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Leadership

Is Your Brand Doing These Two Things?

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As I/we have often written about, brand and branding is not what it used to be. It is no longer an external construct based on perception and image. It’s not about demographics, campaigns, ad spend.

So what is it?

We say that a brand is how other people experience what you believe.

This means that your brand must successfully and consistently do two things:

Emit Love

Create Trust

Love is the ultimate “bacon” aroma that a brand can generate. It literally means triggering oxytocin in the people that touch the brand. But it’s so much bigger than that. Love makes your brand un-copyable, unbreakable, timeless. Love turns your employees into ambassadors and your customers into your shareholders. Love makes your competitors shrink – or rise to the occasion. Love can’t be bought with Taco Tuesday’s nor with discounts. Love is earned through the daily habits of an organization – starting with its top leaders. One of these habits is self-care – leaders that invest in the holistic well-being of themselves and the people they lead.

Trust is what happens when you consistently emit love. Trust allows you to fail, make mistakes and otherwise be a human. Trust shows up in a thousand ways – from empowering your employees to truly help your customers to proactively listening to the needs of your customers. Trust means using branding and marketing language and tools that encourage, invite, inspire and saying no to manipulation, persuasion and saturation. Trust means building your brand as a word-of-mouth machine – knowing that the more trust you generate, the more your brand will grow. Trust means always seeing the humanity in your decisions.

My question to all leaders is this …

If your brand doesn’t emit love and create trust, what are you asking your marketing team to do?

The Top 5 Branding Practices of Contemporary Leaders

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Before I dive in to the Top 5 branding practices, let’s do a level-set on terminology. Just as societies update their language and tech companies update their products, the branding/marketing space needs some new definitions.

Here are ours:

Brand: How other people experience what you believe.

Branding: The process of making yourself available to those looking for you.

Marketing: Any activity that amplifies a mission and message – especially around relationships, experiences and content.

These changing definitions of traditional terms have also brought about a bevy of changes in the roles and definitions of a leader. Until about 2010, brand and branding were the responsibility of the marketing department. Because of hyper-connectivity, emphasis on culture and greater sensitivity to brand experiences, brand and branding are now the responsibility of every leader and the people they lead.

As these massive changes take hold in brands large and small, a new set of leadership behaviors and habits is emerging. I am simply calling them the 5 Branding Practices of Contemporary Leaders.

  1. Fire the a**holes. Every day there are new headlines about abusive, churlish behavior from people in places of authority and influence. When these type of people are allowed to entrench in a company culture, they will eventually (and sometimes quickly) damage your brand. Surly, crude people spread negative energy and toxicity within an organization – which shows up in the poor customer experiences, lack of innovation and a negative/damaged reputation.
  2. Be an Original Thinker. With the daily onslaught of information overload from articles, podcasts, books, videos, workshops, etc, it’s easy for a leader to become a karaoke singer for other people’s ideas and content. My great friend Brandon Wrightsays it best: “Listen to everyone but think for yourself”. This requires setting aside even a few minutes for inner work: contemplation, awareness, observation of thoughts. It means being a healthy skeptic and questioning everything. This practice prevents brand from becoming cliches – using the same language as everyone else.
  3. Be Different, Not Just Better. Everyone talks about disruption but there’s not a lot of disrupting going on in brands – especially in marketing and advertising. The authors of the book “Play Bigger” do an excellent job of making the case that you can’t be slightly better and build a great brand – that you need to be a “Category King”. This practice of being truly different requires a leader with high EQ (Emotional Intelligence), a deep sense of self-worth, an insatiable curiosity and the political juice to actually execute something different.
  4. Say No. One of our many mantras at Root + River is: “You build a business/career by saying yes. You build a brand by saying no.” Saying no is about setting standards and holding to them. This means saying no to tactics that are not aligned with a strategy. This means saying no to policies and processes that hurt people or manipulate them. It means saying no to scarcity thinking that so permeates many organizations. This practice requires a leader who is a clear thinker and doesn’t confuse action with activity.
  5. Be a Human. Perfection is a myth – a myth often supported by internal propaganda and external perception management. The truth is that we humans are messy. We make mistakes. We lead ideas that fail. We easily slip into ego-centric behavior. But its this messiness that grows cultures, influences outside perceptions and is the seedbed of improvement and innovation. This practice requires a leader that can deftly do two things: 1) Speak like a human. No corporate jargon, buzzwords, cliches. 2) See the humans in every decision. When you make people the center of your brand, every decision impacts them.

