Friday, March 30, 2012

Personal Brand: How to Maintain One

Brands, like virtually everything else are subject to diminishment, decay, and dissolution. Cut across any age group and ask and you will get a walk down memory lane for brands which no longer exist - half remembered commercials, snippets of jingles, even the thing the brand was known for. But the brand itself - gone, by purchase or failure. Or, worst of all, it continues exist, sadly diminished and tarnished from its former glory.

That's why brands - both corporate and our own - need to be maintained. Periodically, we need to review how our brand is perceived and functioning in the world around us. If we don't maintain it, we will lose it.

How do we do this?

1) KPI (Key Performance Indicators): Just as in business there are Key Performance Indicators which demonstrate how the business is doing, so for our brand there are key performance indicators as well. Unfortunately, they're not nearly as well defined as they can be in a business so they require some thought and definition. If your brand is wisdom, how many times have you distributed it or suggestions been adapted? If it's perseverance, how many things did you finish this month that you started? If it's joviality, have you been consistently jovial, or only when the mood strikes you?

Obviously, these need to be defined up front. Just as obviously, they will probably need to be changed over time. But the important thing is to have some to measure against.

2) Feedback: Just as in business companies attempt to gather the information about how their product is perceived by surveys and customer feedback, so we also need to gather information from our "customers" how our brand is doing. Sometimes this can be measured indirectly by things such as greater or lesser number of interactions, projects, etc. Perhaps the most effective way - and the most vulnerable - is to simply start soliciting the opinions of others. "I'm trying to work on these areas - how do you think I'm doing?"

Yes, it can be very painful to take criticism - especially when I find out that I am not being perceived at all as I intended. But without actual knowledge of how my brand is being perceived and used, I'll have no real idea of how successful I really am.

3) Goals: The purpose of any brand is to do something, whether "make money" or "solve a critical need". How is our brand helping us hit goals we have set, professional or personal? If I have set a goal - for example, promotion within x years - and I have not arrived there, it's probably a safe question to at least ask "Is my brand doing what I thought it was doing?" If not, is the brand the correct one? Or is the goal something I can't achieve with this brand?

I believe that personal branding, properly done, can be a great aid - both to focus ourselves on what we want to do as well as helping us to achieve the goals we set. But just as with any marketing company, without taking thought of where we are, what we want to be, how we can do it, and how we can maintain it, our brand will be perceived less as a "brand" by others and more as a phase we are going through, soon to be replaced by another personality trait.

Be different. Be your brand.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Personal Brand: How to Implement One

Now that we've developed a personal brand by identifying those five to seven values or elements that we would like to be associated with ("branded with", if you will), how do we about implementing them?

Why the thought? Why not just immediately start executing on what we've written down? Because action without thought seldom accomplishes the end which we think. It's not only what we think our revised personal brand will look like - it's what others will perceive the new personal branding as being?

An example? New Coke. The Coca-Cola company thought "Great new flavor, great new logo". Consumers received it as "nothing wrong with the old flavor, no-one asked me, why did you do this?" The result? One of the shortest product launches in history.

How to go about it? Simple. Start with each characteristic we have identified. We've already written down how we want that characteristic to be perceived. Now write out what it would look like - not in our ideal circumstances, but in the circumstances that we are in. Personal Branding will eventually enable us to change our environment - it will not happen right away.

An example: one of the items on my list is "Thoroughness", something I have not always been terribly good at. I want to be perceived as someone who thinks things out and executes them thoroughly, leaving no hanging threads. In practical terms? That means taking some time at the beginning of something to lay out the entire framework of impact and assess any changes. It means listing precisely what "complete" would look like - and then executing to ensure everything is accounted for.

The perception of others? Initially it may not go well. I will not immediately respond to others, but take time to map out everything that is involved. Solving things may take longer as well and completing 10 things often takes longer than completing one. But the result? A problem or situation will be thoroughly resolved instead of coming up in a few months.

Remember as well that in executing any branding strategy (product or personal), everything counts. How things look, how things sound, how things feel - all of these have impact on the idea that you are presenting of yourself. To quote Brian Tracy, "Everything Counts".

