Art Kleiner, editor-in-chief of strategy+business, got Tom to sit down and talk about Brand You. The result is an in-depth look at what Tom sees as the essence of the term. It's not about self-branding, but about how you work with others, with distinction. Read the excellent conversation between Art and Tom here: Rethinking Brand You.
Category: Brand You
"The most important personal 'core competence' by far is a rich set of relationships."—Tom Peters
In a recent seminar for a New York-based construction management company, our team of 24 senior supervisors was surprised by a realization about the real key to their success.
Trained as engineers, the group assumed that their technical expertise was their most important "core competence." But as we contemplated the skills that were most critical to the functioning of the company's safety effort, and to marketing their services, and in their ability to manage huge projects by coordinating the efforts of carpenters, electricians, architects, in the midst of other workers pouring concrete and operating giant cranes in the crowded Manhattan landscape, it became clear that the quality of communication was the most important element in their work.
One of the participants experienced this as an epiphany. He exclaimed, "Oh my God. I get it: We're not in the construction business, we are in the relationship business."
We are all in the relationship business!
Leaders who cultivate the "core competence" of relationship building will have an increasingly powerful competitive advantage. But, skills of listening and communicating seem to be declining rapidly as we are awash in a tsunami of spam, bloated by infobesity, and addicted to electronic substitutes for face-to-face communication.
The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place successfully, according to George Bernard Shaw. The illusion is compounded by email and texting.
So, make it a priority to meet with the important people in your life one-on-one, face-to face, and practice giving them your full attention as you embrace humility. Contemporary research* confirms that humble leaders are more effective at facilitating employee engagement and encouraging a collaborative approach to learning.
Humility generates curiosity and a commitment to continuous learning—the foundation for developing the relationship building skills every leader needs now.
[CM: Guest post by Michael J. Gelb, a pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, executive coaching, and innovative leadership. He is the author of 15 books including How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci and The Art of Connection. Website: www.michaelgelb.com]
*("Expressed Humility in Organizations: Implications for Performance, Teams, and Leadership," Bradley Owens et.al. Organization Science 4, 10/13)
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"—Mary Oliver
"If you ask me what I have come to do in this world, I who am an artist, I will reply: I am here to live my life out loud."—Émile Zola
"[The novel] traced the very ordinary life of a very ordinary woman—a life with few moments of high drama, but which was also remarkable. The extraordinary in the ordinary. It was a theme I often discussed with my students—how we can never consider anybody's life 'ordinary,' how every human existence is a novel with its own compelling narrative. Even if, on the surface, it seems prosaic, the fact remains that each individual life is charged with contradictions and complexities. And no matter much we wish to keep things simple and uneventful, we cannot help but collide with mess. It is our destiny—because mess, the drama we create for ourselves, is an intrinsic part of being alive."
—Hannah, from State of the Union by Douglas Kennedy
"Make each day a Masterpiece!"—John Wooden
"Make your life itself a creative work of art."—Mike Ray, The Highest Goal
"Nobody can prevent you from choosing to be exceptional."—Mark Sanborn, The Fred Factor
"The only thing you have power over is to get good at what you do. That’s all there is; there ain’t no more!"
"Self-reliance never comes 'naturally' to adults because they have been so conditioned to think non-authentically that it feels wrenching to do otherwise. ... Self Reliance is a last resort to which a person is driven in desperation only when he or she realizes 'that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.'"
—Lawrence Buell, Emerson
"For Marx, the path to social betterment was through collective resistance of the proletariat to the economic injustices of the capitalist system that produced such misshapenness and fragmentation. For Emerson, the key was to jolt individuals into realizing the untapped power of energy, knowledge and creativity of which all people, at least in principle, are capable. He too hated all systems of human oppression; but his central project, and the basis of his legacy, was to unchain individual minds."
—Lawrence Buell, Emerson
"All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves we were all self-employed ... finding our food, feeding ourselves. That's where human history began. ... As civilization came we suppressed it. We became labor because they stamped us, 'You are labor.' We forgot that we are entrepreneurs."
"We make our own traps.
"We construct our own cage.
"We build our own roadblocks."
—Douglas Kennedy, State of the Union
"... the delight of being totally within one's own element—of identifying fully with one's work and seeing it as an expression of one's character ... this affection must be so strong that it persists during leisure hours and even makes its way into dreams ... the mind knows no deadlines or constraints and is open to its inner energies ..."
