I met Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell, when I gave a keynote last month at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy (a convening of C-suite leaders throughout the public relations industry).  She has a great story, building essentially a one-woman communications practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas, into one of the top 10 fastest-growing public relations companies in the world (and winning all kinds of industry kudos along the way).  She’s also recently released her first book, Leading Through the Turn–a leadership book that cphoto cindy blog motorcycle bookombines lessons learned from her passion for motorcycles with her conviction that real professional success and significance has to be  about the journey as much as the destination.

That’s an idea that gets traction in personal growth circles, but not so much in the business world where crossing the finish line fast is often revered above all else.  Elise found a voice with an alternative view, and had both the passion and conviction to speak her truth.

Any organization, leader or professional who wants to find an authentic and inspiring voice needs to do the very same thing.  It’s about aligning your Why (the passion that motivates and fuels your journey) with your What (the conviction that shapes meaningful, destination-oriented action).  When you do that, what you say will always convey the courage of your convictions—and your communications will carry the kind of heart and determination that gets heard.   Even the more provocative things you have to say will be received differently because they’re grounded in authenticity.  Remember this:

  • If you have the courage of your convictions, you’ll find the confidence to say what you believe is right–even though other people may not agree or approve
  • If you have the courage of your convictions, you’ll become brave enough to do what you feel is right—despite any external pressure for your to act differently

You’ve got to get in touch with both your passion and your position to do this, though. Having the courage of your convictions is really about bringing both the head and the heart into play, and that’s a hard to ignore combination because it leverages both feelings/emotions and thoughts/beliefs.  Remember that passion is a strongly held feeling of enthusiasm or excitement that brings you alive for others.  Conviction is a strongly held thought or belief that lends credibility to your stance.   Enjoying the journey and reaching your destination usually doesn’t happen if you don’t have both.  Why?

  • Passion without conviction can be disempowering–generating a lot of excitement without anything actually happening. Passion without conviction can actually be baseless, overly zealous, shrill (and even dangerous if it’s blind).
  • Conviction without passion can be disengaging—generating a lot of action that may start to feel purposeless over time. Conviction without passion can actually be judgmental, dogmatic, flat (and even dangerous if it’s heartless).

If you want to get more in touch with the real courage of your convictions, take a few minutes to explore these questions and what the answers really mean.  This can be an exercise you do for yourself as a leader or with a group as a culture or brand-building activity.  Once you’ve brainstormed your answers, then consider how those insights could shape a more powerful stance, start a conversation or just get others more interested in you.  I’ll share my own answers as an example.

What are you most passionate about, and why does that matter to you?  (NOTE:  Don’t just list things you like to do at work; this exercise is about finding clues to your voice through a more holistic lens. Would that look different for a group or organization?  Sure, but brainstorm a list of individual interests to see if some collective passions emerge that might also be shaping/driving your culture).      

So, I’m passionate about expression and identity, redemptive stories, great writing and design, music with moving lyrics, color, abstract painting and collages, poetic voices, positive psychology, human motivation, causes/organizations that empower well being, mentoring, purpose and legacy.

If I think about why these things matter to me, the pattern that emerges is my core identity as a creative type who loves expression that’s meaningful and really matters (and has a positive, purposeful tone).

What do you know or believe more than anything else, and what are you willing to do because of that? (NOTE:  Remember, these are core principles that shape who you are and what actions you’ll take.  Shared beliefs would be uncovered in a group exercise to explore this question as well).

So, here are my answers:  I believe that everyone has a story to tell and a voice that deserves to be heard.  I believe that there’s something special about every individual and organization that needs to be seen and acknowledged.  I believe that we’re all part of a tapestry where every thread matters.  I believe that well being is a fundamental human right.

If I think about what I’ll do as a result—well, it feels like I’m doing this right now—authentic branding/communications work that helps individuals and organizations get heard and contribute in important ways.  I especially love working with purpose-driven organizations and non-profits that cultivate well being and serve the under-served, so that fits in as well.

