Showers and your brand

Our brands are what other people think about us, whether “we” is a company or me. And it’s simple, we all have one because other people think about all of us at least some of the time.

Question is – what are they thinking? The second question is, what do you want them to think? And if the answer to either of those is, ‘I don’t care’ then stop reading – your brand will take care it itself but may possibly be on a solid course to nowhere.

I picked up a book today on branding. It was full of diagrams, strategies, bullet points and a hundred other things to think about when designing your personal brand. My approach is simpler – and it involves a shower.

When you climb in the shower your primary concern before washing is to get the temperature right. You start by making big adjustments and then refine them to smaller and smaller changes until the temperature is just right.

In the same way, your brand might initially require some major inputs to get it on track and then some smaller adjustments to keep it on course. Like a shower, a change on your part takes some time to result in a change in temperature. A change of approach on your part takes some time before people notice.

You make a change, there’s a delay and your brand changes.

It could start with your job. John is an accountant. That’s a brand. John’s landed a major new exciting job. John is a good accountant. John’s been made financial director. His brand is flying. There is suspicion that John assisted the CEO before he was fired for corruption. John’s brand is tailspinning and he is now known as ‘the former high flyer who is probably corrupt’.

See how it works. It’s simple and powerful. And your brand as you are reading this is being talked about, inflated or deflated. What do you think? Is your brand worth more than it was a year ago?

You could get more technical about it but in essence if you get this right your brand will be exactly where you want it. It just requires some pre-thought and management. The Shower Branding approach work exactly the same for us as individuals as they do for companies.

Oh and talking of showers, our President in waiting Jacob Zuma has a bit of a shower problem with his brand. Now if he would only focus on what he wants people to think about him as a brand instead of trying to sue the artist of the cartoons that linked his brand to the ridiculous comment he made at his rape trial. He could start moving towards a desired brand rather than entrenching the shower brand.

On being a recovering racist

I have had a few cathartic experiences living in this beautiful country of ours. One of them was in 1989 sitting in a room full of fellow students debating issues which to us at the time were very important for our organisation, AIESEC. We were gathered from 20 or so campuses around the country in a meeting room at Wits. At a point I looked around the room and realised that everything I had learned about race until that point was a lie. I think I’m still processing that experience. It was emotional because it meant that my schooling, my parents, my peers, my family and almost every influence that had formed me into the 22-year-old that I was, was so obviously wrong, on the count of race.

The stereotypes based on race had built on themselves and become stronger over the years. They were embedded in me and on that day they were shown up for their inadequacies.

The subtle, “them and us”, “they and we” in thousands of conversations with family and friends stood in stark contrast to my experience that day.

The less subtle history lessons at school which told stories with a perspective and with omissions that sharply influenced the meaning.

The not at all subtle experience of the army, sitting in townships and Namibia “defending our country” from the “dark communist forces who wanted to overthrow it”.

I know now that I was fortunate to sit in that room and experience that a person’s race was in fact a very poor way of describing and judging them. It occurred to me that I had a lot more in common with some of my black friends in the room than I did with the white folk. The whole stereotype of “them and us” fell apart like the reality that emerges after a bad dream.

More recently I was visiting with black friends in Graceland, a suburb of Khayelitsha, outside Cape Town. We had a braai on a Saturday night and were then wandering between shebeens in the neighbourhood. I realised that I was going to be late and phoned my wife to let her know.

“Careful when you come home” she said, “a man was hijacked and shot up the road last night”.

I put the phone down and was left thinking that surely the townships where I was pub crawling should be the dangerous place rather than the ADT patrolled “white suburbs” of Cape Town where I lived. Again my stereotypes that were so fixed, were being challenged.

Often I have taken Margaret, the lady who helps us bring up our children, to her home, also in a suburb on the Cape Flats. We chat about our different worlds. My children live in walled gardens and we have little daily contact with our neighbours and almost no sense of community.

Her children walk freely on the streets in a community which stretches for blocks. Everybody knows everybody else and mothers keep an eye on not only their children but also those of neighbours as they play in the streets.

I’m sad for the financial poverty of her world while I am envious of the strong sense of community. Her neighbourhood is opposite to mine.

I share these experiences because I believe I have been lucky. I have been forced to see that all is not as it seems. My stereotypes on race were strong from growing up in the 70s and 80s. These experiences have challenged them and made dents in them. But only dents. What we look for we see, and I have been forced to look for more than what is on the surface.

The world I grew up in was one where whites feared blacks and possibly the other way round too. The fear was encouraged and used to prop up a system we knew as apartheid. Then in a few short years it all changed. We put aside that dark past and live as if there was never an issue. We’ll just forget apartheid ever happened. “It was wrong,” I’ve heard whites say, “but now it’s over, let’s just move on”. Black and white overnight became equal. Or did they? The psychologists would say that we as a nation are in denial.

Ask a South African over 35 to describe an unknown person and listen how often it starts with, “He was a white guy…”, “that coloured oke”, “a black woman on a taxi”…

I’m pleased that my children don’t have race as a primary differentiator as I did and in fact still do. They will seldom use race as a way of describing someone. This gives me hope.

I sometimes challenge myself to describe someone without using race. My experience is that it is hard. This tells me that despite my best efforts and a huge amount of awareness over many years, I still have work to do.

My quite profound experience in the room at Wits where I sat with a bunch of blacks, whites and every shade in between — seeing so clearly the similarities rather than the differences between us, has helped.

That experience and others that were similar were early in my life. Over time, lots of time, the stereotypes slowly break down. They also stubbornly hang around. It feels like it is easier to perpetuate and build on a stereotype than it is to break it down.

