Category Archives: Brand

Personal brand

I remember back in the 90s we explained brands to people as the personality of an organization.

Today the idea of branding is more immediate to us than the reality of souls. We talk about selfhood using the language brand strategy.

It is strange to me how so many children who fancy themselves anti-capitalist have internalized marketing so deeply that they understand themselves as examples of marketing segments of a political party.

The victory of the marketing worldview

The training of students to conceptualize themselves in terms of “intersectionality” of identity represents the victory of the marketing worldview over all other philosophical competitors. Those who are truly of our times have internalized their demographics and have no desire to be anything but demographics.

And consider this: kids today understand their own personalities in terms of “personal brand”. This is the reverse of how all older generations made sense of brand. For them, personality was the immediate reality, and brands made sense only as the personalities of organizations. Now kids find more reality in Apple and Starbucks than in each other, which is hardly surprising because the best marketers in the business are branding these companies, where the self-branding efforts of young people are amateurish. They’re still trying to get a grip on their category (that is, their intersectionality) and haven’t figured out their differentiation, yet, much less their unique brand attributes and their look, feel, voice or tone.*

And for kids, most of what is called “social interactions” take place on social media, which is really more of an interpersonal marketing platform than a medium for individuals to know other individual. What takes place outside of social media serves primarily as social media PR material. Again: this is how marketing pros think.

So, given all this, is it surprising at all that the entrepreneur is the new rock star? The kids don’t want to be in bands. They want to be in startups. And this is more true for kids of the left than anyone else.

Marketing won. Socialism lost.


*Note: For the kids tying to find themselves, I recommend Marty Neumeier’s Zag or maybe Blue Ocean Strategy. By now most companies have figured out they can’t differentiate on the standard corporate cliches like “quality”, “reliability”, “our people” or “innovation”, but the kids haven’t learned the same principle, which is partly why their branding is so inferior to that of the Fortune 500s. They haven’t yet gotten it through their heads that they can’t differentiate on the analogous personal branding cliches. Exotic sexualities and gender definitions are the “we are innovative” of youth self-branding. When everyone’s differentiating the same way, nobody is differentiated. Cutting and other destructive habits also now fail to differentiate. Weakness positioning has become too common, too expected, and is all played out. I expect the current victim bubble to collapse soon. My recommendation is to do the opposite from the herd. Look into strength positioning strategies. Not many people are doing that right now. It’s harder, and harder is perennially unpopular.


Design as gift (edit for 10ke)

Design is like gift-giving. How?

When one person gives another person a perfect gift, the gift is valuable in three ways:

  1. The gift itself is intrinsically valuable to the one receiving it. The giftis good to have in one’s life, because it makes life easier, more pleasant or more meaningful.
  2. The gift contributes to the receiver’s own self-understanding and identity. The gift becomes symbolic of the receiver’s own relationship to the world — an example what they experience as good, which can signify the recipient’s ideals in concrete form, in ways that explicit language often cannot.
  3. The perfection of the gift is evidence that the giver cares about and understands who the receiver is. The successful giving of a perfect gift demonstrates that the giver was moved to reflect on what the receiver will value and consequently has real insight into who they are as an individual and what they are all about.

Great design experiences are similar to gifts. When a design  is successful the beneficiary of the design gets something valuable, sees tangible proof they are valued and understood, and experiences an intensification or expansion of their sense of self.

Private liberty and political freedom

I am currently reading Chantal Mouffe’s Democratic Paradox, which explores a fundamental tension inherent in all liberal-democratic societies, which can be summarized by Marvin Simkin’s famous formulation: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch. Freedom comes from the recognition of certain rights which may not be taken, not even by a 99% vote.”

…with modern democracy, we are dealing with a new political form of society whose specificity comes from the articulation between two different traditions. On one side we have the liberal tradition constituted by the rule of law, the defence of human rights and the respect of individual liberty; on the other the democratic tradition whose main ideas are those of equality, identity between governing and governed and popular sovereignty. There is no necessary relation between those two distinct traditions but only a contingent historical articulation.