When I put passion and conviction together, I think it gets back to my slogan.  My premise is that a truly authentic voice is essential for success, contribution and well being.  If that’s provocative, it’s only because a lot of communications out there are about spin and saying what we think other people want to hear.  I like helping my clients be courageous enough to lead and shape their brands with authenticity.

So where does the courage of your convictions take you?  Feel free to share any insights about your own courageous convictions with me (or tweet them to @storybrander).  And remember to enjoy the ride as you move toward that finish line!

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).  Cindy helps individual and organizational clients cast themselves in a compelling, enduring story that authentically conveys their unique value.  Take the SVSS for yourself here:  http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.

I love a good story.  You probably do, too.  Stories influence, inspire and capture our imaginations like nothing else.  We tell them all the time, whether we realize it or not.  And they scare the heck out of many of my clients.

I’m not talking horror stories here, and I certainly don’t mean my clients are literally afraid of narratives. What sometimes gets me a deer-in-headlights look is suggesting they need to know and live and tell their own story in the world to have a really successful brand.  Maybe it’s a little intimidating to realize that answering the question who are you? is what jump starts a compelling brand identity—but it’s the surest path to being seen, heard and apprecman and woman with 3d book pile backgroundiated for something that draws the right clients, members, donors or other important audiences to you.

Traditional branding strategy says you should start by understanding your target audiences.  And of course you absolutely do need to know what they care about and what makes them tick.  First, though, you need to understand who you are and what you’re uniquely prepared to do so that you can have a vibrant, vital, authentic, arresting conversation with the world about it.  This applies whether you’re a solo practitioner or running a firm—a “self” is either an individual with a personal identity or a collective with a discernible character and capacity (which usually adds up to a strong  group culture).

When you understand yourself, you have a foundation for creating the kind of zeal that gets attention.  So if you want to get crystal clear on your unique value, start by typecasting you or your organization as the protagonist in a story you’re truly moved to live and tell in the world.  Then frame a narrative that’s based on the two key components of a truly great story:

  • Every inspiring protagonist has a quest—it’s the purpose that captures your reason for being; a fuel that enlivens and animates you.  Getting in touch with purpose keeps you and/or your people truly engaged in your work.
  • Every great story has a happy ending—it’s the promise or outcome you can always be counted on to deliver.  Getting in touch with promise clarifies what makes your story matter to anyone else.

I’m a Creator with a quest—and a purpose— to help my clients understand and let others know who they really are in the world.  I’m a zealot for “empowering self expression”—the kind that positions organizations and people to talk about what matters most to them.  Why should anyone care about that?  Well, I promise to help clients find a voice that will inspire and influence others (added bonus:  they’ll probably experience more aliveness and even joy while they’re doing it, too).

You’ve got a story as well, and it really should be the foundation for your brand personality and messaging.  You can start the process by “story typing” your enterprise, which involves exploring what kind of protagonist you or your organization is most like—and articulating a purpose or promise its story arc suggests.  Is that kind of process really good business?  You bet it is, and here are some of the many reasons why:

  • Story-based branding is built on the motivational drivers that have inspired and engaged human beings since the beginning of time.  You can use other techniques to inform your audiences, promote your services, and even connect with them on a personal level.  Nothing motivates better than evoking a narrative that suggests how everything is going to turn out, though (and casting yourself as the protagonist who can resolve whatever conflict might get in the way).
  • A great storyline helps you leverage both your strengths and your values.  The protagonists in great stories rely on a combination of strengths (what they’re good at) and values (what they care about) to accomplish their missions.  There’s no story without both.  Strengths are critical, but they’re actually not nearly as memorable as values.  At the end of the day, you’re most likely to be defined by the value system that others associate with you.  It makes great business sense to be deliberate about how you want to be perceived instead of letting other people draw their own conclusions about what you stand for.
  • An authentic storyline is your most powerful trust-building tool.  Truth-based communications build credibility and draw others in through genuine attraction to something that has a true pull for them.  That sets up an entirely different dynamic than basing your brand on what you think your audience wants to hear, and establishes a trust-focused relationship from the outset.  Conviction and passion just ring true, and that’s what story-based branding is all about.