—Robert Grudin, The Grace of Great Things: Creativity and Innovation
"To have a firm persuasion in our work—to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at exactly the same time—is one of the great triumphs of human existence."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
"This is the true joy of Life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one ... the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
—G.B. Shaw, Man and Superman
"All of our artistic and religious traditions take equally great pains to inform us that we must never mistake a good career for good work. Life is a creative, intimate, unpredictable conversation if it is nothing else—and our life and our work are both the result of the way we hold that passionate conversation."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
"If I can reduce my work to just a job I have to do, then I keep myself safely away from the losses to be endured in putting my heart’s desires at stake."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
"When was the last time you asked, 'What do I want to be?'"
—Sara Ann Friedman, Work Matters
"Strive for Excellence. Ignore success."—Bill Young, race car driver
"Do one thing every day that scares you."—Eleanor Roosevelt
"HAPPINESS" & "LEISURE" PER ARISTOTLE:
HAPPINESS: Eudaimonia ... well-doing, living flourishingly. Megalopsychos ... "great-souled," "magnanimous." More: respect and concern for others; duty to improve oneself; using one's gifts to the fullest extent possible; fully aware; making one's own choices.
LEISURE: pursue excellence; reflect; deepen understanding; opportunity to work for higher ends. ["Rest" vs. "leisure."]
Source: A.C. Grayling, The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life
"The antidote to exhaustion is not rest, it is wholeheartedness."
—David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
"It's no longer enough to be a 'change agent.' You must be a change insurgent—provoking, prodding, warning everyone in sight that complacency is death."
"Distinct ... or ... Extinct"—Tom Peters
"Nobody gives you power. You just take it."—Roseanne
"Well-behaved women rarely make history."—Anita Borg, Institute for Women and Technology
"To Hell With Well Behaved ... Recently a young mother asked for advice. What, she wanted to know, was she to do with a 7-year-old who was obstreperous, outspoken, and inconveniently willful? 'Keep her,' I replied. ... The suffragettes refused to be polite in demanding what they wanted or grateful for getting what they deserved. Works for me."
"You are the storyteller of your own life, and you can create your own legend or not."
"It's always showtime."—David D'Alessandro, Career Warfare
"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."
"Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."
"We do no great things, only small things with great love."
"I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble."
"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness."
—Lucius Annaeus Seneca
"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."
K = R = P
Kindness = Repeat Business = Profit
K = R = P
Kindness = Employee Retention = Profit
"One of the secrets of a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody of everything every night right before going to bed."
"The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated."
"Appreciative words are the most powerful force for good on earth."
—George W. Crane
"The two most powerful things in existence: a kind word and a thoughtful gesture."
"One kind word can warm three winter months."—Japanese Proverb
"Employees who don't feel significant rarely make significant contributions."
"Every child is born an artist. The trick is to remain an artist."—Picasso
"My wife and I went to a [kindergarten] parent-teacher conference and were informed that our budding refrigerator artist, Christopher, would be receiving a grade of Unsatisfactory in art. We were shocked. How could any child—let alone our child—receive a poor grade in art at such a young age? His teacher informed us that he had refused to color within the lines, which was a state requirement for demonstrating 'grade-level motor skills.'"
—Jordan Ayan, AHA!
"How many artists are there in the room? Would you please raise your hands. FIRST GRADE: En mass the children leapt from their seats, arms waving. Every child was an artist. SECOND GRADE: About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. The hands were still. THIRD GRADE: At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand, tentatively, self-consciously. By the time I reached SIXTH GRADE, no more than one or two kids raised their hands, and then ever so slightly, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a 'closet artist.' The point is: Every school I visited was participating in the systematic suppression of creative genius."
—Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball
"The key question isn't 'What fosters creativity?' But it is why in God's name isn't everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything."
"The purpose of professional schools is to educate competent mediocrities."
EXUBERANCE: THE PASSION FOR LIFE, BY KAY REDFIELD JAMISON
"The Greeks bequeathed to us one of the most beautiful words in our language—the word enthusiasm'—en theos—a god within. The grandeur of human actions is measured by the inspiration from which they spring. Happy is he who bears a god within, and who obeys it."
KRJ: "Exuberance is, at its quick, contagious. As it spreads pell-mell through a group, exuberance excites, it delights, and it dispels tension. It alerts the group to change and possibility."
"A leader is someone who creates infectious enthusiasm."