These five leadership practices emphasize the three core tenets of 21st century branding: Mission, Message and Machine. They reinforce and grow the individual missions that become the over-arching company mission. They become the language of the brand via message. Not rote, saturation or persuasion but a steady invitation to believe what you believe. They amplify and prove the value of a contemporary marketing machine – especially around relationships (employees, customers, influencers, communities), experiences and original, consistent content/stories.

These five practices can be adopted by everyone in an organization – but must first be modeled by senior leadership. Once adopted, these practices provide an organic source for brand growth, innovation, quality control, recruiting, customer retention, social reputation and much more.

The Courage to Listen

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Photo Credit: Evolving Science

It takes compassion and discipline to listen to others. To truly be present in the moment and listen to their words, their body language and their energy. Most of us (myself very much included) don’t do this. So we miss many opportunities to love, serve, extend kindness.

It takes something different to listen to the voice of our own soul: courage. Most of us don’t do this either. Because it’s terrifying. The voice of the soul is always counter to the life we crafted. So to listen to it is to set fire to all we’ve carefully constructed. But some do listen and begin to organize their lives and priorities around what this voice is whispering.

I have witnessed this act of courage on many occasions the past year.

I have seen it in the work Emily and I do at Root + River — where every single client came to us (either by serendipity or word-of-mouth) after saying “yes” to the voice. Each time, it required a re-organizing and re-purposing — often of very comfortable and secure lives.

I’ve seen it in those sent to me to mentor through a “what’s next” happening in their lives. After what is often many years of ignoring it, they began to listen. Or they had a cataclysmic event happen that awoke the voice. In listening they could see — that what they had thought was important and urgent was neither important nor urgent. And what was important and urgent was to listen to that voice.

I’ve seen it in my immediate family and closest friends — embracing their true selves at the expense of lighting fire or walking away from the movie set they’d built for their life. At the expense of trading the picture in their head for the voice in their soul. At the expense of relationships that were crudely pieced together to create a facsimile of family or love.

And I’ve witnessed it in my own life — in often starkly painful ways. The whisper to leave Boise and move to Austin. The clear insistence to build a new kind of branding practice with Emily. The quite but always-there prompt to encourage my wife of 25+ years to go find herself. The calling away from the church I’d attended with regularity for nearly 43 years. The push to begin sharing my musings I hear in my soul with the world. And a thousand or more other prompts, urges, whispers, pushes, pulls for a variety of moments.

All that have finally listened to this voice report a similar thread. That the voice is like drums in the distance, or a heartbeat, or the roar of a distance river, or the pounding of the surf. When the first act of courage occurs (to acknowledge this often far off sound), a new act of courage emerges — to step towards it. In doing so you begin to hear more clearly. Until you are close enough that it, indeed, it as as clear as a direct whisper in the ear.

Here’s what I know about this voice …

  • It doesn’t have a Plan B.
  • It is directly destructive of your current plans and ideas for success.
  • It uses no logic but makes complete sense.
  • It is always supported by what appear to be random coincidences and occurrences.
  • Those that have ignored this voice in themselves will be your greatest detractors.
  • It will produce some sort of creative output: writing, singing, art, spoken word.

Once tuned in, you can hear it all the time. Like living right on the shore of a river rather than hearing it from a distance. What did it say to me this morning?

Write about the courage to listen to this voice.

Annoyance-Inspired Innovation

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Innovation is a fickle and sporadic muse. A strange blend of research, failure, awareness and sometimes divine inspiration. Like all creative endeavors, there is no set formula. But there are patterns for innovation.

One such pattern is the removal of annoyances.

We tend to think of innovation as solving huge problems or creating a must-have product or inventing an entirely new category. But sometimes innovation is in the small things.

