A brand is the distinct emotional experience people have with you or your business. Branding includes everything you do to shape that experience distinctly, consistently, and surprisingly. . How do you shape your brand story? How do you share your brand story in a way that feels integral to you and your business?

How Your Story Drives Your Impact

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When some of us think of leaders, we imagine the Richard Bransons, Gloria Steinems, Dan Prices, and Patriss Cullors of the world guiding big companies and grand movements.

If your frame of a leader is an ambitious extrovert driven by power and domination and big audacious change, then, you might not view yourself as a leader.

But Howard Gardner’s research and conclusions suggest that even if you’re more introverted and creatively driven by the craft of a good story you may have the makings of a leader and you might already be leading.

Howard Gardner is Co-Director of Project Zero (devoted to advancing arts learning as a serious cognitive activity) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education – and is best known as a thought leader in multiple intelligences. Gardner changed the way I thought about intelligence and education back in the ‘90s with his books on multiple intelligences, the mind, and creativity. In his book Intelligence Reframed (Basic Books 1999), Gardner sums up his studies of creators and his studies of leaders. What surprised him was how much they have in common.

Leaders change the way numerous people think and act. That’s what influence is – that fundamental change. The most effective and wise leaders, Gardner notes, effect change via story in a two-fold way. Read more

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When Vision Shifts, Values Stabilize

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We each see the world through our heritage of personality, experience, expertise, and values.

A software programmer develops her expertise. A doctor of integrated medicine develops his. A marketing specialist see the world and how to solve its problems through her lens, and an educator, through his.

Imagine they each are on the same interdisciplinary team of a big startup venture. It’s not an unfamiliar scenario.

How do they speak the same language in order to communicate, solve problems, and collaborate with momentum? What happens when their blossoming vision meets the reality of execution and market need?
Read more

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Why we fear standing out – and why we need to stop

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I work and speak with accomplished professionals who fear standing out with their own ideas and who fear their own influence.

In these times especially, we need intelligent, dedicated, creative people – business artists of all stripes – to name and claim their influential ideas and contribute lasting value through their businesses and the conversations they lead.

Business artists matter. They need to stand up and stand out.

If you’ve worked for organizations, companies, or groups for many years, you might have met with great accomplishment. You also likely have a degree or two or three. A training certification or two or three. Now you want to test out your own ideas. What holds you back?

I suspect you’ve learned the value of going along and of doing a good job by others’ standards. You’ve learned the rules, followed them, exceeded expectations. You’re knowledgable, personable, hard-working, even-tempered. You’re respected. You’ve blended in.

With your experience and expertise, it’s even possible that you’ve ventured out as an independent consultant or professional. Again, you’ve learned the rules, exceeded expectations, gained accomplishments. Even on your own, though, maybe you’re playing it safe. And you’re keeping your ideas to yourself. Read more

My Girls, My Tears, & Our Brand Stances

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I cry more often than you might think. It usually comes from feeling someone in pain more than admitting my own. Conversations and relationships plus music, art, film, books, and, yes, commercial videos turn on the tears for me.

My crying reflects back to me what I care about, what I stand for, what drives me.

My 7-year-old girl cries often, too. One January night last year, I gave her a brief overview of Martin (Michael) Luther King, Jr.’s life. As is par for her, the death fixated her curiosity. “Now why did he die? How did he die? Why did the man shoot him? That’s ridiculous. That’s just ridiculous to hate someone because of how they look.”

And then before bed she cried because of how MLK had died.

When I’m really honest with myself these days it’s both the knowledge of suffering and the conviction for something better for our world and, frankly, for my two girls that drives me. I do want to add my small verse to a world where we grown-ups can wonder and remember what is true, real, and beautiful.

I suspect something similar privately and deeply drives you, too.

Because here’s the deal, as I see it:

One view of our world in 2017 is that we as a species are becoming more and more hostile and divided, driven to distraction and despair.

Another view is that many of us are creating change – in big and small, large and quiet ways – in how we relate to each other, driven by conviction and ideals. Read more

To Be Famous Versus To Be Seen

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The Fleeting Clap

You could make a long list of celebrities who attained fame and then wished to flee from it as if fame were pursuing them instead of the other way around. Fame can be the siren’s song that lures you into thinking you need heaps of applause and accolades to feel good about your work in the world. It is the veneer reflection of good work.

Chase after applause, and you measure success and contentment by how many and how loud. When the clapping stops, you leave yourself wide open to a chasm of disappointment or worse.

Here’s an interesting thing: When you chase after applause, you’re in such a hurry to gauge other people’s surface responses that you overlook the very thing that brings you abiding joy – the challenges of honing a craft, building an endeavor, improving a skill set, learning to do something brand new, and making something that in turn changes the way people think or feel or act.