KRJ: "'Glorious' was a term [John] Muir would invoke time and again ... despite his conscious attempts to eradicate it from his writing. 'Glorious' and 'joy' and 'exhilaration': no matter how often he scratched out these words once he had written them, they sprang up time and again ..."
KRJ: "To meet Roosevelt, said Churchill, 'with all his buoyant sparkle, his iridescence,' was like 'opening a bottle of champagne.' Churchill, who knew both champagne and human nature, recognized ebullient leadership when he saw it."
"At a time of weakness and mounting despair in the democratic world, Roosevelt stood out by his astonishing appetite for life and by his apparently complete freedom from fear of the future; as a man who welcomed the future eagerly as such, and conveyed the feeling that whatever the times might bring, all would be grist to his mill, nothing would be too formidable or crushing to be subdued. He had unheard of energy and gusto ... and was a spontaneous, optimistic, pleasure-loving ruler with unparalleled capacity for creating confidence."
—Isaiah Berlin on FDR
"Churchill had a very powerful mind, but a romantic and unquantitative one. If he thought about a course of action long enough, if he achieved it alone in his own inner consciousness and desired it passionately, he convinced himself it must be possible. Then, with incomparable invention, eloquence and high spirits, he set out to convince everyone else that it was not only possible, but the only course of action open to man."
"We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm."
—Churchill on Churchill
"Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. To convince them, you must yourself believe."
"The multitudes were swept forward till their pace was the same as his."
—Churchill on T.E. Lawrence
"He brought back a real joy to music."—Wynton Marsalis on Louis Armstrong
"If you want to build a ship, don't gather people together to collect wood, and don't assign them tasks and work, but instead teach them to long for the sea."
—Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The Little Prince)
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting 'GERONIMO!'"
—Bill McKenna, professional motorcycle racer
"The object of life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, 'Holy Shit, What a Ride!!!'"
—Mavis Leyrer (feisty octogenarian, living in Seattle)
HTSH/HANDS THAT SHAPE HUMANITY: ENGAGE!
"Commit! Engage! Try! Fail! Get up! Try again! Fail again! Try again! But never, ever stop moving on! Progress for humanity is engendered by those in any station who join and savor the fray by giving one hundred percent of themselves to their modest or immodest dreams! Not by those fearful souls who remain glued to the sidelines, stifled by tradition, awash in cynicism and petrified of losing face or giving offense to the reigning authorities.
"Key words: Commit! Engage! Try! Fail! Persist!"
Source: HTSH/Hands That Shape Humanity, Tom Peters’ contribution of "most important advice"—for display at a Bishop Tutu exhibit in South Africa
"In Tom’s world, it's always better to try a swan dive and deliver a colossal belly flop than to step timidly off the board while holding your nose."—Fast Company, review of Re-Imagine!
The staff of Tom Peters Company in the UK sat down with Tom to talk about personal development. Tom spoke about what he calls "the one thing I've learned 'for sure'" in his decades-long career, "Whoever Tries the Most Stuff Wins." Start yourself on the road to personal development by watching the video that came out of the conversation:
Ann Friedman wrote an article for New Republic this month titled "Me, Inc.: The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a 'personal brand.'" She ruminates on the purpose of personal branding and the complexities of creating one in social-media-saturated 2015. Friedman quotes liberally from the Fast Company article, "The Brand Called You" that Tom wrote in 1997, but she seems flummoxed by the entire concept. She laments how contrived it feels to speak about herself in a polished, professional manner. It seems she's taken the phrase "personal brand" too literally. Tom used it to contrast a person with a corporation when branding. With increased use of multiple social media channels, it's easy to see how creative professionals can blur and blend the lines between their personal and professional lives. Personal branding becomes even more important given that amount of exposure.
While it may be a challenge to determine how best to segment the personal and professional online, Tom's message is still extraordinarily relevant whether you're plugged in or not. Friedman calls the concept of a janitor's personal brand ridiculous. What she's missing is the core of Tom's message: Craft, Distinction, Networking Skills. Friedman's right that a janitor does not need a "flashy website." But a janitor's attention to craft and distinction will always be the key to her/his personal brand, and ensure employment long-term, whether with one employer or a string of them. Tom has proved his prescience once again: 1997 or 2015, be distinct or extinct.
This, from a brief tweetstream ...
An effective "Brand You" is not a "marketing promise," it is a track record of demonstrated/sustained excellence.