…it is vital for democratic politics to understand that liberal democracy results from the articulation of two logics which are incompatible in the last instance and that there is no way in which they could be perfectly reconciled. Or, to put it in a Wittgensteinian way, that there is a constitutive tension between their corresponding ‘grammars’, a tension that can never be overcome but only negotiated in different ways. This is why the liberal-democratic regime has constantly been the locus of struggles which have provided the driving force of historical political developments. The tension between its two components can only be temporarily stabilized through pragmatic negotiations between political forces which always establish the hegemony of one of them.

One of the problems dogging discourse in the United States (though, honestly, probably not in the top 1000 problems) is that we lack precise language for distinguishing between an individual’s rights against majority views (a negative conception of liberty), and the rights of communities to provide themselves support to maintain themselves (a positive political freedom to shape one’s society).

When I think about it this way, it becomes clear to me that the primary value of the free market is not, in fact, to provide the maximum individual private liberty, but rather to establish conditions favorable to political freedom of autonomous communities, that is, companies.

It is for this reason that I have become interested in the free market. It is not enough anymore for me to have my own individual liberty. I want to do things to the world, with other people, in a community with specific values, hopes and goals. I want to belong to a branded company.

But if you think this means I’m becoming an advocate for de-regulation, you’d better think again. Just as powerless individuals ought to be protected from other stronger individuals, if we believe in corporate personhood (and why not?) then let’s go all the way and grant it to corporate persons of all sizes. Wouldn’t this mean protecting small corporate persons from being anti-competitively bullied by bigger corporate persons?

And while we are at it, if entrepreneurship is the fullest realization of American freedom, doesn’t that set a new goal? Are we not morally obligated to provide all Americans equal access to not only to individual liberty but also to true political freedom? This does not mean all risk is removed, but it should mean that there is not a gross difference in consequences of failure. As things stand where a rich man who fails will certainly be crestfallen and have to cut back on some luxuries, a poor person who fails faces loss of healthcare for her/his family, long-term credit destruction (which extends far beyond denial of credit), to an environment that is physically safe and to adequate education for her/his children. There’s a point where freedom becomes a merely theoretical possibility.

This region of thought is pretty new to me, so I’m guessing none of this is very new, but it sure is exciting.


1st person brands

In general, it can be said that branding seeks to influence how people see the branded entity relative to its competitors positioned in a competitive landscape.

But this purpose can be accomplished in quite different ways.

Normal branding tends to accepts a conventional view of a market as given, and works on how the branded entity is perceived when seen from this view. It tends to position products by looking for unoccupied areas in the landscape and marking territory there, and “owning that space” by identifying the brand with certain desirable characteristics. It then builds the brand on that space by emphasizing those differences, messaging the importance of the differences, aestheticizing the differences in order to make them as appealing as possible.

A different approach to branding attempts to influence how people see the market, by showing a different angle from which it can be viewed — one that reveals the branded entity at its best angle and the competitors at their worst. In this approach, the branded entity shows the customer its own activities, needs, desires and pain-points in a new way that the branded entity is uniquely suited to address. The component parts of the shift — which are not to be seen as discrete pieces to craft bit by but, but rather as parts of a whole to be developed together — are simultaneously factual, practical, ethical and emotional — and form an ethos that is inhabited and participated in.

Another way to characterize the two approaches: the former treats brands as 3rd person (an object of sight), and the latter treats brands as 1st person (a way of seeing). The 3rd person brand is passive in respect to the viewer, and concentrates all its efforts on presenting itself as compellingly as possible. The 1st  person brand invites the viewer to join it in looking at things from a fresher and more productive angle. And that angle reflects the 1st person brand in the best light, at the best angle so the brand doesn’t even have to preen or present. It is just naturally the best choice.


Pain of innovation

The primary obstacle to innovation of every kind is the pain of philosophy, which begins as angst before blooming into perplexity.


We don’t hate new ideas because they’re new.

We don’t even hate new ideas because they displace beloved old ideas.

We hate new ideas because they require the creation of conceptual vacuum before we can understand them.

A conceptual vacuum is not like empty space. It is empty of articulated order, which means it overflows with everything-at-once. It is chaos.


The depth of an idea means: “how much forgetting does it require in order to be understood?”