So let your sense of self breathe life into your brand—and let your brand become an authentic expression that creates more success and fulfillment in your world.

This post was adapted from an earlier version that appeared on http://www.caprsa.com/news/.

Cindy Atlee wrote her first (and last!) novel at the age of 13. After a brief foray into journalism (interviewing Jimmy Buffet in a bowling counts as journalism, right?), she became a brand strategist, coach and facilitator—eventually serving as SVP, Branding & Organizational Culture, at the global public relations firm Porter Novelli.  She’s now founding partner at The Storybranding Group, where she helps clients define and give voice to what’s best, most distinctive and appealing about them.

This is the second blog post in my three-part series on the who/why/what of branding, professional/leadership development and team/culture building. 

Last month, I had the amazing privilege of working with 1,500 educator-leaders at the National Education Association’s annual leadership summit.  These are educators who do even more than serve students in their classrooms and their communities—as if that wasn’t enough!  Every one of them has also taken on a local, state and/or national role as an activist and mobilizer for students and their inalienable rights to a great public education.  They’re as dedicated a group as I’ve ever seen.advocacy word written on wood block. Wooden alphabet on a blue background.

The work with NEA was designed to help attendees get in touch with a deeply authentic sense of self, and to claim a voice that leveraged what was most special, unique and different about each of them.  It was the first time I’d ever tried such a large-group story typing process.  And yes, it was daunting to think about how we could shape an experience that would engage 1,500 people.

I shouldn’t have worried.  This was exactly the right group for the work, and I think that’s because they have a fierce draw to the Why of their storyline—there’s a quest, a purpose, a reason for being that drives them.  We just needed to help them understand the nature of their Who (a strong individualized sense of best self) and how it aligned with their Why (the fuel that energizes and motivates them) so that a personal narrative could start taking recognizable shape.  Their conviction and passion took over from there.

Advocacy is at the Heart of Your Why

You couldn’t find better folks than the ones who are part of the NEA. There’s no question that their organization’s very heart beats to the drum of advocacy.  I had a little epiphany as I worked with them, too, and this is it:  We all need to be advocates.  I don’t think there are any exceptions.

  • Any organization that wants to build an inspired workforce, fiercely loyal customer base or highly engaged stakeholder group of any kind needs to start thinking of themselves as advocates for something
  • So does any leader who wants to build a productive, committed team
  • So does any professional who wants to make a meaningful, successful, enduring contribution with their work

Advocacy is at the very heart of purpose.  It articulates what you’re for (and isn’t that a relief in a world where we seem to spend all of our time talking about what we’re against?).  It motivates you to keep on going despite the challenges.  It builds common ground.  It defines your quest and shapes a storyline that draws other people in.  And here’s the great news:  every one of us can be a powerful advocate, and you don’t have to be saving the world to show up that way. You just need to answer one powerful question:

  • What are you deeply, meaningfully, intensely, vociferously, no-holds-barred for in the world?

The answer could be laughter or self expression or tolerance or chocolate (okay, the right kind of chocolate actually can save the world, can’t it)?

Story type can help you answer that question, because knowing who you are offers profound clues about your passion and conviction—and those are the key shapers of advocacy, purpose and Why.  It’s the Jester who lives for laughter and joy; the Creator who’s compelled to stand up for everyone’s right to tell their own story; the Everyperson who holds diversity most dearly and fiercely.  Once you’re clear on Who you are as the protagonist of an individual or collective story, an inevitable narrative arc begins to develop that takes you directly to insights about your quest, your purpose, your advocacy and your Why.  So if you want a great brand, team, culture or leadership identity, remember the following:

  • Why provides the motivating, energizing fuel that can inspire you or anyone inside your organization to get out of bed in the morning and keep moving throughout the day. A purposeless career, team or organizational life often ends up feeling devoid of meaning or a sense of aliveness.  A purposeful career, team or organizational life provides motivational drivers that keep people committed and contributory.
  • Why helps you inspire and involve others as well. Sharing a powerful purpose actually invite others to define their own best selves or higher callings—and can help them align with something aspirational about you or your organization that forges loyalty and builds deeper engagement.
  • Why helps shape a voice or brand that others relate to on a visceral, emotional level. That’s where relationships are forged and sustained, and where lasting value is created and built.

