5×7 – Day 4: 5 Personal Branding Practices to Adopt

By Branding, Leadership, LifeOne Comment

Day 4 of my 7 days of 5 things to end the year! Today’s list of 5 is related to your personal brand.

A few level-set concepts …

First, whether or not you work on it consciously, you are a brand. Second, your personal brand contributes to your team’s brand. This team could be your tribe of influencers and clients if you are a solo brand – or your corporate team if you work for a bigger brand. Finally, personal branding is the practice of authenticity. It’s not working on your image. It’s doing the inner work to produce an outer reputation.

Here are 5 practices to consider adopting. These are not formulas. They are concepts to establish a practice. Take them as your own and do them your way.

  1. Be a Human. There is no work version of you. There is no home version of you. There is no social version of you. Yes, those are different aspects of how others experience you but you are just you. Which means you are a human. You love. You fail. You get wounded. You achieve. You grow. You learn. Let other’s see all this. A simple tip to remind you to be a human … when someone asks you how you are doing, answer them with the truth! Not “fine”, “great” or some other filler.
  2. Be an Original Thinker.  Originality is the surest sign of an awake, thriving soul. It is evidence that you are creating, not just following. That you are producing your own music, not being a cover band for other people’s ideas. Sure, you can be inspired by others. But sit with your own thoughts and ideas. Share them. Test them. Change them. You know you are an original thinker when you share an idea and someone says “I’ve never thought about it that way before”. A simple tip … clear all of your vocabulary (written and spoken) of cliches. Cliches are the varnish that cover up the real wood of you.
  3. Build a Tribe. Call it your circle of influence, your friends, a mastermind, a cross-departmental team – it is all the same idea. Attract and find a small group of people that you have a connection with and go do something. Go solve a problem. Go create something. Go serve others. This tribe will be a constant source of new ideas, encouragement and the occasional kick in the ass. Further, this tribe will have your back when you aren’t around. A simple tip … everyone in your tribe should be energy positive. This doesn’t mean you always agree with them, have the same interests, etc. but it does mean that being around them is not a drain.
  4. Say No. One of our many mantras at Root + River is this: “You build your career by saying yes. You build your brand by saying no”. In relationships, this is healthy boundaries. It is practicing healthy non-attachment to the past and future, to people, to things. It is protecting your sovereignty while still contributing to humanity. It’s protecting your resources like time, attention, intellectual property – not with a spirit of lack but a spirit of appreciation for their value. Simple tip: keep a log of what you say yes to that you want to say no to. Being an adult is sometimes saying yes to things you don’t want to do, but if your days are spent saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do, you are a domesticated human.
  5. Practice Self-Care. It takes a blend of confidence and wisdom to discern between self-love and selfishness. To discern between self-awareness and being self conscious. To take care of you without becoming self-absorbed. It’s a fine line, I know. It all comes down to “loving your neighbor as your self”. Treat yourself like a friend that you love. Treat yourself like a client that you love working with. Don’t talk yourself out of self care with negative bullshit like “I feel guilty when I do things for me” or “This feels selfish …” This is the language of a martyr. Simple tip: keep track of what you do that’s just for you. It could be 5 minutes of silence, yoga, going to the gym, reading – whatever feeds your soul. Keep track of these and consciously incorporate them into the flow of your life.

If you adopt these five practices (again, in your own way), the promised results are profound and sustainable. You will grow. And when you grow, everyone around you will benefit. You will enhance your reputation and attract more people – which in turn will create more opportunities. You will feel lighter, more balanced, less frenetic. You will find that coping mechanisms are almost entirely unnecessary. You will be living as your True Self. And your True Self is your brand.

The Mind, Maslow and Marketing

By Branding, LeadershipNo Comments

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)


Social programming is all the buzz these days. Study after study shows that we humans are quite impressionable and that external input never stops teaching our brain what we think and who we think we are. To become a brand requires a concentrated effort to overcome this social programming – primarily our deeply engrained need for approval and acceptance. This programming is why we often say that in order to differentiate yourself, you must actually be different!