More depth = more forgetting = more pain.


Real innovation is the product of deep thought. That is, it involves forgetting the conventional wisdom of some realm of activity, re-conceiving it, and thinking out the consequences. This alone generates new ideas capable of inspiring people.

But most people have no taste for thinking, much less thinking in depth. They see thinking and doing — and especially creative doing — as opposed. To this sensibility, disciplined thought and research — anything that seems to question or negate can only encumber the creative process, which is understood to be purely positive. So the method is brainstorm the maximum number of ideas possible — very deliberately excluding thought.

What comes from this process is usually large heaps of uninspiring cleverness, which gets translated into forgettable products, services and marketing.

Doing something really different requires a hell of a lot more than ingenuity. It requires the courage to take the preliminary step of “thinking different”, and then the faith to relentlessly execute upon the new thinking. We reject what comes before and after, and pay attention only to the easy middle part.

  • Before: Philosophy
  • Middle: Ideation
  • After: Operationalization


The very deepest ideas draw us into the underworld of mind. To grasp them we must cross the river of forgetfulness, and then grope through limbo, without boundary stones, maps, compasses or stars to guide us. If we look back, all is lost. We are trapped in the old life, rooted to the institutional view, pillars of respectability.


When we rethink how we think, we gain freedom of movement, first in mind, then in body.

Chain of differentiations

Differentiated brands are rooted in differentiated offerings.

Differentiated offerings are rooted in differentiated strategies.

Differentiated strategies are rooted in differentiated operations.

Differentiated operations are rooted in differentiated organizational structures.

Differentiated organizational structures are rooted in differentiated roles.

Differentiated roles are rooted in differentiated personalities.

(By “differentiated personality”, I mean having a personality that doesn’t easily fit into a standard professional role definition.)


Undifferentiated brands have things  easier.

They have an easier time explaining themselves because they conform to expectations customers have already learned from their competitors. They have an easier time explaining their offerings because the offerings differ from others by well-established attributes. (“Ours is cheaper.” or faster, or lighter, or easier to use, or whatever.) They don’t have to put too much work into strategy, nor do they have to take risks with untried approaches to solving new problem. Instead they can assemble their strategy from readily-available and well-proven best practices. The same is true for their operations and hiring. They’ll find ready-made employees with ready-made knowledge of how to do things, who can just plug right into place and do their thing with no training required, and no adjustment to idiosyncrasies. Plug the role into the hole, and flip the switch and out comes industry-standard deliverables.

For all these reasons, and more, few companies choose to differentiate. Entire industries lack real differentiated brands. And it all works out fine, until it stops working.


Though Nietzsche rarely spoke of Hegel, and when he did he treated him more as a cultural force than a source of valid ideas, it is clear to me, based on my own experience of reading him, that Nietzsche thought dialectically, in the Hegelian sense.

It is undeniable that the Birth of Tragedy has an explicitly dialectical structure, and Nietzsche’s later disavowals of the work centered more on their treatment of Wagner than in the Apollinian-Dionysian-tragic dialectic at the center of the book. Actually, that structure is the key to understanding the apparent self-contradictions that pervade the rest of his work.

Continue reading Apollinian-Dionysian-tragic

Pluralism, education, competition, and brand

Some forms of competition support pluralism, and some forms of competition undermine it. This fact has become conspicuous to me looking at the issue of school competition.

If K-12 schools were to compete like universities, creating areas of distinction, basing their claims of excellence on the accomplishments and reputations of faculty and alumni, that would be a form of school competition that would generate diverse approaches to education, suitable to a wide variety of adult destinies. But if school competition were to become a matter of who produces the highest standardized test scores, I think it would have the opposite effect. The differences would center around pedagogical techniques for approaching as closely as possible a predetermined ideal.


I wish I could find the source, but years ago I read an article that claimed that what was different about the American business culture — the very secret of its flourishing — was its nearly-reckless environment of forgiveness, which encouraged risk, experimentation, optimism and consequently innovation. In Japan, if you took a risk and blew it, that was it for your career. In America, you were admired for your daring.