It’s tough to resist this lure of instant mini-fame. It’s especially tough in a time when programmers who make apps and social media platforms know how to tap into our base needs for instant gratification. Like, Like, Like, Like.

We don’t need fame to thrive. We don’t need millions of people throwing accolades our way for our art or business or endeavor to make an impact and to make a return.  Read more

Four Truths of a Brand Story

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People get confused about brands and branding. Some people think branding means pretty or sassy logos. Some people think branding means smarmy marketing. I have a different take. From my years of research, working with clients, and shaping Tracking Wonder’s own brand story, four truths have become evident.

1. Story bonds us.

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – author Phillip Pullman.

Story-based brands linger in people’s hearts and build stronger communities. We spend money on stories we want to be a part of.

2. Branding is personal growth.

Shaping a brand story can accelerate self-knowledge more quickly than a year of personal growth classes.

To shape the elements of a brand story requires deeper ways of exploring and problem-solving than simple writing exercises or “doing a website.” They require mounds of self-knowledge and confidence. And they typically require perspective from trusted colleagues or mentors or advisors.

The most valuable brands and businesses – including personal brands and personality brands – are not simply self-expressive. They are self-expansive. Read more

4 Levels of Civil Discourse

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Most of us, I’ve realized, aren’t taught how to own our voice in ways that elicit healthy discourse. But I’ve also learned we each can change that.

If you’re a conversation leader, creative, blogger, business owner – anyone who might have influence if and how you voice your views – consider this:

How is as important as what. When it comes to having a healthy influence, how you express your views on important issues is as important as the content of your views.

If you want the take-aways without the personal story – or your own reflection – skip to the end.

A Vision without a Voice

When I was a boy, no one talked about ideas as I recall. It was not like what Teddy Kennedy described growing up in which the only way to get his father’s attention at the dinner table was to have something substantial to say on an issue.

My father watched the Watergate trials on a hotel tv while we vacationed in Mexico, much to my mother’s chagrin. I watched Nixon resign on my grandparents’ television while my mother cried. But otherwise no one voiced any political or social views.

I didn’t know how to hold a conversation, think well, tell a story, or take a stance. We basically had one allowable emotion in the family – happy. Which meant we buried a lot of unspoken anger.

I grew up shunning people with strong views and closed off around any dispute. When I defended my master’s thesis, my committee of professors praised my written thesis for its depth and nuance, but as they asked me question after question I could not “think on my feet” or defend it. I shut down. One professor with a fierce reputation looked almost remiss in grilling me and then tried to help me with the process.

“It’s a fine thesis, Jeffrey. Really. We have to ask you these questions, though,” he said. “It’s not personal. We just want to hear you articulate your position.”

It was foreign turf, and that embarrassment became a private call-to-action.

I had vision with no voice, but I was ready to change that. And you can, too. Read more

Who Do You Take Your Biz Story-telling Cues From?

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Let’s assume that one thing you do for your business is you tell stories about your business. You or someone on your team tell stories about how your business originated and why, why it matters to your customers, and why it matters in the early-21st century. You tell stories about your customers and other related people who illustrate what your business does and about your business’s larger message.

Now let’s assume you want to excel at what you do, and one thing you do is tell stories.

Who are you going to take your cues from when you want to excel and how? Are you going to learn from your competition and from your peers? Or are you going to learn from examples way outside of your field and industry?

Your inclination may be to assume the former – the land of the familiar. That’s the assumption of a colleague of mine. A friend of mine offers marketing services to service providers – coaches, online teachers, consultants. He complained to me that much of the advice being given to this audience for content marketing drew from strategies that corporation-sized brand agencies and venture-backed start-ups use.

“Why is that a problem?” I asked.

“Because service providers don’t need those big concepts from those outsized companies,” he said. “They need to understand how to tell stories to their potential customers more intimately, more genuinely.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Read more

How Persistent Sprints Build Businesses & Books

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Fabiola Medeiros)

Courtesy of Creative Commons (Fabiola Medeiros)

Are you time-strapped or focus-challenged, but you have a book to write or business to build?

It might seem counter-intuitive – even threatening to your cherished beliefs – to imagine writing a book or building your signature business Story 15, 30, 45 minutes at a time. But that’s how you can do it.  Read more

When to Update Your Website

Image: Sean MacEntee, Flickr, Rights reserved.

Image: Sean MacEntee, Flickr, Rights reserved.

To revise a website is an opportunity to dig in, check in, and get perspective. 

You get to dig into whom you’ve become. You check in on whom you’re engaging and elevating at your highest level. You get perspective on why what you do matters in our times.

Tracking Wonder’s Story constantly evolves as those elements – the founder, our community, our times – shift. 

So, too, for you one or more shifts might signal you to look again at the Story you or your business is living and how you are owning that Story through the way you communicate and engage your community, clients, and customers. Read more