An effective "Brand You" is marked by understatement, not overstatement.
An effective brand you is not about solos, it's about the power of your peer network.
An effective brand you is 10% vision, 90% execution.
An effective brand you has mud on her or his boots.
An effective brand you knows "sucking DOWN" is 10-100X more important than "sucking up."
Here are a couple of recent tweetstreams perhaps worth your time and attention ...
BRAND YOU MISUNDERSTOOD
Many get the "Brand You" idea ass-backwards; they see it as selfish/solo/ego-driven. But effective brand you is skill and network driven; that is, it is by and large selfless.
An effective Brand You learns constantly and delivers stellar projects via teamwork excellence.
An effective Brand You gets better and better projects. How? Via peer reputation for having been an ardent learner and terrific teammate.
Fast-changing world. Re-tool or die (professionally).
NEVER forget: Brand You is 100% about COMMUNITY. You are as good—or bad—as your reputation with your peer network!
"Entrepreneurship" is not some weird, mystical thing. Nobel prize winner and father of micro-lending Muhammad Yunus says we are all entrepreneurs; it was the nature of work in the past—e.g., self-employment.
EVERY job, in companies of every size, provides growth/"entrepreneurial" opportunities—if your head is screwed on right!
Lauri Jutila: "Forget Human Resources Managers, introduce the idea of Human Being Developers."
"Good" old days/1960: Security = Sucking UP; boss-driven. "Bad" days/2014: Security = Sucking SIDEWAYS; network/peer reputation-driven.
Brand you: I acknowledge the enormous challenges of making it on your own circa 2014. But the notion that it's hell not to be cosseted for life by big-brother mega-corps is questionable.
For those decrying the loss of standard "careers": Was it really unmitigated joy to spend 40 years in one place sucking up to a series of numbnuts bosses?
Evaluations: Forced ranking systems utter unspeakable unmitigated bullshit. Planetary #1 de-motivators.
Labeling people as losers is likely to induce a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a renaissance.
Twitter commentator: "Significant evidence shows that ratings by managers serve exactly the opposite purpose from what was intended. I.e., demotivates and leads to attrition."
The fabled Dr. Edwards Deming thought evaluations were the #1 bane of organizational life and productivity destroyer.
Twitter commentator: "See people as intelligent, treat them as intelligent & they will respond with intelligence."
Twitter commentator: "Purpose of 'ranking' should be evaluation of one's learning based on a well designed benchmark."
Any ranking is phony precision.
Twitter commentator: "The bell curve fails to ring the bell when it comes to fostering intrinsic motivation of people."
Twitter commentator: "Forced ranking allows us to be comfortable with not investing time with people as we should."
Twitter commentator: "Forced ranking seems still so entrenched. Are all alternative arguments so weak?"
I don't think alternative arguments are weak. I think it's mainly an unwillingness [on the part of managers] to invest the substantial time required to do it right!
Very serious people spent enormous amounts of time on evaluation of people at McKinsey. Evaluation is an art, not science.
My 1st managerial job circa 1966: Eight people working for me, spent half hour mindlessly filling out the evaluation forms—and havoc ensued.
If you truly understood the enormity of the impact of evaluations on people, you'd spend 10X more time on it.
Remember, clerk or middle manager, when you do an evaluation you are f-ing w/ the core of another's existence.
Jane Leonard: "I recommend that [see immediately above] be written at the top of each evaluation sheet. Then a similar line be included in the sign-off."
And the evaluator must initial the two (top & bottom) statements!!
[Available also as a PDF.]
Respect is not "earned." Respect given is automatic—though you may upon occasion discover that it was not, alas, merited.
Respect is the default position. Disrespect must be earned.
Respect is the greatest motivator of all.
Every human being has an interesting story. You'll find it if you give a shit. (And listen.)
Everyone has a great story to tell ... if only you'd shut up.
Listening intently is the greatest act of respect.
Repeat: Respect is the greatest motivator of all.
The virtuous (business) circle:
Twitter respondent: "What happens after you've 'listened' is what is actually important."
TP: Somewhat disagree. The listening [intently] PER SE is what matters most. [Which is kinda the point.]
My favorite quote (or, one of them): "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."—Philo of Alexandria (I constantly remind myself of this.)
The things mindless optimists say sometimes make me want to vomit, such as, "All you need is a positive attitude." For some, life sucks.