In our over-saturated, over-booked, over-whelmed lives, annoyances become the mosquito in the tent. Not really a threat but certainly damned distracting. In brands, these annoyances create friction points that competitors can later use to differentiate. Think Blockbuster’s late fees vs Netflix.

With some awareness, we can see thousands of these annoyances – each of which are someone’s business opportunity and/or differentiator. A few examples …

Southwest Airlines – They are brilliant at removing annoyances that are SOP for other airlines. Most famously, their bags-fly-free policy. This also includes their innovative on-boarding process, their flexibility with changing flights and using rewards and their entertaining safety briefings. Southwest didn’t invent a different kind of air travel nor did they create a new travel industry. They simply built a brand with smart business decisions, having fun and making the customer experience as annoyance-free as possible.

Amazon – As Amazon came on to the scene, they knew they had to remove as much friction as possible from the search-and-buy process. Any friction points would amplify the highly conditioned bias to “go the store” vs “buy on-line”. There are many ways that Amazon has mitigated annoyance but the best example is one of their most simplest: Amazon Prime. By eliminating shipping and handling fees, Amazon created instance viscosity. They made the value proposition and promise very clear: being a Prime member is a great deal. Now we click-and-buy with ease. Sometimes too easily!

Zoom – Having suffered through the experience of being a GoToMeeting user as well as dabbling in other virtual platforms, I learned about Zoom. Zoom appears to have reverse engineered all of the annoying things about GoToMeeting. You can easily talk to a person. It’s less expensive and has more features. The UI on both the backend and the participant sides is supremely better. And the biggest annoyance of all – minimal to zero tech issues (I’ve had a Zoom session 20+ times and have never had an issue connecting to audio or video).

As mentioned, the opportunities to build a brand around removing annoyances are everywhere. Look in every sector and segment of life and you will find annoyances – the friction points and burs of poor design, dumb policies, missing features. You don’t have to create gold from thin air. It’s in the seams and cracks of modern life.

The Ego Test

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We all have an ego. It’s part of the operating system that runs the human app. This is not a surprise. I’m certain that everyone has some varying degree of awareness of their own ego. Even if the old ego=pride definition is applied, it still shows some awareness that there’s a part of us that can be corrosive and destructive if we allow it. The sharp increase in the practicing of mindfulness has also brought greater awareness to the presence and influence of ego.

The first thing to know is that we need to stop trying to kill our egos. We need the ego. It contains a large portion of our identity. It makes us alert and situationally aware for threats and opportunities. It provides the drive to hunt, achieve, perform. It fuels passion and charisma. The issue is not that the ego is some sort of defect in the human app. The issue is that the ego is constantly in pursuit of trying to take control.

In short, the ego makes for a great employee but a tyrannical boss.

As such, it is an essential skill to learn how to be aware (quickly!) that our ego is running our lives.

I simply call this The Ego Test.

While there are certainly variances based on behavioral profiles and external conditioning, the red flags of ego are universal. They include:

  • Comparison. This is the #1 indicator that the ego is the boss. To put it directly, all comparison is of the ego. And from it springs jealousy, attachment, insecurity, unworthiness and many other destructive reactions.
  • Judging your feelings. “I should feel X.” “I shouldn’t feel Y”. Your feelings are just your feelings. Yet the ego puts a good-to-bad or right-to-wrong spectrum on them in order to label and to control.
  • Self-Righteousness. This may be the most deceiving trait of the ego; where we become convinced in our rightness and everyone else’s wrongness. Skepticism and rational (two key elements of being a free thinker) can’t co-exist with self-righteousness. This is the essence of extremism.
  • Lack of Compassion. By design, the ego doesn’t have compassion. It’s the primal side of us that is needed for survival. And compassion and survival are in direct conflict with each other. So if we begin to lose our ability to see our own humanity or soul and the humanity and souls in others, we know the ego is in charge.
  • Self Absorption. The ego loves the role of Victim. By attaching our ego to our suffering, we become so consumed by our pain that the pain itself becomes becomes our identity. This means we spend our days in a personal hell of torment and lose our capacity for gratitude and compassion.

Once you begin to be aware of these indicators, you can then begin to learn how to make your ego a productive, efficient employee. But that’s a separate post.

