Brand You Survival Kit

When Tom Peters first wrote about Brand You, it was cool. Now it's life or death.

Reinvention. What a quintessential American idea! It's the frontier spirit. It's Ben Franklin, it's Ralph Waldo Emerson, and by God, it's Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey, too. They all understand the American impetus and genius for wholesale self-reinvention. We survive by staring change in the eye--and adapting. Look at us now. Our white-collar jobs are being offshored, and the possibility of lifetime employment is evaporating before our eyes. What's next is ultimately about reinvention. A passive approach to professional growth will leave you by the wayside.

In the new frontier, the only way to protect yourself is to realize that you have to be the boss of your own show. Brand You. Me Inc. It matters. When I wrote about this in Fast Company in the summer of 1997, it was cool. But now it's necessary. Ain't no choice, bro. Even if this idea scares you to death, ordinary has become a design for disaster. It's not easy to embrace. If you grew up thinking that you were going to work for Citibank for 40 years, you're simply not going to survive with the same set of attitudes that you've had in the past. If you're going to reinvent yourself for this new reality--and I say "if," but it's really not an option--here's how to develop the attitude that will let you reimagine yourself as the CEO of Me Inc. and save yourself before it's too late.

Think About Great Gigs

You undoubtedly read Dilbert. I read Dilbert. We laugh at Dilbert, and Dilbert talks of a world where, fundamentally, the opportunity to create your own shtick doesn't come easy. Workers aren't exactly inundated with projects that would create a signature. But now there is a requirement that you take assignments and bend them in a way that allows you to have something to talk about. Every employee who will survive has to turn projects into stuff that gets the person on the other side of the recruiter's desk excited. The frustration of it is that it's not typically the way things have worked in finance, HR, or logistics departments. They don't produce new products or art portfolios that are tangible signs of what you've accomplished. But it's precisely that mentality you have to pursue if you're a 28-year-old relatively junior member on a PricewaterhouseCoopers tax consulting team. Where's the value you added to that project? Where's your signature?

Be a Spin Doctor

Reimagining Brand You is not a one-time thing. You need to revolutionize your portfolio of skills at least every half-dozen years. This is a minimum survival necessity.

Yes, you have your story of what you've done in your job, but you have to put the best twist on it. On each gig, you must be marketing your worth, marketing Me Inc. You can go too far (think Dennis Kozlowski or Martha Stewart), but you constantly have to spin-doctor. If you don't, you have what I call the "engineer's mentality"--and I am an engineer by training. People with an engineer's mentality believe that truth and virtue will automatically be their own reward. That's a crock, no matter what you do for a living. There are companies that don't like people who stick their necks out, but at the same time, they like people who succeed wildly. So if you choose to stay where you are, you have to learn the rules. The Brand You world doesn't let you hang out for 20 years with the same 17 people in the credit department.

Master Something

Competence in many skills is important, but it's not enough. The act is finding the stuff you love and getting so damn good at it that you become an indispensable human being. The new exemplar is Tim Monich, this guy neither you nor I have heard of, who is the go-to guy in Hollywood for teaching prima donnas foreign accents. I love this! This is classic Brand You. This guy is best-in-planet. He taught a bunch of Brits how to sound like rednecks for the movie Cold Mountain. He's the metaphor for all this. Monich is someone who found something he's good at, something he enjoys, and became the Tiger Woods equivalent in his world. I believe that within some small limits, it's not what the market says is worth something, it's what turns you on. If you don't develop mastery in something of specific economic value by the age of 35, you're a journeyman. Why be so dull?

Laugh Off the Fabulous Screwup

If you buy the mastery thing, you'll pursue different angles in assignments that you accept or concoct--and you're going to grow. And if you're growing, you're screwing up. You have to be able to laugh off the screwup and immediately move on to the next try. A sense of humor in this way is the sweet spot of a Brand You attitude. You may not always be laughing as you pursue mastery. But growth comes from learning an off-speed slider during spring training and having the guts to throw it to Alex Rodriguez in June. And then, after A-Rod unloads the sucker into the third deck of Yankee Stadium, having the guts to throw it to Nomar Garciaparra two days later. After the third home run, you either drop the pitch or you finally get the thing mastered and start making fools out of those hitters. The top athletes are consummate pros who work obsessively at their craft. Approach yours the same way.