So once you’ve established your Who—and cast yourself in a meaningful, enduring role that captures your best self—move on to your Why.  Ask yourself what your protagonist most wants to advocate for and take in that energy and motivation.  Then, get moving on your quest!

In my next post, I’ll talk about the happy ending to your story—the promise you’re willing to make, and the outcome you’re committed to delivering for others.

 

I have this recurring dream where a large group of people I’m working with are mostly milling around in this very large, efotolia_120436866ntirely concrete building. All of them have come to me with important messages or ideas that they started out really excited to develop and share–but something is stopping them from doing that. Instead of working, they keep going back inside and sitting down in one of the building’s many small, empty, windowless rooms.

The rooms have thick, strong walls that don’t allow any sound to travel through. They’re gray and colorless, with nothing in them to fuel inspiration or imagination. They look a lot like cells, except for one thing. The rooms are entirely open in front, with no barrier at all to prevent anyone from walking right out and back into the world. Most of the people in my dream stay right where they are, though–inside these rooms with their ideas inside themselves, unexpressed.

It doesn’t take a dream analyst to interpret what’s going on for me here! My vision is for everyone to unleash a voice in the world–and to work in places and on teams where it’s heard and appreciated. I’ve always thought this dream was meant to remind me of what it looks like and feels like when that doesn’t happen.

Why don’t we let our voices be heard?

I never expected more concrete business information from a dream, though, but that’s what happened recently when I had a much longer version of it. This time, I was able to start asking people who were still in the rooms what was going on and why they weren’t excited about sharing their messages any longer. I always heard one of three things:
  • Some were deliberately reining themselves in–deciding what they have to say is too big or too bold so they have to scale it back, and killing their enthusiasm in the process.
  • Others had given up because they didn’t have a “perfect” message–they’d tinkered and tinkered with in, and ended up stripping most of the real life out of what they wanted to share.
  • A few people had sought out and taken too much input from other people–now they didn’t even recognize their own ideas or feel much of the passion that had fueled them in the first place.
So, I woke up and realized I needed to share what I learned from this dream. And before this turns into a bummer of a blog post, let’s flip what I found out was holding others back into really positive lessons for getting your own voice heard:
  • Lesson #1: Let your biggest, boldest ideas shape what you share. Those big ideas are what motivate you to act; get them out there and into the world if you want others to pay attention.
  • Lesson #2: Don’t overthink what you’re burning to say. The most important part of starting a dialog with real life in it means getting the conversation going.
  • Lesson #3: Find your own authentic point of view. Sure, it’s nice to know what other people think. But it’s your own point of view that sets you apart and gets you heard (even when others don’t agree with everything you’re saying).

I need to share more boldly, too

So, it turns out this dream wasn’t meant just for my clients. There’s a powerful message for me in here as well (after all, I was the dreamer!). I’ve got some ideas of my own that I may not share often enough or loudly enough, one for each area of my work life (branding, employee engagement & team/culture building, and leadership/professional development. Here they are (and look for blog posts on each topic in the coming weeks):
  • Branding: Great branding and messaging starts out as inside job. It tells your story in a way that invites others in–and its main objective is to create resonant aliveness with others.
  • Team/culture building and employee engagement: Workplaces need to start letting people bring their whole selves to work. Mostly, we let people tell half their story at work, and it’s the half about performance and what they do (not presence and who they are).
  • Leadership development: We need to start looking for authentic advantage in our workplaces-not competitive advantage. Competitive advantage says “I need to move as fast as I can and outmaneuver someone else and by doing that I’ll win.” Authentic advantage says “I have gifts and talents and ideas and intuitions that other people don’t, and if I contribute them we all get to win.”
Do you have a big idea to share? An unfiltered message? A passionate point of view? Join the ranks of the self expressed and tell me about it!  Post a comment or send me a tweet @storybrander.