Why You Won’t (or Can’t) Opt-In

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A few years ago, my business/creative partner Emily Soccorsy and I coined the term “Opt-Iners”. We use this term to describe the millennial-minded mature leaders (40+ years old) that are opting into the new way of doing business – what we call “being human”. Opt-Iners are self-aware, heart-centric, spiritually curious, tech savvy and adventurous. All very necessary traits in building and growing 21st century brands.

Emily’s recent post entitled “The Most Terrifying Question You Can Ask You” got me thinking – which lead me to this question … why wouldn’t someone opt-in? The evidence is clear that the era of command-and-control leadership, treating humans as capital and treating consumers as idiots is over. Why hold on to any vestiges of that era?

Here could be why …

  1. Industrial-Age Mindset What made a leader a successful in the Industrial Age wrecks organizations and people in the Human Age. From health benefits to workloads to performance metrics to safety, all the ways a company treated people in the Industrial Age are over. You can no longer hurt people, discriminate, suppress, wreck the environment, etc (not that there aren’t still more subtle ways of doing these). Yet much of the Industrial Age thinking remains. A great example is this … in the Industrial Age, you moved the people by moving the numbers (quotas, performance bonuses, productivity metrics, etc). In the Human Age, you move the numbers by moving the people. If you have an Industrial Age mindset about what moves people, it is impossible to opt-in.
  2. Linear Thinking. This is very much related to above. The Industrial Age produced straight lines to improve efficiency, productivity, output. Marketing was a straight line between product and target market. Recruiting was a straight line between job and skillset. In the Human Age, everything is spherical. It’s messy. It’s unclear. It takes a leader to see the patterns and rhythms – and linear thinking is the enemy of spherical thinking. If you see everything as a Point A to Point B activity with a series of processes and checkboxes, it is impossible to opt-in.
  3. Hours in the Office. It’s no longer viable to be addicted to work. Yet thousands of leaders wage a war of attrition with their minds, bodies and souls around how many hours they spend in the office, how they are never disconnected. A cynical view is that vacation time for most leaders is a time to recover enough to go back to grist mill of their role and job responsibilities – like a military leave from a combat zone. In the Human Age, Opt-In leaders measure things through energy acquired and spent. This is partially why EQ and mindfulness are such a hot topic in the business world lately. When you measure things through time spent, it is impossible to opt-in.
  4. Lack of Self Care. Addiction, depression, anxiety and suicides are tragically at an all time high. Too many leaders treating themselves and their people like rental cars or disposable razors. Too much of a massive gap between the real person and the job person. In the Industrial Age, you kept your emotional and spiritual (and often literal) wounds to yourself. You showed up. Because you had to. In the Human Age, these wounds, if left untreated, will wreck your career and hurt the people around you at work and at home. In the Human Age, if you aren’t taking care of you first, its impossible to opt-in.

Each one these areas are a choice. No one can make you do, think or feel anything. So if these resonated with you as reasons why you haven’t opted-in, I encourage you to examine your attachments, beliefs and fears. These three are the root of why we don’t grow, don’t change, don’t evolve. For those of us that have opted-in, it’s essential that we show compassion to those leaders that haven’t. This is not some character flaw. These are not dumb people. They are simply afraid and need some encouragement.

Becoming a Producer Brand

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For the sake of a unified definition, a Producer is anyone that makes a living primarily off commissions and fees. This would include commissioned sales people, financial planners, realtors, CPAs, attorneys – to name a few.

If you are a Producer, you have a brand. Its a combination of the energy you bring into the room, the compiled experiences your clients have with you and the way you interact with others on-line and off-line.

None of that is new information. Most Producers have been avid consumers of books and tips on how to work a room, how to create influence, how to nurture a reputation. What may be new for you if you are a Producer is that you have so much more potential within your brand.