Me, at the airport, BWI, 6:45AM, to bus driver who pulls up to the curb: "Is this the bus to the rental car lot? "
Driver, with a broad smile: "Don't we begin conversations like this with 'How are you this morning?'"
(Me, to myself: "What a total jerk I am. What a wonderful reminder.")
Me, to bus driver: "You are absolutely right, and I am so sorry for my rudeness. Oh, and I hope you have a great day."
Some people "get straight to the point." Some stumble and fumble. The former are persuasive—and invariably wrong.
Definition of "get straight to the point": Arrogance and gross oversimplification.
"I'm gonna tell it like it is." Life is complex, multi-variate, non-linear. No one has a clue as to "like it is."
"I'm gonna tell it like it is.": I am going to expose you to all of the data incompleteness and prejudices and biases and distortions and shortcuts in my information accumulation and analysis process.
(We have also attached these comments as a PDF.)
Last week, I attended a memorial service for one of my great mentors, the generally acclaimed #1 leadership guru (and extraordinary humanist) (and leader in his own right) Warren Bennis. About 15 of his friends and colleagues spoke—myself included. It was eerie: We each—without exception—said the same thing, albeit in slightly different words. Warren made you feel clever—and at the center of his universe. This ability, in addition to its ultimate expression of humanist existence, may be the effective leader's most valuable attribute when it comes to engaging the mind and heart and soul and energy of others.
Consider these related quotes:
"When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling I was the cleverest person."—Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's (American) mother
"When you are talking to [Bill Clinton], you feel like he doesn't care about anything or anybody else around but you. He makes you feel like the most important person in the room."—Mark Hughes, screenwriter, Forbes blogger
"Leadership is about how you make people feel—about you, about the project or work you're doing together, and especially about themselves."—Betsy Myers, Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You
"It was much later that I realized Dad's secret. He gained respect by giving it. He talked and listened to the fourth-grade kids in Spring Valley who shined shoes the same way he talked and listened to a bishop or a college president. He was seriously interested in who you were and what you had to say."—Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Respect
"Rather than talking at the assembled group [about the work], he went about it from the other direction. He started out by asking people to tell us about what mattered to them. By sharing their stories with each other, people felt more connected—these gatherings became an opportunity to go from 'me' to 'us,' and from there to 'What we can do together.'"—Betsy Myers, on Marshall Ganz's work with community organizers, from Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You
I would—literally—beg of you to do more than skim these quotes. To be sure, I was very emotional throughout Warren's service. But I was also stunned at the repetitiveness of the theme among people of remarkably different backgrounds.
Try and translate this into the/your daily practice of leadership. It's not that I think you—or I, for that matter—can match the intensity or sincerity of Warren's engagement. But we can at least be aware of our oft straying attention amidst a harried day. Warren's days were doubtless more harried than yours or mine. But for the duration of the time you were with him—10 minutes or two hours—his ability to make you the star of the drama was matchless. At the very least you can acknowledge the importance of this state of affairs—and raise your personal awareness of your moment-to-moment state of mind. You can also practice attentiveness—one manager reports that she writes "Listen" on her hand before a meeting.
There is, by the way, a virtuous circle process that emerges here. Your attentiveness is fun—that is, you learn a helluva lot about the person, their motivations, and the task at hand via the process that one keen observer calls "fierce listening."
You'll like it.
You'll try even harder.
You'll get better.
(And in the process probably makes you a better person—nice bonus, eh?)
NB: One useful approach to improvement is becoming a formal student of asking good questions. This is an art—but also a science. I.e., you can study and practice deliberately. One point of entry is Ed Schein’s book Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Rather Than Telling; also see Schein’s Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help. When asking becomes your primary mode of interaction, your attentiveness and other-centeredness more or less automatically go up.
"While aspiration and the prestige of association may be timeless [branding] concepts, truly new territory has recently opened to the brand people. In 1997, Tom Peters, a motivational speaker and management consultant, published an article called 'The Brand Called You' in Fast Company magazine—and the era of personal branding was born."
(FYI: Mr. Rudder is highly critical of my writing style in the FC article—failing to acknowledge that the piece was edited not by me, but from a phone interview by Fast Company co-founder and former HBR editor Alan Webber; besides, to add a gratuitous remark, Dataclysm, though a fascinating book, scores off-the-charts on lousy writing.) (FYI 2: I want to puke when labeled a "motivational speaker." My definition of a "motivational speaker": fly-weight, self-aggrandizing, delusional dickhead.)