Embrace Ambiguity

Mastery is great, but even that is not enough. You have to be able to change course without a bead of sweat, or remorse. All bets are off. Nobody knows what the hell he or she is doing. You can't just "deal with" constantly slipping and sliding circumstances; you actually need to thrive on that ambiguity. There is a fabulous book called Franklin and Winston, by Jon Meacham (Random House, 2003), and one of the many one-liners worth remembering is when Eleanor Roosevelt says, "Franklin just can't wait to get into the Oval Office every morning because he loves the game so much." If you watch The West Wing, or read the front page of The Washington Post, you know these Washington people get a kick out of the game. And you need to love your game.

Loyalty Ain't Dead

It's more important than ever, in fact. It's loyalty to peers in your industry and not to a hierarchy. You have to develop a Rolodex obsession, building and deliber-ately managing an ever-growing network of professional contacts. My wife, Susan Sargent, runs a home-furnishings business. She's planning to go from two retail stores to a half-dozen or so over the next number of years. To do this, she needs money. Susan is not a typical old-girl networker, but she has been working the networks in Boston, with angel investors and so on, which is a little unnatural for her, but that's the way you get engaged with these things. Some networks are dead ends, but if she pursues enough of them, she'll probably work her way into the right ones.

Appreciate New Technology

The hard truth is that lots of people simply aren't going to "get" new technologies. But you don't have to be an expert, just someone who recognizes how technology can suddenly turn a business upside-down. The stuff that's going to change the world? For the first five years, it's totally useless. The hype is insane. But then you wake up one morning and discover that a leading candidate for a major-party presidential nomination is some oddball from Vermont who figured out how to use the Web to start a movement. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that the number-one test of a first-rate mind is its ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time while continuing to function. With technology, the answer is to be completely skeptical and totally naive in equal measure. The term that we need to invent is "dewy-eyed curmudgeon."

Never Be Satisfied

Reimagining Brand You is not a onetime thing. Picking up new skills on an as-needed basis used to be a reasonable strategy. Not anymore. You need to revolutionize your portfolio of skills every half-dozen years, if not more often. This is a minimum survival necessity. Uprooting may be painful, but to me, these are truly exciting times. Remember my mantra: distinct ... or extinct.

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52 Comments

  • Josef

    I like that they mention having a sense of humor as an important element to branding yourself. The test of the ability to grow is to master the rueful smile, because if you rebrand yourself you are going to screw up a little now and then. I have spent some late nights shaking my head at the things I have tried, but I have never regretted those attempts. I've just thought "if I had only I had.." it might have worked out. Those are the real learning moments!

  • DEEPANKAR DEY

    we are the brand of ourselves. How we think , how we project ourselves is how we can market ourselves.In the article their are lots of examples who had achieved something in their life and  by their hard work and perseverance  that had gone much ahead of their fellow mates. One heading which i liked was that one should never be satisfied by what a person has. he should always try to search new things dig out more inside his life to explore more .

  • Anjali Bhojwani

    what i learned from this article is that it is important to brand yourself by doing the activities which you can potentially do, it also gives an inspiration to be ourselves and keep reinventing and to listen what your heart says so that one can be himself.

  • Shobhit Kumar Sahu

    Branding is creating a unique identity. Now when we talk about branding ourselves, it is a great challenge not only to the business we are involved but to our individuality too. Branding ourself would help us stand out from the rest, delivering great services. It will throw light upon our skills also.
     

  • GIRISH KHERAJANI

    every thing and examples explained are fantastic and help me to understand a good thing about me. I am a person who does what according to me is good and i also stand against which is irrelevant. At the end of the day when i sleep i find myself sleeping, talking with me myself. this method of listening to my own heart helps a lot and creates a lot of liveliness in my life and as well as in life of everybody around me.
    GIRISH KHERAJANI
    roll no 14 pgdm2 imdr

  • VIJAY KUMAR REDDY G

    In the present situation
    branding is important for organisations and even it is required for the people
    also. In my view branding yourself in positive approach will gain some confidence
    and increase your value and credibility and trust in others mind. For example
    in job interview branding you is important to get job. 