If you are an entrepreneur or a corporate marketer, there is a sub-set of programming related to all things branding and marketing. The most prevalent issue is that many leaders have a fairly static knowledge set. They may be informed on the latest branding and marketing tools and trends, but there is a deep-seated first response system that must be overcome.

I have noticed at least three common “social programming” traits related to branding and marketing …

Selling Offerings. Simon Sinek has made “Start with Why” a contemporary branding mantra. But few actually do this. Most often, you see leaders start with their product or service offering. The social programming behind this is from several thousand years of tribal survival. It pretty much follows Maslow’s Hierarchy. Most of human existence has been focused on the bottom end of the hierarchy: physical survival, safety, security. This is all HOW stuff. In the middle of the hierarchy, you find the WHAT: acceptance, attention, belonging – all traits that have been heavily exploited by advertising the past 70+ years. At the top of the hierarchy is self-actualization. This is the WHY that Sinek talks about. We also teach this is where brands come from – because true branding is how other people experience how you are self-actualizing (mission, beliefs, purpose, creativity, etc).

When you start with your WHAT (offerings), you are really just selling that they’ll accept you. Two simple tests:

1) On the above-the-fold section of your website, is the language and visuals WHY or WHAT?

2) In conversations where you are asked what you do, do you provide a WHAT answer?

There is no shame in this! But it is science. All decisions are made in the non-verbal part of the brain. They are made with emotion. Further, attention is meted out based on pattern disruption. So if you don’t sound and look different, everyone’s hyper-programmed brain will shove you in to an existing file folder.

Clarity at the expense of curiosity. Most of us are programmed with a deep need to be right; to have the right answer. To do a good job so that we get the grade, the approval, the promotion. So we over-explain everything in pursuit of clarity – both for our audience and for ourselves. When we seek to provide clarity first, we rob the audience of one of the essentials of experiencing life: curiosity! Curiosity is triggered by breaking pattern recognition. It is part of our primal wiring to notice something different and give it our attention. When we over-explain, we rob our audience of the opportunity to get closer, ask questions and otherwise investigate the mystery.

Tactical bias. Phew. This is a big one. This programming comes from the making and doing of the Industrial Age and ages prior. With it comes a need to pick the right tool and learn how to use it. It is also driven by the primal coding of competition. What if my competitor has a better tool than me? Or what if she has the same tool but knows how to use it better than me? Here is secret #1: you can’t use all the marketing tools. There are too many of them. So you have to choose the ones that best fit you. And here is secret #2 (this one said in a whisper): if you get a few things right, ALL marketing tools work. If you organize your brand around your mission. If you share a belief-based message. If you are disciplined about customer experience and marketing activities. Then whatever you decide to do will work. As a fitness trainer friend of mine once said, “The plan that you do is the one that works.”

If you want to become a brand – that is, go the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy – here are four principles to embrace:

  1. Your brand is how other people experience what you believe (not just an external image).
  2. “Advertising is the price you pay for being boring” – Andy Sernovitz
  3. All branding is an act of provocation. (Branding is an art. Art offends some people. These are not your people.)
  4. If ingredient panels sold cereal, they’d be on the front of the box. (there’s a lot to learn from the research done by a multi-billion dollar industry).

Take a look at the best branded competitors in your sector. Or your favorite local establishments. Or the brands of your favorite thinkers. Unless they’ve had a long term dominate market position (i.e. Coke), they all became great brands by ignoring social programming and just focused on being consistently original and interesting.

Circles and Lines

By Leadership, Life2 Comments


We humans were designed to think spherically and act linearly. Prior to the Industrial Age, this was the societal norm. Thinking spherically and acting linearly was at the core of the teachings of all of the great spiritual teachers, original thinkers and philosophers.

The Industrial Age flipped the polarity of this ancient design. And now, most of us in the Western world (especially Americans) have it backwards …

We think linearly and act spherically.