Here are 4 simple but effective ways to boost your brand as a Producer:

  1. Start Speaking. Not about your success as a Producer or about your area of expertise, but your experience as a human being. Each of us have overcome a lot to get where we are at. Within this overcoming is likely your mission – and a series of stories that the world needs to hear. Most audiences have plenty of information. What they need is inspiration. By sharing your sorrows and triumphant, you are showing the world your true self – not a construct designed to just hit your numbers.
  2. Take a Stand. Most Producers have learned that doing good in the community is good for their brand. Most are quite generous with time, money and energy with causes they want to get behind. What if you took it up a notch? What if you took a stand for an idea or purpose that’s intrinsically important to you. We Producers have been taught to fit in, don’t rock the boat, don’t be controversial. This leads to sameness. Instead, find that thing that sets your soul on fire and get behind it.
  3. Write. And Write Some More. The most untapped area of a Producer’s brand is around consistently crafting content in order to become a thought-leader. Whether you use LinkedIn, Medium or some other platform, writing original, thoughtful content about your industry, your area of expertise, your mission, your story are all force multipliers that contribute to your brand as a thought-leader.
  4. Invest in You. The Producer’s life is intense and high pressure. We pour out ourselves to our clients, to prospects, to partners, to family. We don’t live in the magical world of getting a salary every two weeks. This leaves very little left for yourself. When a Producer gets emptied out, they lose their passion and drive. This is when depression, anxiety, addiction sneak in and start running your life. Taking a pause – even if just a day – to re-connect to yourself, examine your thoughts and feelings, to think about the future will make you a better, more reliable Producer.

If you are a Producer, I’m very curious to hear from you about what you do to work on your brand. Reply below or drop me a note at justin at rootandriver dot com.

5 Ways Thought-Leaders Hurt Their Brands

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We are all thought-leaders at something. Yes, I know it’s a bit of a buzz word, but it’s still true. If you are a corporate leader, you are also a thought-leader on your areas of expertise in the business. If you are a small business owner, you are a thought-leader in your industry and/or community. If you are a solo entrepreneur, you are most definitely a thought-leader. In fact, a good portion of the clients we serve at Root + River are solo coaches and consultants with thought-leadership as a business model.

Regardless of which bucket you might fit best in, there are a number of ways you can inadvertently hurt your brand as a thought-leader.

Here are five to consider:

  1. Poor Visuals. This is rampant in thought-leadership – especially with solo brands. Just take a scan through Twitter headers and web sites and you will see a torrent of bad design, stock photos, low resolution graphics. Just to name a few! How does this happen? It’s an ego blindspot. Many people believe their expertise is enough to trigger attraction and how they look doesn’t matter. But poor visuals instantly trigger resistance and suspicion – causing you to immediately fail what we call the Brand Test.
  2. Split Lives. Many of us who started our careers in the 20th century adopted the practice of living split lives. We had a work version of us and a home version of us. While this practice may have been a necessity in the industrial age, it is a brand diluter in the Human Age that we are in now. By building your brand around a construct rather than your true self, you are maintaining a movie set rather than inviting people to your real story – which is much more interesting!
  3. Mis-Use of Social. Like the community pool, gyms and other ways of life, social media has its own set of rules. In attempt to get attention, earn business and other wise stand out, many thought leaders hurt their brands by repeatedly breaking these rules. Examples: over-promoting your offerings, pitching strangers with direct messages, canned content, poor visuals (see #1). All of these are a steady erosion of your credibility and believability.
  4. Being a Cliche Machine. If you don’t know what I mean, follow this guy on Twitter. Or use this handy tool to listen to yourself as you have conversations and give presentations. The use of cliches, buzzwords, acronyms is a blend of insecurity and efficiency. When are you are not confident in your original ideas, your mind will trigger you to fill in the blank with a known term in order to be accepted. We all do this now and again, but when you do it repeatedly, you turn your brand from thought-leader to karaoke singer.
  5. Unresolved Emotional Wounds. We often say at Root + River, we don’t actually work on your brand. We work on you … and you work on your brand. This is because who we are as a human has a huge influence on how we are perceived as a brand. Our brands essentially become projections of our beliefs, habits, world views – and, yes, our emotional wounds. Untreated emotional trauma can create a fog of delusion or despair that erodes your confidence and self-worth.