Once we've written out what it looks like, we need to start executing it. For myself, I have starting writing it down in multiple places - in my planner, on a card in my office, in my car. I need to constantly start thinking "This is my brand. This is what I am now." Those reminders are necessary for me, because this is a new behaviour on my part. New behaviors take time (up to six weeks by some account).

Do we roll them all out at once or one at a time? That's really dependent on the individual. I myself would have problems completely becoming different all at once. I need to move one block into place at a time, possibly two. For others, all at once is the way to got. Whatever one decides, it should always be in the context of "Can I really do and maintain this if I do this, or will I overwhelm myself and fail?"

How do we ensure our branding is going well? That's for tomorrow. For today, let's think of what that perfect brand of us would look like in the imperfect circumstances of where we are - and how that brand will change those circumstances.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Personal Brand: What Should it Be?

We've established that everyone has a personal brand, whether we are aware of it or not. We've established what a brand is. We've even gone as far as establishing what our brand currently is. The next step: What would I like my brand to be?

This is not the same how do I get my brand to be that (that's tomorrow). This is the sort of "blue sky" thinking where we should engage our fondest wishes, dreams and desires to what we can be perceived as and associated with - just as we should undergo the same sort of exercise when we start looking at personal and professional goals. But in a way, personal branding is more exciting, both because it can help us achieve our goals and because it ends up far more rooted in reality: I may never go to Mars (which may be goal), but I can be "branded" as an risk taking, entrepreneurial, forward thinker.

How do you determine what your personal brand can be? I don't know that there is one method or concept. Things to consider might include:

- Traits and attributes I admire

- Reflecting on times when I've been praised or have done a good job. What did I do to accomplish that?

- Role models and mentors. What is it about them that attracts you?

- What are you good at? What do you want to be good at?

- Examine the things that you purchase. Is there something associated with those that you also would like to be known for?

- Perform the exercise Stephen Covey calls "Projecting into the Future". Write your obituary. What would you like said about you?

How complete should your branding be? There are two answers to this question:

1) Select three to five words that represent traits or attributes you would like to be known for (for example, Brian Tracy in TurboCoach lists over 100). Just like Coke was "Cool and Refreshing" or Apple is "Hip and Cool", simple is better.

2) Go through and develop each idea more fully. If you want to be known for wisdom (one of mine), what would that look like? How would people react? In your personal and professional life, how would that be evidenced.

Companies spend a great deal of time and money positioning their potential and actual brands to ensure that they hit the correct demographic with the correct message. They have marketing teams and consultants - we have ourselves. As the individual ultimately responsible for determining our own brands, we would be well advised to do the same sort of deep thought and planning.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Personal Brand: What is One?

Brand (n): A class of goods identified by name as the product of a single firm or manufacturer; a characteristic or distinctive kind.

How does a brand come to be? Every product we use, every person we know that is famous, at one time was as ordinary as any of the others. At one time, there were multiple computer makers including Apple; now, there is a brand of computer (Apple) and other companies that make computers.

Or individuals: there are certain actors or sports personnel or public personnel have such a reputation (brand) that they are almost guaranteed a success with whatever they participate in: JK Rowling (Author), James Cameron (Director), Dan Elway (Sports, both as player and manager),

In both cases, what they do has become so associated with who they are that by the very presence or name, a certain level of excitement is generated and a certain amount of success is guaranteed - it's not as if Hewlett-Packard were to annouce a new product release that they would ship 3 million units as Apple has recently.

So a brand is both an association with an individual or company (class of goods) as well as a reputation that comes with that individual or company (characteristic or distinctive kind).

But there's a second, older meaning of the word "brand" that also works: "A mark made by burning with a hot iron to attest manufacture or quality or to designate ownership."

We think of branded cattle of course, but throughout history a brand has been used on items (and not just wood; Japanese blades carry their own "branding" - the "mei" or signature on the blade) to indicate the manufacture by an individual (usually). The mark ("brand") becomes the sign that that object has a high probability of delivering the quality of the individual producer.