  • Shivangi Shah

    I partially agree with the writer. Dedication can help us even if we are
    not master in field. Loyalty is must in every relationship as it
    strengthens the bond. Technology and curiosity to learn are both
    essential qualities for survival in today's scenario.

  • Tanya Sengupta

    I partially agree with the writer. Dedication can help us even if we are not master in field. Loyalty is must in every relationship as it strengthens the bond. Technology and curiosity to learn are both essential qualities for survival in today's scenario.

  • Shivangi Shah

    This is not Tanya's comment. I couldn't log in when i submitted the comment. It appeared as her's. Apologies!!

  • Srinivasa Rao Chukkala


    Find out your
    field of interest. Become a master in it. It’s not simply pursuing mastery.
    Keep on find your interests. Do the same process again. Success is a continuous
    process. It never ends. A stone will be broken by last stroke; it doesn’t mean
    that previous strokes aren’t important.   

  • Kulranjan Singh Johal

    Branding is in my view a very simple thing and has been blown out of proportion by using jargons by these so called marketeers. Branding is making your separate identity in the market. But that is natural and this is what we would anyways do. All these things are pretty natural and have been there since eternity. I don't find anything new in it.

  • Sumitra A V

    I think
    what the writer is trying to say is that in life one must understand oneself
    and be a leader in something. We must embrace change and be flexible and accept
    things and be patient in what we do. He also says that one must accept change
    without remorse or regret. We have to be like a spring even if anything hits us
    we must bounce back and do better. This will help us survive and actually be
    happy in what we are doing.

  • siddharth golecha

    After attaining the mastery in something and when u have volatile or any new situation, the point
    of confusion arises in your mind whether your decision may go write or it may go wrong.
    The ability to test mind when you have two opposite ideas at the time of functioning. In technology
    at one end you are not sure about it and on the other hand you take it as technology makes the work faster and simpler.Different situations demands different skills from individual and if you are satisfied at one stage and didn’t want to update yourself then you are in a position of getting flunk. Always develop or update as much skills so that you can differentiate yourself from others and achieve success.

  • Monika Pathak

    Live your life like a river which changes
    with changing geography, getting stagnant isn’t an option for human beings is
    the opinion of the writer, agreed! 
    Nevertheless this philosophy has to be running within like blood in our
    veins not as some strategy in order to keep our jobs.

     

  • Shobhit Kansal

    Everyone is
    special on this earth. All we need is explore ourselves and get exposed to the
    outer world to keep pace with it and to survive. This would help you know yourself
    better. Never underestimate yourself and you can’t afford to lax at any point
    of time.

  • lokesh dua

    Re branding is for me to change continuously during your life time. It had also proved in the past during the course of evolution that you have to reinvent yourself at every step otherwise you will be extinct. The World is changing, so should we and we have to become master of what we love at, that is the only way to be successful.

  • Sobin Dominic

    According to me, this article is more important to U.S and
    other developed countries rather than developing countries. In the developed countries
    jobs are off shored to developing countries because of the low cost employees. More
    over the developed countries, they have limitation on their growth because they
    already developed. As a result to create more employment is little difficult. So
    here comes the importance of branding yourself. If you are good in a particular
    area, that should became your brand value and it will definitely differentiate
    you from others. The other thing is reinvent yourself because of the continuous
    change. As a result of experiences during the financial crisis, U.S people need
    to reinvent themselves and enhance their earning power in order to build wealth.
    The concept of self reinvention gets higher importance as the day progress.

     

    Sobin Dominic

    Roll no:-37

  • mohak kothari


    Yes branding is important but not by losing your identity.
    To brand yourself you need something unique and to do this you should first
    identify doing what makes you happy and concentrate on it because everything
    else you will do mechanically. So brand yourself without losing your identity

     

  • rajani.k

    In this dynamic world it is very important to keep changing
    and upgrading yourself all the time. You shouldn’t be resistant to the changes
    and new technologies, rather should have an attitude of accepting all that
    comes around and strive for continuous innovation. After all only the fittest
    survive.