This list is reflective of what we call “Intrinsic Branding” – the inner work necessary to create a vibrant, awake brand. For business owners and leaders, this inner work includes the culture, customer experience, innovation, differentiation. When you are striving to be a thought-leader, this inner work means working on you – inside and out.

The Seven Thieves of Modern Life

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Despite the headlines, all the data shows that we are in a great age of prosperity and abundance. Probably the most prosperous and abundant era in the history of the human race. Yet if that’s true, why is there still so much suffering and unhappiness — especially in the US?

I believe it’s because we’ve allowed a set of thieves to steal our energy, attention and connection to self. I call these the Seven Thieves of Modern Life. Here they are and what to do about them:

  1. Worry. Worry is highly addictive unnecessary waiting. It’s ego attaching happiness and peace of mind to an external condition or outcome. Worry hijacks our natural coping mechanisms and makes us obsess over the trivial and insignificant. Worry robs us of present moment. Worry warps our lens of how we see ourselves and others.
    Solution: The only solution for worry is action. The first action being awareness of the worry, then a willful decision on what to do about it.

  2. Distractions. We receive 5000–7000 behavioral requests a day. People, alerts, advertising, emails, outside stimuli — all demanding our attention. It has made our minds weary; effecting our decision-making, ability to prioritize and our sense of what is important and what is not important.
    Solution: We all need occasional sacred space — a walk, nature, reading, meditation … whatever is uniquely your recovery space. Even 5–10 minutes of uninterrupted stillness goes a long way. But we must demand it and create it because it can’t be given to us by others.

  3. Comparison. Our economy runs on comparison — improvements, upgrades, status. We compare our lives to each other — often through the lens of social media. We compare our own performance as a human to some impossible ideal that we agreed to. All of this comparing just feeds the ego’s never-ending appetite for more. It robs us of gratitude and self-worth — and puts us in a perpetual state of There or That.
    Solution: The cure for comparison is clarity. Clarity about who you truly are, what you believe, what matters to you. This clarity protects you from internal and external comparison. It allows you to interact with humanity as your true self. It brings discernment to what you give your value and attention to.

  4. Attachments. Attachment is part of the Human App. We naturally attach our happiness to ideals, goals, other people’s behaviors. The list is endless. Attachment becomes a thief when our identity is completely tied up in what we’re attached to. A great example is a career or title. We are not that career or title, but because we are so attached to either, it informs our world view, sense of worth and decisions.
    Solution: The solution to attachments is self-examination. Some would call this “awareness” but I believe it’s deeper than that. If you are honest, self-examination will reveal what you are attached to and how it is driving your decision-making. Self-examination reminds you of your power to trace the root of the attachment to its source — then either say “yes” or “no” to the attachment.

  5. Options. We have too much choice. Closely related to comparison and distractions, we are inundated with options — all designed to consume our attention and value. Comfort, short-term gratification and distraction are plentiful — and just a few clicks away. We create preferences based off these options — and don’t pause to ask if we truly want (let alone need!) that particular preference.
    Solution: The Power of Choice is the solution for options. No one can decide for us. No one can make us do anything. It’s all choice. By reclaiming the power of choice, we are also re-claiming our yes’s and no’s. We are re-establishing what is essential and necessary vs comforts of life.

  6. Information. Similar to options, we have too much information. We search and Google and read reviews and consume “news” — all to feed our ego’s need to know. This robs us of being grounded, centered and present. It also creates the angst that we are missing a key piece of information that we need. And that it’s just around the corner.
    Solution: Context is the solution to too much information. Context is the ability to use reason and logic to discern what’s important and what’s not important. Context breaks the ego’s lock on information and returns it to being a tool rather than a master.

  7. Isolation. So many friends and followers, yet so little actual connection. Many blame social media for this. Social media is just an amplifier of real life. We have found it easier to maintain a cordial, surface distance from most people — even within the walls of our homes. This disconnect from others leads to isolation. A sense of deep aloneness where you lose your sense of self and of humanity. Distractions, coping tools and information just make it worse.
    Solution: Connection is the key. Actual, real soulful connection to other humans. We are designed for solitude (not isolation) so that we can more fully connect to others. This requires a lot of spiritual nudity; showing your true self without the aforementioned attachments. When you can connect on a daily basis, these conversations become little rest stops on the otherwise wearisome road of life.