If only as humans we could unlearn things easily. Imagine being able to hit our own internal UNDO button for something like racism. Twenty years after my experience in that AIESEC meeting, I feel like I am still a student learning about how not to be a racist.

I do and say all the right things but still need to catch myself on occasions. I wonder when people tell me so emphatically that they are not racist how they can be so sure. I find my subconscious, or is it my unconscious, pops up with all sorts of awkward things, learned in my childhood and stubbornly still present despite years of attempted reconditioning.

So I’m not sure. I wonder how other people cope with this. Is it just me that has this affliction, or are there perhaps others? What about the journalists who write newspaper columns and the people who decide what to put on the news. Advertisers, possibly even cartoonists. How do politicians and judges make decisions, setting aside this built-in programming?

Based on my experience I can only imagine it is hard. Logic is seldom involved. This is not something which is rational and easy to grapple with. I find it at times downright confusing. It feels like a lifelong challenge for me and possibly my generation. Or maybe it is just me.

This post was originally published on Thought Leader.

Listen to your body

“Listen to your body”, they say.

The two weeks when I was sick, and that sounds a lot worse than it was, I certainly listened to my body. When my eyes opened in the morning, I was sure I could hear my body saying, “stay in bed…. stay in bed…”, so I listened. I wasn’t majorly ill, a sore throat that took five days to develop and then migrate northwards to my sinuses for another – well if truth be told they’re not exactly clear just yet.

After some time of listening to the call to stay in bed most mornings, my angst about a little Ironman event coming up on the 5th April started shouting louder than the stay in bed cry and I started to train again. My knee which felt like it was about to break in two like a chicken bone in my first run after the illness certainly made its voice known. I wrote about that in a previous post.

As I pushed through the barriers to training and started to build momentum again, I did start to wonder about this ‘listen to your body thing’. Anyone who has trained half seriously for something will know what I mean about the initial push to build momentum and then at some point you wonder, how it was that there was a time in your life when you weren’t training as hard as this.

It feels like the most natural thing in the world to be climbing out of bed at some ungodly hour and heading out to do your exercise. Even if in a group it is a very personal thing. Likewise a break in training will have you wondering if it is ever possible to get back to the levels you were once at. I’ve certainly experienced that often enough.

If truth be told I think if I were to sit down and have a heart to heart with my body it would probably say, “do some yoga”, or perhaps “Pilates is good”. I don’t think it would ever say – go and do an Ironman – because no matter which way I look at it, it is quite hard sell – for a body that is.

I have some very specific reasons for doing it and my learning has been immense. I’ve enjoyed the discipline of the training over a long period of time – now for the second year, I have much greater awareness of my body and I know things about cycling, swimming, running and weight training which I would not ever have known had I not taken this on. I really believe I am a better person because of it as all this learning is against the backdrop of my mid-life which has made it even more significant.

Despite all this, I’ve had to refine the “Listen to your body” – mantra to include all aspects of my body – my mind, my psychology, my spirit and my physical body, in order to make it true for me. If it were purely my physical body, I’m sure that most of the time it would say – “stay in bed”. It is after all warm and comfy compared to the bike saddle, the pavements or the cool water of the swimming pool.

Five weeks to go on Sunday.

I am training for Ironman South Africa on 5th April 2009. This blog posting reflects on my experiences in training. This is for my benefit and also for anyone contemplating the Ironman. I completed the Ironman in 2008 for the first time. My primary goal is to finish, to have fun and learn. I’m a seriously social competitor.

"Don’t Panic"

I found myself struggling through my run this morning thinking about the “Don’t” word.

They say that often in a motor car accident, things will go pear shaped and the car will be skidding and while it is skidding there will be one object which the driver will absolutely not want to hit and by focusing flat out on not hitting it, staring it down to make sure they avoid it all costs, concentrate so hard so that they don’t hit that tree they of course drive straight into it.

Two weeks ago on a friends farm, one of their staff drove their Land Cruiser over a minor cliff. When I spoke to the driver later that evening he told me he had dreamt about driving off that very piece of road a year ago. I don’t know what he was thinking as he drove spun out of control and went over the edge, but possible it was “don’t drive over the edge!”

Some of the work my partner Paddy Upton has done with cricketers around the world has centered on this very thing. His discovery is that by concentrating on anything you bring it into the forefront and then it has more chance of becoming reality. “Don’t go out” (in cricket) becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. “Don’t get nervous (when you walk out in front of 30,000 people and you’re opening the batting)” is quite hard to do.

It seems that by thinking about something we bring it from our periphery vision into our line of site and it becomes something that we focus on.

Let me try out an example on you that I use in workshops.

Close your eyes and what I want you to do, no matter what, is “Don’t think of Pink Elephants”. Ok what are you thinking about?

I see it with my kids and I have no consciously changed my language (whenever I remember). Instead of saying ‘be careful don’t fall now’ when they are climbing a tree, I instead encourage them with positives such as “There you go, I knew you were a great climber.” It’s amazing but they fall less when I say that.

So I’m writing this because I started to panic on my run this morning. Just over five weeks to go to the Ironman and while I’ve done some great work to date, and I believe more than I did last year, I headed out for the first real exercise in about 14 days after being sick and hoping of course I would feel like a stallion. Not. More like a crippled donkey with a really sore knee. So I found myself thinking “Don’t panic” which brought up the string of thoughts above – as I of course panicked.

So instead I’m now saying to myself, one day at a time and enjoy the journey. Follow your training strategy and all will be good.

Let me try that one more time…
I am training for Ironman South Africa on 5th April 2009. This blog posting reflects on my experiences in training. This is for my benefit and also for anyone contemplating the Ironman. I completed the Ironman in 2008 for the first time. My primary goal is to finish, to have fun and learn. I’m by no means a serious competitor.