Linear thinking is largely due to the social conditioning and influence of government, religion and education — then later, corporations. It produced great progress in the Industrial Age and in the expansion of America’s influence and power. But it also produced the great cost of our more shameful behaviors as a nation. This single-minded obsession from getting from point A to point B is necessary and useful skill if in survival or expansion mode. It is a must-have for the lower ends of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Acting spherically still permeates much of our behavior in society, business and politics. We want all the options. We want a plan A — Z to support our point A to point B strategy. We want insurance, assurance and reassurance. We want security and certitude. We want money back guarantees. And now we have more information than we will ever need to make sure we have all the bases covered.

What if we returned to the original design of thinking spherically and acting linearly? For most of us, it would radically change our lives.

If we thought spherically, we would be more motivated by curiosity than by coping. We’d seek wisdom not information. We’d go inward for happiness instead of trying to purchase it through stuff. In our interactions with our fellow humans, we wouldn’t see labels or groups. We would see souls, not roles. We would certainly need much less of religion, government, education and corporate influence in our lives.

If we began to act linearly, we would get shit done at all new levels. We would become elite executors. We’d be agile. We’d stack rank priorities and then go. We would be more present with less plans and goals and more imagination and intention.

The combo of thinking spherically and acting linearly would certainly produce more warriors, more poets, more pirates, more creatives. Because to think spherically and act linearly is what artists do. And artists advance civilization to its next phase. Which is why I think we were designed to think spherically and act linearly. So without becoming artists each in our own way, we don’t just not advance our lives. We take something away from the world that prevents all of humanity from advancing.

If you switch back to the original design, be prepared to be shamed, admonished, corrected. Some of those closest you will question your character … and your sanity. You will hear “what’s wrong with you?” and “Have you gone insane?” and “You’ve lost your way.”

But you will also attract a new tribe of those embracing their original design. And that is the best part of any transformation: the people you meet and connect with along the way.

How to Tell if You’re Living Your Mission

By Coaching, Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Joan of Arc. Which reminds me to tell you: your mission will often get you killed. At a minimum, it will kill your old life.

I believe that mission is at the center of a purposeful life. I also believe that every human has a specific mission. As we say in our BrandLabs and Root Sessions, “Your mission is the thing you are here to do that only you can do.” When you find it (or it finds you), it becomes an organizing principle of your life — and contributes in some significant way to the advancement of humanity.

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.” — Martha Graham

Missions are mysterious things. They aren’t discovered or assigned because of our credentials. As such, our missions are often starkly mis-aligned with our world view, our perceptions of self and our technical/learned skill set. They cause massive disruptions in life. They require a break from the survival-to-comfortable continuum that permeates American society.

My mission came to me at Pacha Coffee on Sunday morning in Austin about 4 years ago.

My mission: to elevate the self-worth of everyone I meet.

In hindsight, this mission began dawning in my earliest memories but didn’t began to rise above the horizon of my life until around 2011. It took me another 3+ years to see that this was not just some insight or philosophy for me — that I had to organize my life around it and share it.

As it is with missions, I’m woefully ill-equipped to be some sort of messenger of self-worth. Which, I’m certain, is exactly why I was chosen to do it.

There is no set way to find your mission. Jesus probably gave the best instructions: seek, ask, knock. A relentless curiosity and the courage to go into the wilderness of the soul are also a requirement. Because missions are most often discovered through suffering and sorrow. They are frequently discovered in darkness and practiced in the light.

So I can’t tell you how to find your mission. I/we can be a guide, a coach, an agitator, a challenger. But you’ve got to want to find it. I will share with you, however, how I can tell if I’m living my mission …

  • See souls, not roles (or title, or status, or appearances).
  • Regular removal of guile, manipulation and objectification from my heart.
  • Genuinely listening; being present for a person.
  • Remind myself and others about our two superpowers: choice and creativity.
  • Keeping my heart and mind open.
  • Sharing musings, wisdom, insight when prompted to.
  • Making deep connections and having real conversations.
  • Re-joining the divine dance every day.
  • Speaking and presenting whenever asked to.
  • Being open, vulnerable about my journey, experiences, faith.

