Happy Birthday, Brand You!

The Big Week is here! Brand You turns 300!

Thursday. February 24, 2006. The 300th birthday of my favorite American … Benjamin Franklin. Born 24 February 1706. Boston.

I’m in the midst of re-reading Ben’s Autobiography, a marvel and perhaps more apropos today then when he wrote it. Franklin, born to humble circumstances and subsequently a polymath who was the toast of Europe and America, oft considered the world’s most famous citizen, arguably did more than anyone to define and shape the American character. He believed in frugality and decency and hard work. He was the ultimate self-made man, and made no bones about it. Though indeed a champion of frugality, he was also a champion of commerce and welcomed the profit therefrom. He became in Philadelphia a wealthy man, and then at about 40 “retired” to doing four decades of good deeds—such as inventing America and in his 70s taking on some of the thorniest tasks associated with the Revolution.

As to the “brand you” bit, Professor Kenneth Silverman, discussing, in his “Introduction,” Franklin’s youth, notes, “He not only worked hard, but also arranged to be noticed doing so.” Throughout his long life, Franklin arranged his reputation with the same meticulous care that he applied to his many businesses and his scientific experiments; in fact, over the years he carefully constructed many different personas to be trotted out as needed—and was the unmistakable manager of his own legacy, of which the autobiography is an essential part.

(His attention to persona went so far as to encompass his peculiar dress—and its impact on others. The “father” of “dress for success,” or “dress-for-impact,” too? Doubtless so.)

As one who has been on the sharp end of much criticism that my Brand You idea is “self serving,” I can at least take solace from the fact that Franklin, too, was repeatedly excoriated for being too self-centered and oriented toward “material success” and reputation.

Also, many dismiss the Covey-Robbins sorts of “formulas” for self-guided development as “simplistic.” Maybe, but again Franklin got there first. He unfailingly began his carefully planned and productive days, Silverman reports, by asking himself, “What Good shall I do this Day?” and ended his day, at 10 o’clock sharp, with the follow-up self-assessment, “What Good have I done today?”

Happy 300, Ben.

(NB: In re Brand You, consider this headline in the “BostonWorks” section of Sunday’s Globe: “The Ladder Isn’t the Only Way Up: More grads eschew the entry-level job in favor of working for themselves.” Not your father’s world. On the other hand, Ben’s world.)

(NB: My favorite Brand You quote, courtesy the author Isabel Allende, “You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not.”)

Tom Peters posted this on February 20, 2006, in Brand You.
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