Tag Archives: Brazen Careerist

Is Personal Branding Really Impersonal Faking?

Don’t get me wrong: I think the thinking behind it, the advice wrapped around the idea of personal branding, is excellent. I’ve recommended, for example, Dan Schawbel’s personal branding book Me 2.0 and I’m sticking to it. Dan has a great collection of real-world suggestions in that book. But I’m beginning to think I hate the term. And maybe some of what’s behind it.

Last Friday I read Personal Branding is Bullsh*t (cowardly * by me, not her) by Arienne Holland, communications director of Raven Tools. She writes:

A person doesn’t need a brand. A person is a person whether or not there is paperwork filed with the government. A child doesn’t create a personality, she has one.

She also objects to a magazine article recommending personal branding for employees of large companies:

If you want to travel between companies, you don’t need a personal brand, you need skills and character and friends.

This was already on my mind before reading that because of a conversation I’d had a few weeks ago with my daughter Megan, marketing manager at Klout.com. At the time I was talking about some of Dan Schawbel’s recommendations, and Megan shared that she didn’t like the term. She explained that recently in Why I Hate the Term “Personal Branding” on her blog:

“Worse yet, there’s the idea that this is something new. Personal branding is just a new way to talk about reputation. Well, you know what? Reputation is a much better word for that.

Personal branding implies you should be fake to make it (if you disagree, do let me know). Before you tweet, interact, blog, or walk down the street you need to think if it fits with the image you want to portray. Well, you know what, if there’s only one facet to your personality you’re not an excellent brand, you’re boring.”

She’s not objecting to the things we do as personal branding, at least not if it isn’t faked; instead, she is objecting to the term we use to describe it.

There’s a lot that I like about the whole field of personal branding, particularly the emphasis on actual people and authenticity and humans communicating with humans. But I admit, I hadn’t thought of the underlying meaning of the term “brand.” It does carry a sense of artificial to it, doesn’t it? It makes us think of Mad Men, advertising, consumer opinion research, and expensive image advertising like insurance companies and such, on a very large scale.

Are you the same thing as your brand? If so, then what’s the point?

Hell with School or Work, Startups are Genetic

What a relief. Entrepreneurship is genetic. That’s great news. Here I’ve spent all this time (since 1974) thinking it was ideas, plans, teams, taking steps, getting things done, doing things well, paying the damned bills, solving problems, and all that hard stuff. What a waste!

In Is Entrepreneurship Genetic? on Brazen Careerist, Jake Poinier writes:

Roughly one third to 40 percent of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is innate rather than taught. Independence, tolerance for risk, ability to recognize opportunity, and leadership are all affected by your genes.

He goes from there to a well-written, thoughtful, sensitive tribute to his father, an excellent post. But I still had that 40 percent ringing in my ears when it reappeared yesterday in Dyan Machan’s Is Start-Up Savvy in Your DNA on WSJ.com. He poses that education question I see a lot lately, which usually suggests that since entrepreneurship can’t be taught, you should just wing it:

We’ve always had a hunch that entrepreneurs are a different breed, but some academics are taking that idea quite literally. Turns out … 40 percent of the variation in the tendency to be an entrepreneur is inherited. [T]his work puts a new spin on an age-old question: Can classroom learning really teach you how to succeed?

Very interesting, that 40 percent number. So if nobody in either my background or my wife’s was an entrepreneur, and we started a company, does that mean we have only 60 percent chance of success, even 20-some years later? And we have five grown-up children, so does that mean they’re 40 percent entrepreneurs, or that two of the five are entrepreneurs? Is it a dominant or recessive trait? And my dad, the ophthalmologist, he doesn’t have independence or risk tolerance, or ability to recognize opportunity? One of our five children runs our company now, so does that mean one of the other four – all duly employed – needs to start a company quickly? I wonder which one it will be?

So all those good entrepreneurial traits, those are just inherited traits now, with or without schooling? How could book learning help? Damn, I liked school too, I wouldn’t have missed it, but apparently it was wasted. But then I don’t have entrepreneurial DNA, apparently, so maybe that’s why I needed an education.