Most of all, I can tell I’m living my mission when I’m working on my own self-worth. Which is a struggle. My programmed state is fear, insecurity, doubt. I have to overcome these daily. And some days, they overcome me. But I keep going. Because that’s what you do when your mission comes to you.

What Still Works

By Branding, Leadership, LifeNo Comments


One of our mantras at Root + River is “if you aren’t producing value, you’re just contributing to the noise”. And oh what noise there is in the over-proliferation of formulaic marketing. Carefully staged Instagram photos. The endless stream of click-funnel language. The pleas for attention from email marketing. And (to me at least) the biggest culprit: cut-and-paste pitch emails and LinkedIn messages.

To be clear, I’m not really complaining about the tools (although I do find click funnels to be extra annoying). I am complaining about the way these tools are being used. That’s because how you market has far more impact on your brand than what you market.

There is a silver lining to over-information fatigue. We are returning to more ancient principles of communicating, relating and collaborating. As these new marketing fads run their course, certainly new ones will replace them. But there are a few timeless practices that will work in perpetuity.

  1. Be Direct. Use a scalpel not a butter knife to get your point across. State your why/what/how (in that order) in the most succinct way possible. Then clearly and directly ask for what you want. Over-explanation is a sign of insecurity. Simplicity and directness are signs of confidence. Your audience doesn’t need more insecure marketers begging for their attention.
  2. Don’t Waste Other People’s Time. There is some direct correlation with the above point. But it goes deeper than that. Wasting someone’s time is the modern equivalent of stealing someone’s horse in the Old West. Time is our “horse” – our most prized possession, our biggest asset. When you send long ass emails or write long ass marketing copy, you are stealing your audience’s horses. The same applies to asking for someone’s time for a call or a meeting. It better be at least equal in worth to them as it is for you.
  3. Storytelling. Ah, yes. The most ancient practice of sharing and liking. If you are sitting around a fire swapping stories, two things become quickly apparent: a) not having a story to share and b) not be very good at sharing it. Such is the case today. Not having a story to share is usually because you haven’t done the work to find out what’s truly interesting about your brand (hint: it is you and the humans you impact). Most people settle for checking the box next to “Marketing” on their to-do list without ever considering whether or not they’re telling a story. Secondly, storytelling is far more about will than skill. Storytelling takes vulnerability and consistency. Both of which are matters of courage and discipline, not following some storytelling formula.
  4. Tell the Truth. One of the positives about the acres and acres of bullshit caused by over-marketing is that the truth is far more obvious and far more memorable. Most of truth telling in marketing boils down to these three things: 1) Don’t over-inflate what you think makes you different. I call this the “turkey bacon” rule. “Turkey bacon” isn’t bacon. It’s pressed meat with an ad agency. 2) Don’t be afraid to say no. Not everyone is worthy of being your customer. Or your friend. It’s ok to say no to people that are not energy positive for you. And 3) Don’t pitch or preach. Nobody likes to be pitched to or preached at. Yet this is 90% of the behavior of most marketers.

To reiterate, I’m not saying the tools are the problem (although sometimes they are). I am saying that how they are used is important. To paraphrase Dr Jordan Peterson, marketing is suffering; don’t make it worse.

Further, there’s something to be said for using timeless practices. It grounds us in our history. It shows that time is a continuum but some things transcend that continuum. These timeless practices of directness, not wasting other people’s time, storytelling and telling the truth provide a solid baseline of branding and marketing competency. And all four get amplified by most contemporary tools.

Mystery Me

By Leadership, Life, Self-Worth2 Comments

I was recently asked what I write the most about here. My response was that if Tim Ferriss does productivity hacking and Dave Asprey does bio-hacking, then I guess I’m a self-hacker. A DIY self-improver.

After many years of being externally focused, obsessive about the future and resentful about the past, I began a journey inward about 5 years ago. I hacked my self. My ego. My personality. My soul. I learned the power of awareness. I learned how to observe my thoughts and feelings with minimal judgment. I learned healthy non-attachment.

I’ve come a long way. I’m happier, more whole than I’ve ever been. But as I turn 48 in a few weeks, I’m very aware of a few of my idiosyncrasies and dichotomies.

