you don’t know the answers to these questions for your own brand, you won’t be able to understand them for your audience.
  2. Message – The old mental model on messaging is some variation of, “What do we need to say in order to get someone’s attention?” It is very external and often informed by the aforementioned mental model of target audience. From this springs focus groups and test messages. Brands with convictions don’t use focus groups. Instead, they operate from an upgraded mental model on messaging of sharing what their heart has to say to the world. This means speaking truth, taking a stand, having a point of view. It means offending many and attracting some. It means saying what needs to be said because it needs to be said. Not because it tested well. Further, it’s absolutely essential to de-bullshit your brand’s language. No cliches. No buzzwords. Language informs believability. Along with visual elements, your language determines whether or not you will earn your audiences attention. When you use overly-used terms, you contribute to the sea of sameness.
  3. Positioning – For the last 30+ years, the mental model of positioning worked well. It helped you hone in on your audience, your value proposition, your differentiators, your competitors. But now every market is saturated. And not just saturated with crappy products and services. It’s saturated by better branded, better delivered, better made versions of whatever you are selling. The mental model upgrade here is from positioning to category design. Category design is a strategic and intentional approach to naming, defining and owning a category in the marketplace. Positioning ran on being slightly better and safer. Category runs on being radically and provocatively different. Positioning is the battle for the mind — which is an endless war. Category design is the winning of hearts and souls. As such, it requires leaders with conviction, wisdom and courage. If you’re interested in this topic, check out the book “Play Bigger”.

As an industry, advertising needs a massive and total upgrade of its mental model. Chiefly, an upgrade to this: advertising reminds and experiences retain. Or put another way … pay for retention, not attention. Directly related to this is the shifting from the old model of pushing products and services through marketing to the new model of sharing ideas from humans to humans. The old model required saturation, brand recognition, top of mind. This new model requires consistent and believable inspiration and invitation — all of which fuels word of mouth. Which may be the only mental model that doesn’t need an upgrade.

Are You a Thought-Leader or a Wedding Singer?

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipNo Comments

I don’t like the term “thought-leader”. For similar reasons I don’t like the terms “branding” and “personal branding”. All three phrases have been frequently co-opted by the self-absorbed and/or the manipulative.

Alas, “thought-leader” is probably the best term – but I will give it my own definition:

A thought-leader is someone who consistently expresses and monetizes original ideas.

Many people with the label of thought-leader are often just well-marketed karaoke singers or cover bands for other people’s ideas and intellectual property.

If you want to be known as a legit thought-leader read on …

True thought-leadership is a kind of art. What music is to a musician. Or painting is to a visual artist. As such, it has all the rules of successful art enterprises – of which I have codified three rules:

  1. Be Original – No cliches, industry jargon, cut-and-paste intellect. Have something to say … from the soul. Have a point of view. Make your own music. Sure, you can be inspired by other artists. Just don’t copy them.
  2. Be Real – Get used to practicing emotional nudity. This means you are going to offend some. Get your facts right and speak truth. Being real is creating anabolic agitation – being so thought-provoking and disruptive to thinking that you stay in a person’s head.
  3. Be Consistent – If you’re going to be a thought-leader, start sharing your thoughts. Write those posts. Give those presentations. Conduct those workshops. Get on those podcasts. Write that book. Get your ideas out there … every single day.

Being a true thought-leader requires you to be connected with your true self. Your beliefs and values. Your mission. Your talents. Without this connection, you become extrinsic in focus. And pretty soon you are playing the music that others want to hear rather than playing your own stuff. It takes a lot of inner work, reconciling of your past, acceptance of your gifts.

Being a thought-leader means ignoring the inner chatter that your ideas aren’t all that original. Or useful. It means ignoring the “nobody cares about what I have to say” nagging voice of doubt. If what you have to say is original and real and advances humanity in some way, it needs to be shared. As Wayne Dyer said “Don’t die with music still inside you.”

Being a thought-leader requires some sort of system for idea capture – then idea sharing. Use a journal or the Notes app on your phone to capture flashes, musings, ideas. Look for areas that are conventional thinking, taboo or dogma and examine them. Catalog and codify it all. Then decide what and how to share. I recommend finding the medium that gives you the most joy and organize around that. Then implement idea sharing into your calendar. Make it part of your business or career.