My question is this: Is our educational system encouraging or undermining this kind of inventiveness. Historically, how much has America’s success rested on technical proficiency — math and science — and how much on sheer confidence? Maybe those ludicrously high self-esteem scores of our students, so frequently ridiculed (most recently in Waiting for Superman) are actually a success indicator.

My fear, to put it in brand terms, is that the USA has turned its back on its brand, and has committed itself to becoming and international commodity. Our educational system is part of our unconscious national brand activation.


And to circle this whole mess around to the start, I think what attracts me to brand is that competition between brands, to the degree that the brands really are positioned against one another, is a pluralistic mode of competition. Multiple standards of excellent compete against one another for business.

Two ways to approach brand

For the technical definitions of bullshit and chickenshit, see yesterday’s (re-re-)post on the topic.

I don’t care how many times you say “baked-in” or “activated” or “experience” or whatever…

…if brand only comes up in the context of marketing…

…if soul-searching on “who are we?” occurs mainly in the context of proposals and pitch decks…

…if entire meetings about operations, processes, finances, hiring, or  development of offerings pass without a singe person asking “is this on-brand?”…

…that means: in action — where it counts — you subscribe to the bullshit-coated chickenshit branding paradigm. Or, it might mean that you are a commodity who makes no pretense of brand, which is awesome, and I salute you for your rare, bold and courageous honesty.

Je ne sais quoi management

To the degree a person you address resists reduction to explicit language that person approaches individuality.

To the degree an object resists reduction to explicit language that object approaches art.

To the degree a particular object is loved by a particular person, that object is a gift.


To the degree that the spirit of an organization defies explicit description, yet in whatever it does or makes the organization is unmistakably who it is, that organization has a brand.


To have a brand an organization must learn to relate to realities that are not reducible to the explicit. It must learn to recognize these realities, acknowledge them, affirm them, share them, project them, but most of all to be animated by them so they can manifest.

But first, organizations must learn two habits anathema to many corporations: to not kill these realities on sight by insisting they exist as manageable “knowledge” (or surrender claims to existence), and not to try to assemble surrogates of such realities out of pieces and parts (like 99% of brand documentation).

In my experience what is common to the most “corporate” (that is, brandless) corporations is the dominance of a kind of personality who becomes highly anxious, impatient and contemptuous in the face of whatever cannot be communicated quickly and explicitly and subsequently explicitly proceduralized then explicitly measured. (These same brandless organizations can be fanatical about adherence to explicitly defined corporate brand standards. It’s like nervous teenagers who haven’t yet “found themselves”, so they invent and cling tenaciously to formal consistent quirks while carefully following teen culture best practices: fashion. They define themselves by outward appearance. “I’m the emo kid with the pink sling hair who loves xxx.”)

An organization that masters the skill of relating to unmasterable realities will cultivate relationships with actual people (and stop attempting to elicit behaviors from aggregates of attributes), it will learn to create compelling offering (not more impressive specs and a longer feature list), and its offerings will become incomparable (and not merely “competitive”).

An organization that cannot make this leap should stop aping brands and get down to the hard, hard business of competing as a commodity. That means efficiency. Indulging in empty, distracting and ineffectual bullshit is not efficient. Keep the logo; cut the branders.

Internal brand

I’ve worked with many companies. The happiest companies were the ones who lived by authentic brands. The most miserable companies were the ones where there was no lived brand — where brand was neglected altogether or served as a facade strictly for customers.

Authentic brand humanizes organizations, ensouls machinery with culture.

Authentic brand points to an ideal beyond the interests of individual employees, but the beyond is not exclusionary. It affirms and reinforces the interests of employees who are aligned to the ideal. It isn’t objective or impersonal: it is superpersonal, which means it exceeds personal interests without excluding them.

Without authentic brand, a company has no being for employees to buy into, to take pride in, or to belong to. There is no ideal to unite in or appeal to, there’s only raw political force of self-interested individuals, animated by fear, avarice, ambition or the pleasure of exercising power.


Brand serves the same cultural purpose as principles.

Authentic principles animate a person. Inauthentic principles are spin — the principles are added after the fact.

Authentic brand animates a company. Inauthentic brand is spin — the qualities of the brand are added after the fact.