In the spirit of self-hacking, here are a few mysteries of me that befuddle and bemuse …

  • After 10+ years of being committed to working out intensely and regularly, I’ve lost my passion for it. I literally get tired on the way to the gym. I have some sort of mental block in this area that I can’t seem to move. Yet, I feel that my desire for healthy, fit, energetic body is sincere. But I can’t seem to: a) recover that same drive and b) link behavior to desired results.
  • I remain a control freak, over-planner. This is not uncommon for survivors of trauma. We obsess over environmental details and conditions — especially related to time and plans. This produces a series of odd behaviors. I can’t go to a concert and have people behind me. So I either stand in the back of the room or find a pillar to put my back against. I argue with Google Maps on best routes. Then obsessively watch the progress. When arriving at a coffee shop or restaurant, I worry — every single time — that I won’t find a place to sit. My faith is strong. My belief is deep. Yet I can’t let these little, trivial things go.
  • The closer I am to you, the less likely I am to tell you how I really feel — or ask for what I really want. While I’m getting better about this, my first reaction to most emotions directed at someone I care about is “Will they still love me if I share what I’m feeling with them?” I know that I believe in truth and that it should be expressed at all times. Yet, I still hedge my bets, protect my emotional flank, with those closest to me. I still try gauge and sometimes even control their responses.
  • I still have a strong tendency to compare myself to others. This is a pretty basic and old feature of the ego, so it’s extra difficult to re-wire this one. I compare up (they’re better than me) and down (I’m better than them). The comparison doesn’t last long, because I’m disciplined about being aware of it. Yet it’s still the first reaction many times. I know I believe in loving more (literally tattooed on my body!) and loving unconditionally. Yet comparison is all about conditional love — of others and myself.

To be clear, perfection is a myth and imperfections make life interesting. So this isn’t about perfection, but it is about improvement. About owning that which I have control (supposedly!) over. About continuing to work on the ultimate fixer-upper … me.

Two questions …

Any tips or insights on working through any of the above?

What are your dichotomies and dissonances?

Saving Our Republic from Extremism

By Leadership, LifeOne Comment

As with all societies and systems, the US goes through the same cycles of order/corruption/chaos — about every 50–125 years. I am certain that we are in the corruption-to-chaos phase in our current cycle. This moment is a true test of our love for liberty and our belief in freedom. Because the great temptation is to a) use tyranny to create order or b) ignore the corruption. Either will lead to the death of any society or culture. New leaders with new thinking and a strong ethical core must rise up to create a new order out of the chaos.

In this cycle, the deck appears to be stacked against us. America has become a moderate nation governed by two extremes …

One is the far right. Emboldened by Trump’s election and fueled by evangelicalism, this group is set on hijacking the republic to create a permanent state of power. This group has killed or is killing classic republicanism. You know you are a part of this group if you think Obama is a Muslim and Trump is a Christian and that patriotism is compulsory.

The other is the far left. Enchanted by socialism and masters of exploiting identity politics, the far left claims the high road of progress while taking the low road of fascism. And in the process, has killed or is killing classic liberalism. You know you are part of this group if you hate capitalism but benefit greatly from it and preach tolerance but don’t have any friends that don’t think like you.

Both sides are fueled by ego-centric hate, narrowness, tribalism and binary thinking. And both are subsidized by our current political systems. Which leads to this … how does one save the republic? Where does that leave the large majority of Americans that are moderate, rational, aware citizens? What actions can be taken?

Here are two key actions that would produce near-term results …

First, we need to eliminate party-based primaries. The primary system is the #1 culprit of extremism. In most areas of the country, roughly only 30% of eligible voters are determining who the final candidates are. To get their portion of this 30%, candidates need to either tack hard left or hard right. This produces either strident politicians or politicians that are so malleable that they can pretend to be what’s necessary to get through the primary process. The long term solution is that the primary process should be replaced with a run-off model. In this model, you can run under the banner of any party you want but the top two finishers (regardless of party) are the main candidates in the general election. A shorter term solution is to ban closed primaries. This would allow independents and cross-party voters to vote in the primaries — thus infusing a level of moderation.