Just as everyone is an artist at something, I’m convinced everyone is a thought-leader about something. Most just don’t do the work. Either to dig in and find the originality. Or to express it consistently. Or both. Most are just fine covering “Sweet Caroline” at weddings. Honor those that inspired you, but play your own s**t.

The 3 Shifts of Modern Branding

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipNo Comments

I (and we at Root + River) have written extensively the past few years about the end of the old world of branding and marketing. No more pretense. No more construct. No more shiny candy wrapper with a crap center. No more fear, manipulation, persuasion, coercion.

I believe most leaders understand this era is over. There is no more Mad Men. They understand and accept the importance of culture, customer experience, visual appeal. But as Hank, Jr. once moaned “Old habits … are hard to break.” To break these old world habits (or mindsets) requires a conscious choice.

I think there are three shifts a leader needs to have – first inwardly, then in his/her business …

  1. Shift your brand from being business model driven to being mission driven. In the 21st century, brand, mission and business model are really the same thing. Yet many leaders still have the mindset that brand is an external wrapping and that mission is either a passive awareness or a get-to-it-later. The present and future of being a brand is to have mission at the center of the brand. And then the business model supports both. Big brands like Patagonia, Chick-fil-A, Nike, Virgin get this. In fact, I would say that all four were born of mission that became a brand that became a successful business model. It’s just even more obvious in this modern era where you can’t pay for the kind of attention these brands get. In order to organize your brand around your mission, you must also know your personal mission – the thing you are here to do that only you can do. This requires inner work, EQ and discipline – and won’t be found in a book or on a spreadsheet.
  2. Shift your thinking on who your audience is. “Target audience” remains a common term that rarely has actual usefulness. It’s a term from the bygone era of predictable demographic behaviors, less media choices and less overall product and service choices. Consider this instead … your audience is not who you are looking for. It’s who’s looking for you. Your job as a leader is to get the brand out there – be findable. This means first diving deep into the soul – or root – of your brand. Brands that do this learn something almost magical: when you build your brand from the soul, you find the people that are looking for you. This doesn’t mean a build-it-and-they-will-come mindset. Nor does it mean that you shouldn’t market. It simply means that you need to get out there in different and unique ways. And this is highly contextual to your marketplace. Red Bull built their brand by going to skate parks and extreme sports events. They didn’t advertise to a “target audience”. They went to the people that were looking for them but didn’t yet know it.
  3. Shift from head-based messaging to heart-based messaging. Head-based messaging is also a relic. It assumes through saturation, purchased brand awareness and repeated calls to action that you can take up a position in the mind of the buyer. This is no longer true. While certainly some of the principles of positioning still apply, the conditions have changed dramatically. Here’s another way to look at it … head-based messaging is for the conscious mind. It requires people to pay attention. Yet most Americans are in a perpetual primal state of flight/fight/freeze. They’re tired, over-booked, over-worked, over-extended. They don’t have the conscious mind resources to pay attention to you – unless you are solving their current and present issues. But these same people have plenty of room in their hearts. In fact, they crave meaning, authenticity, realness. This means that messaging is really what your heart has to say to the world. It’s a message from your heart to their hearts. But like discovering your personal mission, it requires the inner work of connecting to your heart – a process many leaders still avoid.

Modern branding is ultimately about two things from a leadership perspective: 1) Letting go of old beliefs, habits, systems, concepts and 2) letting in new feelings like love, trust, joy, delight, purpose, failure, triumph. And no one can make you let go or let in. Only you can do that.

Chatting with Reuben on Sales4Nerds Podcast

By Branding, Entrepreneurism, LeadershipNo Comments

I had a blast sipping Ben Milam bourbon and chatting with the very smart and insightful Reuben Swartz on his Sales4Nerds podcast. We talked about my journey from the ranch, to sales guy, to branding guy – and how all of those are connected. We dove into the role of branding within sales and even covered finding your mission and purpose.

Listen here.

https://www.mimiran.com/get-root-river/

Check out Reuben’s cool sales technology tool, Mimiran.