Principles and brand make spiritual beings persistent, steady, appealable, nonarbitrary: worthy of relationship.


I think brand might be even more important to employees than to customers.

I wonder if great brands might work because of the effect they have on the employees.

Inward happiness is attractive. Fake happiness is fake.

Fake brand is “corporate”. Inward brand is something we invite in.


What was initially only a mnemonic device to help a customer remember a company or product became a device to help customers associate values, feelings and attributes of a company or product, which then became a manifestation of values, feelings and attributes of a company or product which binds together customers and employees in a mutually affirmative relationship.

Understanding and selling

If you buy what you are selling from yourself, thinking “If I won’t buy it from myself, how can I expect someone else to buy it from me?” — at best you are deluding yourself. You aren’t motivated to buy from yourself by any motive your customer will ever share. And at worse you are deceiving them. You are pretending that you are buying your own product because you believe in it, when in fact you are buying it solely to help you sell it.

A better approach is to ask yourself honestly: “If I haven’t sold myself on my own offering, how can I expect anyone else to be sold on it?” Then realize: “I haven’t figured out what is compellingly awesome about my offering.”


There’s many ways to understand any one thing. Some ways of understanding are more compelling than others.

The best practice for finding new ways to understand, and to assess the persuasive force of an understanding is dialogue.

Gadamer on dialogue

Reposting from my professional blog, Synetic Brand

This passage gets very close to the crux of synetic brand:

When we try to examine the hermeneutical phenomenon through the model of conversation between two persons, the chief thing that these apparently so different situations — understanding a text [NOTE: or a design] and reaching an understanding in a conversation — have in common is that both are concerned with a subject matter that is placed before them. Just as each interlocutor is trying to reach agreement on some subject with his partner, so also the interpreter [ / user] is trying to understand what the text [ / design] is saying. This understanding of the subject matter must take the form of language. It is not that the understanding is subsequently put into words; rather, the way understanding occurs — whether in the case of a text or a dialogue with another person who raises an issue with us — is the coming-into-language of the thing itself. Thus we will first consider the structure of dialogue proper, in order to specify the character of that other form of dialogue that is the understanding of texts. Whereas up to now we have framed the constitutive significance of the question for the hermeneutical phenomenon in terms of conversation, we must now demonstrate the linguisticality of dialogue, which is the basis of the question, as an element of hermeneutics.

Our first point is that the language in which something comes to speak is not a possession at the disposal of one or the other of the interlocutors. Every conversation presupposes a common language, or better, creates a common language. Something is placed in the center, as the Greeks say, which the partners in dialogue both share, and concerning which they can exchange ideas with one another. Hence reaching an understanding on the subject matter of a conversation necessarily means that a common language must first be worked out in the conversation. This is not an external matter of simply adjusting our tools; nor is it even right to say that the partners adapt themselves to one another but, rather, in a successful conversation they both come under the influence of the truth of the object and are thus bound to one another in a new community. To reach an understanding [synesis] in a dialogue is not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view, but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were.


Synetic branding is neither organization-centric, nor is it user-centric.

Synetic branding is relationship-centric, which means all parties, through dialogue, come to a mutually transformative  shared understanding.

Synetic branding is the method of generating dialogue between an organization and those who participate in the organization (stakeholders). “To reach [synesis] in a dialogue is not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view, but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were.”

Synetic branding sees brand neither as the possession of an organization, nor as the image of the organization in the minds of customers, etc. Neither is exactly wrong, but neither is nearly right enough.

Synetic branding is participatory, which means that brand is a whole that exceeds each of its parts, which both influences and is influenced by its parts. A participant in a synetic brand, whether he participates as an executive, an employee, a shareholder, a partner or a customer, sees by way of the brand’s vision, but to some degree changes the brand’s vision through his participation. The object of this vision is the field with which an organization concerns itself and its offerings within that field, but the vision extends far beyond the object, and influences aesthetic (thus brand identity systems) and how related offerings are perceived (thus brand equity).