I’m certain there are more thieves of modern life. And I’m certain that many of these are over-lapping — even feeding off each other. But my key point is this: every one of these thieves enters by invitation. This is why I believe so strongly in sovereignty, self-love and personal liberty. You don’t need to build walls or stronger locks. You just need to stop inviting them to enter your lives.

Thoughts on Independence

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Independence Day is my favorite of the official US holidays. It is the only one that celebrates the individual. Sure, we use it to celebrate the forming of a nation, but that effort was lead by individuals who valued (mostly) the power of individuality; of personal liberty. When enough individuals get together and decide they want to be independent, it creates a revolution. This is still true in societies, businesses and in relationships.

According to psychologist and college professor Jared Peterson, all societies and tribes go through a cycle of order, corruption and chaos. Each phase produces antagonists (primarily apologists and institutionalists) and protagonists (primarily messengers and warriors). Our nation’s short history shows that we were birthed in the corruption phase and have been through the cycle of all three several times since. Businesses go through the same cycles, but call it something different: innovation. Individuals go through the same cycles, but call it something different: enlightenment.

I believe the US is in between the phases of corruption and chaos. That we are governed by two of the most broken, least trusted brands (Republicans and Democrats) is evidence enough of this. But there’s more …

We are in the age of extremes; with there currently being two sides of these extremes.

On one side, the so-called Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) with their obsession with labels and moral relativism — deciding what is offensive and what is acceptable according to their own biases. They are their own religion — preaching the gospel of Worship of the State. And this circular error of logic: everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.

On the other side, the New Right. This is actually two sub-groups: 1) Evangelical “Christians” and 2) the Alt-Right. The Evangelicals are actively seeking to make their brand of Christianity a state-sponsored religion. They judge people on their sexuality, places and methods of worship, and not looking or acting in an “appropriate” way. And this twisted ideology: America is a great country but its citizens are all sinners that need saving.

Here’s the irony. These two extremes are essentially the same people — they just hate different things. They are both narrow, judgmental, exclusionary, easily offended and spiritually asleep. They both shut down discourse and disagreement. They have both sold their souls and their ability to reason to achieve power and status. And most of all, they are both terrified by the power of the individual. Which leads us back to Independence Day — the celebration of individual liberty.

Ayn Rand says it best …

It took centuries of intellectual, philosophical development to achieve political freedom. It was a long struggle, stretching from Aristotle to John Locke to the Founding Fathers. The system they established was not based on unlimited majority rule, but on its opposite: on individual rights, which were not to be alienated by majority vote or minority plotting. The individual was not left at the mercy of his neighbors or his leaders: the Constitutional system of checks and balances was scientifically devised to protect him from both. This was the great American achievement — and if concern for the actual welfare of other nations were our present leaders’ motive, this is what we should have been teaching the world.”

To step away from the extremes is to embrace individualism and personal sovereignty. It takes tremendous conviction and courage to do so. (Remember, every movement is started by a tiny minority.) It also takes three specific skills to master:

  1. Know Your Intrinsic Beliefs: These are beliefs arrived at through discovery and enlightenment not beliefs taught or dispensed. We all have them if we seek them. Its these intrinsic beliefs that fuel our purpose to preserve our individuality. It is within these beliefs you will find your mission.
  2. Seek and Speak Truth: Truth exists but it must be sought. Ignore those that say there is no truth. Ignore those that say they have the truth to give (or sell) you. Within this truth is your message. Once discovered, you must speak this truth. It is your #1 weapon — a fire that destroys pretense and specious behavior.
  3. Express, don’t Explain. You don’t need to explain yourself. You just need to express truth. When the extremes demand that you explain or defend yourself, it would be good to remember something every great spiritual teacher embodied: the use of questions and the use of silence. Become adept at both.

I firmly believe that the desire to be free and to express our individuality are both inherent features of our human app; a strand of source code that we can re-connect to as a bulwark against extremism, sameness and distractions. When we connect to our own sovereignty, we transform into reluctant heroes — thinking differently, speaking differently and living differently.