In the same manner, the mark of ownership also indicates a certain level of quality - if I see anything that is an broken down or slovenly condition with a company or corporate name attached, my impression of that company will probably drop, knowing nothing else except the fact that their mark is associated with something I personally don't want to be associated with.

All well and good. But on from the theoretical: If there are such things as brands (and there are), what do I do?

The first exercise is to understand what your brand is currently (we'll deal with what your brand could be tomorrow). So do this: sit down and treat yourself like a product. In a short paragraph make an effort to write down as clearly and unemotionally as possible what you believe your brand to currently be. Be honest: you only hurt yourself by pretending that your brand is other than what it is. Don't be brutal, of course, but if one of your brand marks is "I'm late all the time", put that in there.

If we are the product (and we are), then in order to improve our brand we have to understand what our brand is. But don't despair: Apple went from technological innovator to yesterday's news (remember when the stock was $14.00?) back to a technological innovator with a brand reputation that is among the highest in any industry (and a stock price over $600). The same is true for us, if only we can start by understanding the branding we consciously or unconsciously project to others.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Personal Brand: Got One?

What is your personal brand?

I was challenged last week by the thought introduced by Brian Tracy in his book TurboCoach(chapter 20, for those of you following along at home). "You may be surprised", he says, "to learn that you are your most important product." And as a product, each of us has a reputation, an image, things that people attribute to us. "It is not a question of whether you should have a personal brand image, for you already have one. Rather, it is a question of whether you choose to consciously create your personal brand or merely leave it to chance."

If you think about it, it's absolutely true. We think of this on a personal level - we are so often counseled in our youth to "guard our reputation". We diligently work to build a body of work as we seek to enter college ("the well rounded application") and then continue to build on it as we go through school, seeking either greater schooling or that first job.

And then, for many of us, we simply seem to fall off the map. Why is this?

Because we abdicate personal responsibility for our brand. We simply start to coast rather than build - and as Tracy points out, "There's only one direction you can coast."

As we work, our reputation becomes enmeshed in that of which we are working as well as other factors: the politics of where we live, the department and career in which is work, the functionality of the company we are in. Suddenly, it feels as if our reputation is not so much under our control as it is under the control of factors which we don't control: the manager who manages poorly yet takes all our credit; other departments which take all we do and still maintain that we do it badly; the coworker whose poor efforts tarnish the efforts of the department. Too often, we slowly begin to settle for the brand that is determined for us.

Our brand never goes away, of course; it's just that we lose the belief that our input is as important as that of the factors around us.

This sort of thinking, if left alone and applied to its logical extent, will leave us in 20 years somewhat surprised that we have absolutely no brand, no reputation, outside of the one which we had when we came in - the items we "used to do" - along with whatever the factors around us have given us.

What to do? That's what we'll discuss this week. But the most important fact for today is to simply become aware of the fact that, whether we like it or not, we each have a personal brand.

And that it is our job to consciously manage it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Forest

Last night at Iaido we practiced a new drill. It was called the Forest Drill.

A series of stands (5-8) were set up with various items (hoops, balls, an exercise "thing") on them. The intent is that you move through the obstacles, striking each and insuring that you never leave your back to a "live" opponent.

The drill started slowly at first - after all, we've never done this before. The cuts and thrusts are choppy and the movements slow. Then, as we began to get better, our sensei moved the arrangement around and threw in a new twist: a live body at the end ready to cut. Now the objective was to hit each obstacle and then block and attack at the end.

After adjusting, two attackers were added. Then three. All while continuing to move through the obstacles, never leaving a back to an unhit opponent. Then the final opponent would attack twice. Then thrice.

It was the most fun I've had in a long time.

Fun? Actual "combat" is something we seldom practice (for obvious reasons), so the practice of doing what we train to do is novel. But beyond that, it's the actual practice of our practice: not just practicing cuts and kata, but having to use them quickly. Defending from a real attacker, rather than defending from a reflection in the mirror. Having to strike multiple opponents quickly and without hesitation yet thinking all the time about leaving no threats behind one as you move into the fray. Mentally preparing after all the obstacles for the live opponent - and then, during the obstacles, the live opponents - who will attack in ways you cannot defend against until the attack comes.