And what about work? Doing it? Getting into the office, returning phone calls, solving problems, hiring and firing people as needed, finding credit, doing prototypes, getting the right vendors? They say that 90 percent of success is just showing up. I wonder if that’s including or excluding the 40 percent that comes at birth. If our grown-up children have all 40 percent of the genetic part, do they have to show up just half of the time, to be successful?

While all of this is fun, sort of like the nature/nurture argument when done as an impromptu party game, it’s just about as useful as comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “you know you’re a redneck when” stand-up routine. It doesn’t get to any meaningful conclusions about who and when and what makes startups.

Clearly, just like the redneck routines, lists of entrepreneurial traits are fun — I posted a list of my own here and another here and a third here on this blog. But don’t take them seriously.

For the record, this whole idea comes directly from Scott Shane’s Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders, which I bought and read and liked. It has none of the simplicity you’d think from the summary here. Actually Scott examines a lot of interesting research around the nature vs. nurture question as it relates to careers, and he jumps to no over-simplified conclusions. He’s exploring. He’s got table after table of background information about career choices and traits, characteristics, and genetic research. It’s a good book. But not a great one to be summarized in a headline.

Generalizations about startups almost always fail. People start companies for as many different reasons as there are companies. And those companies fail or fly for an entirely different set of reasons. Like I said in my opening paragraph on this post: It’s also what you’ve done, what you do, what you want, what you like, who you love (try to start a business without family support, and you’ll see), what bores you, what you did for your first job, where you live, where you’d like to live, what people want from you… as many traits as there are entrepreneurs.

Maybe Writing Isn’t So Obsolete After All

Just a few years ago I was mourning the loss of the printed word in our media-hungry and web-hungry society. Even people I really respect, although most of them much younger than I, were starting to show cavalier disregard for the English language. I’d grimace while reading something that mistook then for than, or they’re for their, or misspelled lots of simple words. The response would be rolled eyes, like…

Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock

why do you care? You can read it. You can see what it says.

It makes me feel like the archetypical grumpy old man.

Meanwhile, television news has taken over from print news. Newspapers are dying. And books?  Doomed. I picked this up in a 2007 New Yorker piece called Twilight of Books:

In 1982, 56.9 per cent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. The proportion fell to fifty-four per cent in 1992, and to 46.7 per cent in 2002. Last month, the N.E.A. released a follow-up report, “To Read or Not to Read,” which showed correlations between the decline of reading and social phenomena as diverse as income disparity, exercise, and voting. In his introduction, the N.E.A. chairman, Dana Gioia, wrote, “Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”

But then — about 2007 for me, late, I know, compared to the web literate elites — I caught on to blogs. And discovered where writing had gone to; and where people cared about writing. Writing and reading are alive and well, it turns out, but they’ve migrated to some extent. The Huffington Post, the world’s leading blog, gets something upwards of 20 million unique visitors per month.  Blog after blog is about writing: writing well, writing better. I just looked: more than 10,000 hits on Google for the search term “writing blog headlines.” And I keep stumbling on blogs that are exhilaratingly well written. Look at Ann Handley’s Annarchy, for example (for a good sample, read Refugee at Home). Or Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist (sample this post for good writing, but you should know first that, like a lot of good writing, it’s dark.). And I read business and entrepreneurship blogs that are not just good content, but extremely well written. Seth Godin delivers a short beautifully written post almost every day.

Lately there’s twitter, limiting the writing to 140 characters, putting a whole new twist on writing. There’s so many examples of good writing in 140 characters that it’s like searching for needles in a pile of needles. Do this twitter search for haiku to see what I mean. And then I just browsed the tweets of the people above, and came up with this one, by Penelope Trunk. I didn’t have to search for a good one, this was simply her latest as I wrote this post:

I forget to tell the waiter to hold the bacon bits. Then I go wild: I decide a Jewish woman who dates a pig farmer can take a taste of pork.

That’s good writing. And there’s so much of it out there. I’m feeling way better about the future or writing after all.

(Photo credit: Maria Skaldina/Shutterstock)