And if you haven’t taken the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey yet, check it out here to find out who you are in the story you’re most moved to unleash in the world: http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.

One of my favorite stories is about an apocryphal tribe where villagers say every child has a unique and special song. During a pregnancy, the mother-to-be and her friends go on their equivalent of a planning retreat–spending time in the woods until the unborn child has “taught” them his or her song. At birth, the entire village greets the newborn with that song, and it’s repeated on every milestone occasion. In this society, it’s said there is no legal system. When someone is suspected of wrongdoing, the tribe simply surrounds that villager and repeatedly sings the birth song–believing that no one goes astray if they remember who they really are.Handsome businessman with guitar singing in office

I love that story because it says so much about human identity.  It also says a lot about the potential power of branding.  If you give voice to something that’s deeply true about yourself or your organization, and that others can recognize as compellingly true for them as well, you can start to stand for something that’s indelible and uniquely you.

At the heart of a brand is an identity that’s real and matters. I believe every organization, every individual–every product and service–has a a unique and animating presence that defines what they’re meant to stand for in the world. (Okay, is anyone humming “Make Your Own Kind of Music” yet?).  Maybe this makes me a branding Pollyanna–and I’ll certainly admit to being a branding Idealist—but wouldn’t the world be a better place if people and organizations had an authentic sense of identity that shapes how they show up in the world?

So, how do you develop a “song sheet” for yourself or your organization?  Since no one is going out in the woods to find it for you, you’re going to have to do what Jennifer Warnes sings about in a song I often turn to for inspiration: go to “The Well” (listen on YouTube here: http://bit.ly/2chXhfp).  If you look deeply enough, here are three things you’ll find in your personal or organizational “well” that add up to a brand voice worth hearing:

1.  Know your own story. You can’t sing a brand to life if you don’t understand the story you’re meant to tell. Your story captures what’s most meaningful and motivating to you—and what’s most likely to draw others to you as well.  If you want to explore this further, take the free story typing survey on my website.  It will identify one of 12 great characters you or your organization is most like: http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/).

Defining a story is based on a startingly simple but powerful question:  Who are you?  We don’t ask this question enough of ourselves, and we certainly don’t ask it enough of each other.  In most workplaces, we spend a lot more time on another question:  What can you do?  The problem is that question shifts much of our focus to enhancing performance in ways that encourage people to leave their most important gifts off the table.  When we focus on performance to the exclusion of presence, we leave half of ourselves behind (and much of what energizes and activates us).

So finding an empowering story isn’t just about branding (personal or organizational).  It’s also a foundational component for developing leaders, engaging employees, building teams and creating cultures where people want to participate and contribute.  That’s because defining an authentic storyline captures what people have both the capacity and the will to do (and be).

2.  Explore your own unique combination of strengths and values. Your brand “song” should always be based on what’s best and most distinctive about you—the strengths that shape what you can truly offer the world and the values that connect you with others.  This is what makes for great stories in the first place.  The characters in them use something they’re good at (their strengths) to realize something that matters to them (their values).  It’s this dynamic combination that fascinates us and imbues a great story with both meaning and motivation.  Brands that are built on this pattern do the very same thing.

3.  Articulate your purpose and your promise. We all need inspiration and purpose to keep us invested in our journeys.  Purpose captures our very reason for being; it offers the fuel to enliven and motivate us.  So, after you’ve answer the question of who you are, you also need to explore why you’re here at all.

Finding your purpose is an inspiring and empowering journey.  But there’s another one question that has to be answered if you want to activate your purpose in the world:  What makes anyone else care?  Every great brand needs to get to the happy ending; the outcome you can always be counted on to deliver that matters to someone else.  It’s the energetic fuel that helps you engage others.