It was glorious.

By the time I was done I was sweating profusely, my throat rubbed raw by kiai-ing (shouting) after every cut.

It was hard - but at the same time easy. It was putting into practice what we train to do.

Would that all we trained for was put into practice regularly. What we not be capable of?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Majesty

Nothing compares to the majesty of God.

I have seen the creativeness of humans. Over the last week I saw what humans with incredible talent and imagination can accomplish given enough time and resources. They can create illusions of flight; they can make fire explode in the sky timed to music or make water leap and dance as it is filled with lights and pictures. They can bring joy to the face of a child.

But last night, as I lay awake in the bed, I was reminded of the majesty of God.

To hear the boom of thunder - not thunder as I was raised, but the boom of long lasting thunder, thunder so deep and powerful it shook the house for 2o seconds; to see the repeated flashes of lightning that do not just light up the night sky but flood it with a brilliance; to hear and see the cascading rain as it not only reflects the lightning but as it fills the lakes and streams and aquifers to provide water for all of life - is to be reminded of the majesty and power of God.

To hear and see all this - to stand in the door frame at the dead of night and be confronted with the reality of the nature that God has created and how, in the end, our individual creativity can only mimic, not equal - to see all of this and take it in and allow oneself to be flooded with the glory and power of the creation and to look up at Him who created all of this - is to allow oneself to be reminded visibly and powerful of the majesty of God.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Returning

"I found my calling. It didn't come to me, I came to it. It was a bolt of lightning that didn't make a sound. It struck me in the brain and went all the way through my heart. Sometimes you have to look for your calling. Sometimes you have to feel it. Callings are mostly silent." - Jeffrey Gitomer

The return from vacation - a real vacation - is always something of a tonic for me, at least that period of time after I've gotten home but before I've become enmeshed in the realities of work. The fact that we returned from The Happiest Place on Earth certainly helps - it is such a monument to creativity, to the power of what is possible, that one cannot help but return recharged in mind and spirit.

To face the reality of life.

Reality. There's a concept. As I write this, I cannot estimate how many e-mails await me in my inbox crying out for resolution, how many people are waiting to corral me once I come in with the "Hey, Good to see you back, hope you had fun, here's my problem". The heights of refreshment, seemingly ready to be brought down in short order.

But let's be honest about it: I chose this.

Yes, I know, one has to have a job (and life) of course, and one can never look too far into the future to see how things will turn out. But the reality is that once I became aware, I chose to stay.

But there are two choices I can make:

1) Choose my attitude. Things will bother me only if I let them. I need to put work - and those who work there - in the proper frame of reference. I need to control it and them, not the other way around.

2) Change my circumstances. This can come in a number of ways: changing where I work, changing what I work at, changing how I work on the things that are really important. If one does not like the circumstances, change the circumstances.

The funny thing is that, looking at the past week and the upcoming one, I could tell you what I think my calling is. It's very different than one I am doing now, and the odd thing is that I could do both (best of all worlds, right?). The question is just a matter of will.

So then, who will win: me, or my circumstances?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vacation

Dear Readers:

I'm doing something I haven't done in 3 years on this blog: I'm taking a week off.

We're already here at The Happiest Place on Earth, after 2 days of long travel in the car, looking forward to 3 days of fun-filled family excitement.

If I write, I will. If not, don't take it badly - I'm exhausted but having a good time!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Little Matter of Perspective

Last night Nighean Gheal and I were praying. As we were going through our prayer requests, she included people that had been affected by the recent tornado and one of her teachers who had suffered a death in the family, as well as for safe travels during our vacation. After we finished and I was heading out of her room, she said "Dad, it seems weird."

"Weird" I replied?

"Weird. We're praying for us to have a safe trip at the same time we're praying for the people in tornadoes and my teacher's family death. It just seems weird."