Second, we need to implement federal term limits. Yeah, I know this has been tried before. But it was done through the legislative process and was eventually over-turned by the Supreme Court. In addition, there is no way in hell that either major party would endorse term limits at this point. It’s time to tackle this issue again but with a different tool: crowdsourcing. If a group of influential cross-party moderates (such as David French or Dave Rubin) were to lead a crowdsourced class action lawsuit, it would work it’s way through the federal court system. This sets the legal precedence for federal term limits. And legal precedences are much harder to over-turn than legislative ones. There are millions of independent voters and clear-thinking moderates from the two parties that don’t have a voice. This class action suit gives them (us!) a voice in the political process.

As always, our best instincts should be to return to the inalienable principles of freedom, equality, liberty, justice. But just as we’ve done in our past, it’s time to take some decisive, direct action to ensure that these principles continue for another generation.

Lessons in the Non-Transferrable

By Coaching, Leadership, Self-WorthNo Comments

Socrates. Asking questions. Not giving advice.

If I have 100,000 hours into anything other than just life, it’s in coaching others. Countless hours of crafting curriculum, learning techniques, expanding my skills. Then countless more hours in coaching sessions — cajoling, encouraging, challenging.

Coaching, like any practice, is accepting a state of continual learning. (I jokingly say that when a coach stops learning is when they become a consultant. I’m only half kidding.) What shifts the most over time is where the learning comes from. For me, about 10% of my learning now comes from formal study, structured programs, etc. The other 90% is what I learn in an actual coaching session. The students (client) have become my teachers. Which, in turn, the next student benefits from and contributes to.

I have learned enough about and from coaching to fill a book. But this is what I’ve learned the most …

Most important things are non-transferrable.

Here are just a few …







I could list a dozen more …

In each case, I can’t transfer these to another person. I can’t make you have belief. I can’t give my faith to you. I can’t motivate you. I can’t make you take any action. I can’t transfer wisdom. I can’t transfer my perspective.

In this, I’ve discovered the hallmark of being a true coach. A true coach does not give advice, nor provide a formula to follow. Advice and formulas are strongly biased towards the assumption that all or some of the above are actually transferable. I think this creates disservice to the client. It encourages co-dependency. It keeps the client a victim of their circumstances rather than a creator of their future. It perpetuates the problem they hired you to help them solve.

So where does that leave me as a coach? What can I do? What is transferrable?

I can ask good questions. Questions that challenge assumptions, challenge the bullshit we all tell ourselves, hold up a mirror of examination. This is an ancient principle that is easily forgotten because we are awash in information, books, podcasts, e-courses, systems, formulas. None of which are more efficient — and more integrous – than asking good questions.

One of our mantras at Root + River is “love ’em where they’re at”. This means extending to a person unconditional love and acceptance in whatever state they come in. This why true coaching requires the coach to see the soul, not the role. The role(s) a person plays is an important part of their identity but they are not the soul of a person. And it’s the soul that needs to be loved where it’s at.

I can distill. I can take an idea, a fear, a hope, a vision and begin to extract and analyze it’s meaning in a collaborative way with the client. I can hold it up, let them examine it and decide whether or not to accept it.

I can give voice to what I am hearing from their soul or observing from the sub-conscious. But I might be wrong. Because I’m human and I have my own biases, assumptions and need to be right. So giving voice is never done without permission from the client.

I can encourage. Or a better word is “edification” (which) is an under-used word these days). My definition of edification is to remind people of the truth they already know. In this reminder, there’s a return to the two main powers that every human has: 1) The power to choose and 2) The power to create.

I can co-create with the client a path forward. Not a formula for them to follow and then judge them against. But a co-created plan that contains milestones, accountability, reward that we mutually agree to.

So I have no answers, no prescriptions, no judgement, no pre-conceived outcomes, no pre-determined solutions. I just have a heart, a mind, ears, intuition, words — and 100,000 hours of learning from you.

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.

Ego, What is it Good For?