Ultimately, a great brand “song” captures your passion and purpose in a way that’s so alive others can feel it, see it and hear it.  If you want to create a brand that’s both inspiring and authentic, listen to yourself and also listen to the things that move you.  Then deliver on a promise that helps those you’re meant to serve drink from the well also.  As Jennifer Warnes sings, “The wild world is speaking, let’s go to the well.”

Who do you get out of bed in the morning to be? This isn’t the first question that most of my clients expect me to ask.  It may not even be something they’ve ever thought much about.  But if you want to really unleash your voice in the world—if you want to be heard and seen and appreciated for something that will get other people interested in you—it’s the first question you need to answer.

Traditional branding strategy says you should start by understanding your target audience–and knowing what they care about is a critical step if you want your message to resonate.  First, though, you need to understand who you are and what you’re passionate about offering up to the world so that you can have a vibrant, vital, authentic, arresting conversation about it.

Defining and articulating the essence of who you are is what unleashes your authentic voice, and allows you to engage others at the human level where real relationships grow and flourish. It’s what connects others to you in a lasting way, gives life and shape to what you have to offer, and provides a foundation for inspiring messages. When you understand yourself, you create the kind of zeal that gets attention. Your success can then be enhanced by shaping what you say in ways that are relevant to others.

What’s the best way to do this? It’s all about seeing your organization or yourself in the context of a meaningful and motivating narrative.

Doing that allows you to take the three most critical steps for unleashing your voice:

  • Step one: Defining and sharing the great story you’re moved to tell in the world
  • Step two: Fully stepping in to the role that helps others most understand and connect with your core purpose
  • Step three: Shifting your communications away from informational and promotional content to messages that connect and motivate

So if you’re a non-profit, it’s great for me to know you have 452 programs for helping those you support—but you won’t touch my heart until I see you as a Caregiver who recognizes and develops the potential in all. If you’re a government agency, I do want to know that you have the world’s largest database of critical scientific information—but I won’t feel a strong connection until I understand you as a Sage who uses that information to answer tough questions affecting my quality of life. If you’re a food manufacturer, it’s great to know that your nutrition bars have eight superfood ingredients—but I won’t feel much loyalty until I see you as a Hero on a mission to reshape healthy eating in this country.

Caregivers, Sages, Heroes—they’re all characters in great stories that people love to her and share. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we all have an essential story we were born to tell that features a compelling character. The strengths and values of these characters can shape our organizational or individual purpose, and give us the courage to stand up and stand out in the world.

I get out of bed in the morning to be a Creator. When I build my business and my professional life around Creator gifts and talents, I’m at my most effective, productive and fulfilled. When I’m acting on my Creator mission—to help others understand and express who they are in the world—I’ve got a lot to talk about. Often, I find that the right people, partners and clients are listening. So, how about you? Who are you in the story you most want to tell?

I’m a big fan of Patti Digh, author of Life is a Verb, Creative is a Verb, and a wonderful blog, 37days.com.  Patti started the blog, which launched her writing career, when her stepfather died—just 37 days after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

That’s the kind of wake-up call that would shake any of us, and it was a call that Patti answered in a significant way. She decided she had something to say, first to her daughters and then to the world–messages that she needed to leave behind if she ever had just 37 days, and messages that needed to shape her life if she had many more.  The writing that followed became a kind of instructional manual to her daughters for how to be in the world and how to live a fuller, more intentional life.

Patti started asking herself what she’d be doing that day if she only had 37 days to live.  And she also began championing the concept of 37 days as a timeline for living—not just for dying.  She decided that if you devoted 37 days to almost anything, it would change your life; that it’s enough time to change a habit or create a new one; to incrementally but significantly alter your worldview; to figure out what you really have to say and start saying it.