Synetic branding means taking responsibility for cultivating mutual understanding among all who participate and recognizing that the essence of a brand is precisely the mutuality of the understanding. Everything, including all the things people commonly mistake for brand itself, such as the image of the company in the minds of whoever), follows from this. Failure to recognize this fact is what has made so many companies into decorated commodity clones. They see everything the same way, manage themselves the same way, follow tweaked and relabeled versions of identical processes, make the same kinds of trade-offs and basically aim for the same ideal as everyone else.

Synetic brand uses large-scale dialogue between an organization’s participants to discover new unifying perspectives on an organization’s offerings that otherwise would remain invisible to everyone.

These perspectives open new questions and new possibilities in the organization’s field of concern. This is the foundation of meaningful innovation and sustainable competitive advantage.

More synetic branding

The perspective of an organization’s brand reveals that organization, its approach to its business and its offerings as superior. Its greatest importance — brand’s purpose — is to make these revelations of superiority happen.

However, a brand perspective affects more than just the specific objects brand seeks to reveal — it organizes many incidental things around the view, and these things also indicate the perspective.

However, just as where one stands in a room organizes the entire room within a particular perspective, not only the object of one’s attention to (say, a couch one is walking around to inspect it from all angles), the perspective of the brand changes the appearance of the brand’s context. The brand perspective “tilts its context”.

The brand perspective then is given reinforcing coherence by including all possible cues of where one stands when one sees by the brand perspective — that common ground from which one sees when one really understands what the organization stands for. They intuitively indicate where to stand, or better, indicate in a very immediate way that you stand on common ground with the brand in the way stars indicate to navigators where they’ve sailed their ships.

Brand is primarily a perspective one wishes to share. The word for the understanding one gains through seeing by a shared perspective is synesis. Synesis is the Greek word for understanding (literally “together”, both in the sense of “seeing together with…” as well as “seeing as together”) in perspectival unity. The goal of synetic branding is to bring customers to see the world from the point of view of the brand (the brand’s synetic point), by the brand perspective.


The fundamental elements of a brand model are:

  1. The brand perspective: From where it stands in regard to its purpose, how does the organization see what it is and does?
  2. The brand position: From where it stands in the competitive landscape, relative to itself how does the organization see its competition? (This is relative positioning: there is no single competitive landscape, only the landscape viewed from competing synetic points.)
  3. The brand attributes: From where it stands in the world, what looks right? What outward appearances conform to the ideal when one stands here?

Synetic branding

A good brand experience makes an organization’s perspective manifest to its stakeholders.

Some stakeholders are outsiders who have an outsider’s relationship to the organization. (e.g. current or prospective customers, the press, the interested public.) Other stakeholders constitute the organization itself. (e.g. employers, employees, partners, shareholders.)

The manifestation of the perspective takes the form of a sharing of understanding. Some of this understanding is explicit. Certain facts are agreed upon. The most important aspects of the understanding, however, are implicit: what is the significance of the facts at hand? What is the relative importance of each fact? How do the facts connect? What aspects of an offering are essential, and what aspects are less important or negligible?

Every act of design is one of balances and trade-offs. The best designs make its trade-offs feel obvious and necessary, to the point of invisibility. What is marginalized or omitted is what was irrelevant. (A classic example of this kind of trade-off is the London Underground “Tube map”.)

So, within the brand perspective is embedded the company’s standards and rankings of value. Those things seen as most important are given the most attention and emphasis. The less important things are ignored or downplayed, sometimes pointedly. The standards and values determine how an organization behaves, how it presents itself and how it develops and delivers its offerings.

(The classic example: What makes a computer more or less desirable? Low price and high performance? Those who see it that way are unlikely to purchase a Macintosh. However, if you view computers the way Apple does and put a premium on how it feels to use and own a computer, you are likely to consider only a Macintosh when purchasing a new computer. Another example: What do you consider important the most important quality in a car? Style? Performance? If so, you probably won’t buy a Toyota. However, if you see reliability as the single most important quality in a car, it is very likely you will consider Toyota. Boring, but compelling. Consequently, there are many Toyota owners, and very few Toyota enthusiasts. Toyota makes cars for people who don’t love cars.)