Perspective. That's the word that popped into my head as I finished saying good night and headed back to my room.

Oftentimes we as individuals, and certainly we as a society, have lost perspective. We fall into one of two errors: either we treat everything as mattering the same, or we treat the things that are not significant as if they are.

Think about it: my relationship with my children and my completion of every minor element at my job have two very different long term effects and outcomes - but too often, what do I treat as being the most important? Work becomes the thing I get exercised about and concerned about; other things get placed into the sidebars of my life.

Which of these truly matters more? Which of these is truly more significant? The job? - there will always be something else I do (in my industry, I've worked at 8 companies) - or my children, my relationship with them, and impact of that relationship on the future.

Or to the discussion last night - we should certainly pray about all things, but do I give them different weight in my own mind? Do I truly rank how I pray to the great needs, or are all needs equal?

Perspective can change, if we will let it. It just entails deciding: what is truly important, and what is not - and living with those decisions. Because, once you've decided, the things of importance will dominate the perspective and how one acts, leaving those things of lesser value to be swept away in the stream of time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Defeat

From the heights of confidence to the depths of despair in one day.

There's nothing like coming home at the end of the day in which you had started out so strong to find that you are completely undone.

Sure, there were a lot of factors: the sudden realization that you are completely filling the position of someone before you except two levels (and two paygrades) below them, including the part where you have become "legally liable"; the mysterious expenses that continually seem to nibble away at any attempt for a budget; the fact that unlike every department around you, you are truly on your own in terms of management or collegial support; a potential interview suddenly looks like it's much less of a good deal; and the simple fact that you woke up essentially at 0230 and didn't really successfully go back to sleep.

It's made essentially more disheartening by the fact that that very more, you were brimming with confidence that "You can" - but by the time you crawl into bed, it's more a weak call of "Well, maybe I could possibly..."

So what do you do? Well, this morning I went through the same routine I did the day before. Yes, I didn't feel nearly as confident as I did yesterday, but I did the activities anyway. Am I feeling any more confident? No, not really - I tried to manufacture the sensation, but it doesn't seem to have worked.

But maybe that is okay. Maybe that is part of the whole process - not just that self belief, but simply the will to get up after a day of defeats and try again. Even that process of trying, perhaps, is a form of self belief.

Once more into the breech dear friends, once more.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Self Belief

"Circumstances don't define you; where you are is not who you are." - mother of Ursula Burns, Xerox CEO

I suffer from a lack of Self Belief.

I'm not really sure where this originates from. It's not as if I did not have incredibly supportive parents that supported my various activities growing up (some of which worked well, some of which were somewhat less than successful) and it's not as if I have not had my share of success moving through life. But fundamentally, down deep, I lack belief in myself.

Self belief, in case you were wondering, is not the same as self love. I abhor the concept of self love based on the fact that I know all too well the sin and failures that dwell in my life. To love that is which is unlovable is to enable that which should not be enabled. But belief in self is not the same as self love; it's the concept that one is competent, one is capable. Simply put, I can.

This is something that while we can gather from others, we cannot maintain with others. Without self belief, all the propping up our friends and loved ones do will come to naught and we will find ourselves again at the same level we have always been. We'll be surprised, of course, and wonder why this or that didn't work, then bewail a cruel universe that destines us to this place.

Self belief is not deterred by circumstances. It neither is added to when others support us, nor is it subtracted from when no-one believes but ourselves. It presses on towards whatever the goal that has been set for it, confident that it will make it there.

Self belief does not look for handouts. It does not look to what others can do for it or what others owe it; it accepts the fact that while individuals can assist, ultimately the person is responsible for the success or failure in their lives. It has learned that the greatest achievement comes from that which is achieved, not simply "feeling good" about who the person is.

It believes that far more things are possible than what we think. We are not omniscient and are are not God to be sure; but we are far more capable of doing great things than what we allow ourselves to believe.

As I learned this morning, the CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns, started as an executive assistant and worked her way up. The circumstances of her origin did not determine the eventual point to which she arrived. It is evident that she believed she was capable of far more than what she was doing - and she took action to make that self belief reality.