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

“War (What is it Good For?)” was a famous anti-war song during the Vietnam War era. Originally written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for The Temptations, it was first a hit for Edwin Starr. It was made even for famous when it was covered by Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock in 1969 (image above).

The first verse …

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

This song and these lyrics came to mind recently after I expressed to a friend that it seems as if there’s a daily war between Ego and Soul — both internally and externally. This got me thinking about Ego and it’s purpose.

What is the Ego good for? Well not “absolutely nothing”. Ego has a specific purpose. As I posted the other day in one of my musings, the Ego wants us to be safe, not happy. It is an extension of the evolution of humans and our remarkable tenacity. It is designed to protect us. It craves form, identity, a role. I often refer to my Ego as a “herd dog” because it just needs something to do, something to protect, something to give it purpose.

It appears that the Ego has at least four specific purposes in helping us function and survive as humans.

  • Cataloging — The Ego has an enormous database and details-obsessed memory. The Ego helps our brain catalog experiences, sensory input, interactions. We quickly refer to these files in unexpected moments or dangerous (perceived or otherwise) situations. As an evolutionary tool, the Ego helped catalog what to eat, where to find food, what animals and plants are dangerous, where to find shelter — and most importantly to survival of the species, who to reproduce with. The main issue we have today with the cataloging feature of the Ego is our strong tendency to mis-remember things — that manifest in over 300 biases. We have also over-saturated and over-stimulated the cataloging function which causes our mind to go in to reactive state (another survival mechanism). In short, cataloging makes us stop thinking and only react — i.e. road rage.
  • Compartmentalization — The Ego is excellent at shutting down, walling off and otherwise protecting the core self from outside danger. Compartmentalization is a feature designed to help us survive severe trauma and protects us through horrific situations and condition. It makes us efficient and deadly fighters, productive workers and even contributes to the role of parenting. The main issue with this feature for many of us is that most compartmentalizing is unnecessary. For example, “leave work at work and home at home”. It most certainly doesn’t work that way unless in a truly high pressure, dangerous job. Yet many people build these false walls between their professional and personal lives. This split life can cause a deep disconnect from meaning; leading to depression, anxiety, addiction.
  • Comparison — All comparison is of the Ego — something to remember the next time you hear “should / shouldn’t” chatter in your head. As the only creatures with true Free Will, comparison is a necessary element for maintaining and using our power of choice. We can’t remember everything and we can’t choose everything. So we have to create a decision-making hierarchy — which runs on comparison. In addition, comparison was a necessary element for survival — for ourselves, our families and our communities. If you had more than me (food, weapons, status), the comparison drove me to achieve and acquire. Often by going to war with you! The issue with comparison today is that it is hugely manipulated by social pressure — especially in advertising and marketing. It is an extension of the “Keep up with the Jones’s” syndrome that grew out of the post-World War II expansion of the middle class and suburbia. Unless you are in a true survival situation, comparison will just make you work hard for things you really don’t need or want.
  • Competition — This one is essentially a composite of the above three but bears mentioning separately. The Ego wants to win. Its in its programming. Winning is an evolutionary trait that gives the Ego a sense of achievement and the identity of “winner”. People will say “I’m not very competitive”. If you have an Ego, you are competitive — just in different ways. Competition permeates all hierarchal systems — which pretty much includes every living thing. The hierarchy creates status, opportunities for power and wealth, tribal dominance and clear difference between “winners” and “losers”. As a libertarian-in-all-things and a free speech, free market advocate, I have no issue with competition. I do have an issue with the Ego’s tendency to use competition to hurt others, mis-use authority and fuel a if-you-are-not-cheating-you-are-not-trying culture in business and sports. My reminder to myself is: compete for what matters.

Ultimately, our Ego and Soul are intended to live in harmony. One needs the other. The Ego is needed for survival and the Soul is needed for happiness.But for similar reasons as to why we have a civilian commander-in-chief, the Ego makes a great employee but a terrible boss (unless you are in an actual life-threatening situation, then let the Ego do it’s thing so you don’t die!).