If an organization wishes to have an authentic, compelling brand its leadership must 1) actually have a perspective on what it does that is different from its competition, 2) the perspective must be one that can be shared, 3) the leadership must know how to share its perspective, 4) the perspective must be practically consequential (the perspective changes the way one acts), and 5) the organization’s leadership must have the courage to believe its own eyes and to actually live and lead according to how it sees. It cannot constantly second-guess itself, equivocate, compromise or waffle between its perspective and the myriad other ways of seeing.

This does not mean one denies the existence or validity of other ways of seeing. It does not mean that one does not believe in the possibility that other ways of seeing might turn out to be better. (If you have a taste for such things, allow your mind to boggle for a moment at what it means to see a new definition of better as better than the one you currently hold! Better… how?)

It does, however mean one sees for himself. It means that one listens to others in order to see with them what they are seeing, and to share with them what one is seeing. This listening and sharing — dialogue in the proper sense — presupposes an expectation of seeing for oneself and the insight that one could at any moment see differently, and that difference could be deeply and extensively consequential.

Most of all it means that a leader who wished to lead an organization with a real brand must see by a genuine brand vision.


Leaders who lack vision rarely know it. They believe an ability paint a vivid, desirable and detailed picture of the future and to lay out a plan for actualizing that picture is having vision. The mistake is understandable — some imagination and ability to visualize and describe is involved. It is a valuable skill for a leader to possess. However, this is not vision.

Vision is seeing what their organization is and does in a distinctive, persuasive and consequential way. This way of seeing makes their organization look, feel and behave differently from its peers.

It is a subtle difference, but a substantial and consequential one. The ability to share one’s ambitions and plans persuasively might help an organization perform better, but it won’t help it accomplish anything new. If this were all vision were, nobody would care much about vision. It would just be another skill.


There are multiple levels of branding needed in user experience projects:

  1. The company has an articulated brand, its offerings are deliberately on-brand. What is required is framing the company and product in a reinforcing on-brand experience.
  2. The company lacks an articulated brand, but has developed its offerings through a tacit brand vision. What is required is a) articulating the brand (minimum: brand perspective, brand attributes and positioning statement)  and b) framing the company and product in a reinforcing on-brand experience.
  3. The company lacks an articulated brand, and has developed its offerings through a tacit and unclear or inconsistent brand vision. What is required is a) articulating the brand (minimum: brand perspective, brand attributes and positioning statement), b) framing the company and product in a reinforcing on-brand experience, c) a establishing a program to communicate the brand articulation throughout the organization and, d) and additionally, developing parallel programs to operationalize the brand – that is, to redesign the organizations processes to produce on-brand offerings and uniformly on-brand customer experiences at every touchpoint.
  4. The company lacks brand altogether, and has developed its offerings strictly through imitation of best practices or inconsistently according to fragmentary individual or factional whim. What is required is a) anthropological study of the organizational culture and the stakeholders it serves  to understand the possibilities, given the organization’s traditions, constitution and contexts. From this foundation a brand strategy consisting of a brand articulation and supporting operational changes can be developed to transform the organization into a coherent culture.

Brand is the outward expression of an authentic, coherent culture. This is why, despite the fact that all companies have logos and most have corporate graphic standards, very few have actual brands.

Most brands are like most people. They try to play a part without really being it. It is hollow and unpersuasive.

Aesthetic differentiation

Gadamer on the Romantic/modern conception of aesthetics:

The shift in the ontological definition of the aesthetic toward the concept of aesthetic appearance has its theoretical basis in the fact that the domination of the scientific model of epistemology leads to discrediting all the possibilities of knowing that lie outside this new methodology [“fiction”!].

Let us recall that in the well-known quotation from which we started, Helmholtz knew no better way to characterize the quality that distinguishes work in the human sciences from that in the natural sciences than by describing it as “artistic.” Corresponding positively to this theoretical relationship is what we may call “aesthetic consciousness.” It is given with the “standpoint of art,” which Schiller first founded. For just as the art of “beautiful appearance” is opposed to reality, so aesthetic consciousness includes an alienation from reality — it is a form of the “alienated spirit,” which is how Hegel understood culture (Bildung). The ability to adopt an aesthetic stance is part of cultured (gebildete) consciousness. For in aesthetic consciousness we find the features that distinguish cultured consciousness: rising to the universal, distancing from the particularity of immediate acceptance or rejection, respecting what does not correspond to one’s own expectation or preference.