And that’s where this all begins to tie into to branding, to message strategy and to unleashing your voice in the world.  I’m thinking there’s a kind of “37 days” litmus test we could all put to a personal or an organizational brand.  It would include questions like:

  • If you or your organization had only 37 days to live, what do you need to get busy saying right now?
  • Why are you talking about anything else, anyway?
  • What can you do in the next 37 days to make sure you’re standing for and communicating something that matters?

The sense of urgency that comes from not having much time has a lot to teach all of us.  What really matters becomes crystal clear.  What we care about most moves front and center.  Who we are without all the excess window dressing is far more evident.  There’s no time to waste on the extraneous.

All of that is what makes a great brand, well, great.  Its focus is clear; its message is loud and proud; its intent is real and human.  It knows who it is, and it doesn’t try to be anything else.

And you can create that kind of brand for yourself or your organization—especially if you use the “37 days” filter to shape it. It’s pretty simple, really. Build a brand identity based on who you really are and what you need to say, and share it in a way that matters to those who need to hear it.  Let an imagined sense of urgency guide you to that clear focus, that proud message, that authentic intent.

Oh, and don’t give yourself more than 37 days to do it.

Happy National Inventor’s Day!  Yes, it’s a real day of observance—presidentially proclaimed by Ronald Reagan back in the ‘80s and timed to coincide with Thomas Edison’s birthday on Feb. 11.  The intent, of course, is to honor and celebrate inventions that have changed or made lives better.

Now, I’m no Thomas Edison, but I am an inventor.  So are we all.  We may not have invented the light bulb, but we create or originate things all the time–from the simplest ideas for how to do something better at work to the most complex re-organizations of people or systems.  When it comes to branding, we’re constantly inventing how we want others to see us—inviting them to imagine a world where what we do matters.

As a country, we’re pretty good at invention.  It seems to me that what we’re really great at, though, is reinvention.  We’re obsessed with the makeover, from home décor to celebrity rehab to political redemption.  If we have a problem, reinvention often seems like the answer.  Our collective imagination appears to be boundless.

There’s a lot of upside to that, and some downside as well.  One downside is how easy it can be to slip into the dark side of invention and reinvention—reinventing history, inventing excuses, reinventing the wheel, fabricating the truth.  After awhile, are we really reinventing or are we just making things up?  Are we looking to be more of what we are, or more of what we’re not?

This is an important question for anyone who’s thinking about branding or rebranding—especially if you’re doing it in response to some external dynamic that has you running a little scared.  Case in point:  I was recently approached by a potential client who said that he wanted to reinvent his brand.  Clearly, things weren’t going well from a marketing or sales position.  This client wanted to reinvent the way the organization was perceived without actually changing anything they did.  He didn’t want to involve his people in the rebranding, either; just create a new image that might or might not reflect what his organization is really like, really believes in, or is really capable of delivering.

Could there be an inventive approach to doing this?  Absolutely.  Is it likely to work in the long run?  Not very.  So, if you want to effectively rebrand your organization or yourself, remember the following when it comes to reinvention:

1.  True reinvention is a process of stepping more deeply into who you really are. A lot of people seem to think of reinvention as stepping away from something or being more like someone or something else. I think of it as stepping into something about ourselves that’s a better match with what the world needs.  It’s about finding and activating the lesser known parts of ourselves, and of knowing and telling our stories in profound new ways.

2.  True reinvention feels empowering. If it’s based on the real strengths and values you have to offer the world, reinvention energizes, activates and empowers.  If it’s about laying claim to things that don’t feel like you or you can’t really deliver, it does just the opposite.  If your rebranding is fear-based—or a fearful reaction to what’s going on around you—you’re headed down a disempowering path.

3.  True reinvention offers true value to the world. I have another client who says he helps people provide real value in the world while staying true to themselves.  If that’s the foundation for a rebranding, then you’re on the right track.  If your rebranding is based on an empty promise that you think someone wants to hear, you’re trying to reinvent reality instead of yourself.  Even “Extreme Home Makeover” would have trouble with that one.