If you really believed in yourself and your God-given skills and talents, what are you capable of?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Rust

Yesterday I undertook a task that I was putting off all week. Sword cleaning.

Not just the typical cleaning and oiling of the blade - no this was a full cleaning: removing the mekugi (bamboo pins that hold in the sword), pulling off the tsuka (hilt), removing the fittings - seppa, tsuba, seppa, and hibaki - and cleaning the nakago (tang) of the blade.

I always freak out about this a bit, mostly because of the fact that I tend to have the ability to not reassemble things in their original order. Still, the potential of rust overcame my fear of having to drag an unfinished blade to class for assembly, so off we did.

Upon pulling everything apart (which went better than expected), I found that I did in fact have a problem: a patch of rust on both sides of the nakago where the hibaki (a brass fitting which covers the transition of the tang to the full blade. There was some rust on the fittings as well, but it was the worst under the hibaki.

I sat for almost an hour trying to work things off: applying metal polish, letting it dry, working on the smaller pieces, rubbing it down, reapplying, all the time wondering "how could it have gotten so far?" My guess, after looking at everything, is that the last time that I cleaned the whole blade - when I rewrapped my tsuka - is that I failed to completely oil the inside of the hibaki, which when in contact with the blade, created the rust. I don't clean the entire sword as often - I'd like to say it's because I'm too busy (it really takes about an hour), but more likely it's due to the fact that I'm more lazy that busy. It appears that this failure to regularly maintain all aspects of the sword is what contributed to the rust.

I finally finished removing most of what I could get at then oiled everything heavily and reassembled the entire sword. Looking at it from the outside, you cannot tell anything was really wrong - there was one faint dark line under the hibaki that gave rise to the whole incident.

True, it is just about my sword. But like everything else, Iaido is really life, and the lessons of iaido are transferable to more than just the dojo.

Even like the nakago of the sword, we are both outer and inner. To let one go - to be so concerned about polishing the outer side and preventing rust - while forgetting about the other is to eventually invite disaster. With enough rust, a nakago will be rendered useless, and so too the sword. Thus we must pay attentiong to maintaining both the outer and inner person, even as we maintain the outer and inner blade. Rust on either will destroy its usefulness.

Rusty nakagos may be easily repaired. Rust on the soul is far more difficult to efface.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Resourcing Conundrum

I find myself caught in the conundrum of modern American labor: what to do?

I feel as if I am trapped between the Scylla of high and growing expectations and the Charybdis of the modern workplace. On the one hand (just as everywhere else), expectations are high and growing. We are doing more than ever and trying to ensure we meet all the expectations of the marketplace we work in. On the other hand, what I'm finding is that the resources we have are not sufficient for what we have.

Resources are a funny thing in current American business. There seem to be two types of companies: those that are able or willing to resource appropriately, and those that cannot or will not.

The distinction is important. There are, in my experience, companies which would increase their resources if they could but cannot due to budget and other constraints. Then there are others which, while they might have the resources to do so, will not.

The second part of the conundrum - beyond the the "do more with no more" part - is that resourcing is seemingly the one thing you cannot discuss.

Reputations, we are told, are build on individuals doing more with less. Do not seek to build empires - seek to be more efficient, to be resource conservator rather than a resource spender, for this is the way to true success. Too often, to suggest that additional resources are needed is to imply that one is incompetent, not able to fulfill the duties one was hired for - let alone seek to achieve more.

Mistakes or failures due to resourcing become the issue never discussed, the elephant in the room. It simply is not discussed, as it becomes the thing by which other people point and discuss the failure to perform.

Other paths can be tried, of course. Efficiencies can be sought. Items can be delegated and departments can be empowered (however, all the delegation and empowerment will not assist in completing something if the will is not there). Plans and programs can be drawn up and rolled out with great fanfare.

But that still leaves the issue: how does one meet the expectations that are given based on the resources available when, deep in one's heart, it is simply not enough and there is no way of securing the sufficient amount?