We have discussed above the meaning of the concept of taste in this context. However, the unity of an ideal of taste that distinguishes a society and bonds its members together differs from that which constitutes the figure of aesthetic culture. Taste still obeys a criterion of content. What is considered valid in a society, its ruling taste, receives its stamp from the commonalities of social life. Such a society chooses and knows what belongs to it and what does not. Even its artistic interests are not arbitrary or in principle universal, but what artists create and what the society values belong together in the unity of a style of life and an ideal of taste.

In contrast, the idea of aesthetic cultivation — as we derived it from Schiller — consists precisely in precluding any criterion of content and in dissociating the work of art from its world. One expression of this dissociation is that the domain to which the aesthetically cultivated consciousness lays claim is expanded to become universal. Everything to which it ascribes “quality” belongs to it. It no longer chooses, because it is itself nothing, nor does it seek to be anything, on which choice could be based. Through reflection, aesthetic consciousness has passed beyond any determining and determinate taste, and itself represents a total lack of determinacy. It no longer admits that the work of art and its world belong to each other, but on the contrary, aesthetic consciousness is the experiencing (erlebende) center from which everything considered art is measured.

What we call a work of art and experience (erleben) aesthetically depends on a process of abstraction. By disregarding everything in which a work is rooted (its original context of life, and the religious or secular function that gave it significance), it becomes visible as the “pure work of art.” In performing this abstraction, aesthetic consciousness performs a task that is positive in itself. It shows what a pure work of art is, and allows it to exist in its own right. I call this “aesthetic differentiation.”

Whereas a definite taste differentiates — i.e., selects and rejects — on the basis of some content, aesthetic differentiation is an abstraction that selects only on the basis of aesthetic quality as such. It is performed in the self-consciousness of “aesthetic experiences.” Aesthetic experience (Erlebnis) is directed towards what is supposed to be the work proper — what it ignores are the extra-aesthetic elements that cling to it, such as purpose, function, the significance of its content. These elements may be significant enough inasmuch as they situate the work in its world and thus determine the whole meaningfulness that it originally possessed. But as art the work must be distinguished from all that. It practically defines aesthetic consciousness to say that it differentiates what is aesthetically intended from everything that is outside the aesthetic sphere. It abstracts from all the conditions of a work’s accessibility. Thus this is a specifically aesthetic kind of differentiation. It distinguishes the aesthetic quality of a work from all the elements of content that induce us to take up a moral or religious stance towards it, and presents it solely by itself in its aesthetic being.

Parenting a company

Raising a child is not an act of building or assembly, but of cultivation. The child develops out of the generative forces given to him as his nature at birth. Some new qualities can be implanted, but these new qualities grow out of his nature. To think of the qualities as annexations is a deep mischaracterization of character-building which makes success a matter of pure luck. The parents literally does not know what they are doing.

Parents cannot make their children into whatever they’d like. A child begins life with a nature — a  temperament, talents, strengths and weaknesses. This nature can be cultivated into an adult personality that does full justice to the child’s nature, aligns all his natural forces, and provides the child with authentic self-awareness — or the nature can be selectively ignored, wasted, suppressed or perverted to suit the parent’s prejudices and aims, with results that range from mediocrity to dysfunction.

The same can be said for a company. A company can be cultivated through good management and groomed to convey a brand to the outside world and to itself. Or leaders can fantasize out and decree a “brand” for the company that suits their own taste or the whatever they think their customers will like. The brand might “take”, but if the organizational culture — however embryonic it is — is ignored, the brand might flounder or even undermine the company’s development. Or worse, deprived of the inspiring resistance of nature, the leadership might concoct the normal hackneyed list of desirable traits (you know, integrity, openness, innovation, customer-centricity, blah, blah, blah) and create another generic corporate non-entity.

People who start from the outside and try to bring themselves into conformity to the world’s expectations tend to be somewhat bland, ineffectual and dully conflicted. The same is true for companys.