198: Catherine Kaputa: The Brand of You

Brands are prized by corporations as significant value-driving economic assets. Brands help customers enjoy more valuable experiences, raising willingness-to-pay levels and thus improving cash flows — higher cash flows as a result of higher prices, faster cash flows because branded products tend to turn faster than their non-branded counterparts, longer lasting cash flows because brands have longevity in customers’ perceptions, and less volatile cash flows because brand loyalty can smooth out the effects of economic booms and busts.

For these reasons, corporations invest in brands and brand building. Catherine Kaputa makes the case that individuals should invest in themselves as brands, and makes the tools of brand-building available to individuals for personal brand-building: the brand of you.

Knowledge Capsule

You are a brand, assessed subjectively by your customers.

Think of yourself as a brand. Think of your customers – your boss, other leaders and decision-makers in your firm, your colleagues, your clients, your suppliers. They all have a subjective perception of you and the value to which you can contribute in any business situation. Is it the perception you want? Do people see you as the problem solver and solution designer for their problems? Like any brand owner, you can work to actively shape that perception. As Catherine Kaputa puts it: If you don’t brand yourself, others will, and they may not brand you the way you want to be branded.

The first tool in the branding toolbox is positioning.

The branding community has developed the idea of brand positioning. In the perception space in which your brand operates, you seek to identify a unique, highly differentiated position. You want to be perceived as different and better. Positioning is the identification and selection of that unique space in the minds of customers and the basis of the of credibility, reputation and trust to be able to make the claim.

Importantly, positioning requires outside-in thinking. Think of your customers first, their needs, their mindset, and their perception of the other brands in the space. Your positioning must be in their minds, not yours.

Differentiation is a most important element of positioning.

Typically, perception spaces are competitive. Customers looking for solutions to problems and better experiences scan the space for alternatives and make comparisons between them. Know your competitors, assess them through the eyes of your customers, and find a positioning that is both different from and better than alternatives for your customer, using their mental model and assessment criteria. Aim to “own” that unique space – meaning that the customer identifies you as the only one or the best one of their alternatives to meet a particular need.

Attach an idea to yourself.

A way to pin down a perception in a customer’s mind is to attach an idea to a brand, in this case yourself as a brand, in a way that the connection is immediate and becomes automatic. The idea should be singular and highly focused. Catherine Kaputa recommends a process of subtraction to reach a singular idea — you’ll start with a multi-layered and possibly complicated idea, but if you keep subtracting the least relevant, least important and least differentiated elements, you’ll arrive at the pared-down singularity. You should be able to express it in a phrase or a sentence, one that you can keep repeating to embed it.

Her own example in her marketing career was to brand herself as “good with difficult clients”. Every marketing services company has clients or accounts or marketing challenges that are deemed to be difficult and not everyone wants to be exposed to that risk. Someone who steps up and enjoys performing well on such a stage is both differentiated and highly sought after.

Personal brand positioning strategy templates provide another tool for self-branding.

In her book The New Brand You, Catherine Kaputa provides 10 brand positioning templates as examples of how an individual might approach the process of self-branding and build their own brand.

Download “Ten Personal Brand Positioning Strategies” in PDF: Mises.org/E4B_198_PDF

These are complete templates for rigorous use and application, appropriate for individual interpretation, embellishment and nuance.

One example is the Innovator strategy. Let’s use this template as an example of the self-brand positioning process.

1. What’s the customer need that the Innovator addresses? Identify your target audience and the problem they want solved. Innovators are needed to create something new, when existing strategies are failing or sales are declining or new market entrants are redefining the terms of competition. New solutions are sought, and Innovators are the ones people turn to. Innovators are recognized as the creative resource that’s required.

2. What are the attributes to point to in order to claim the Innovator positioning? Catherine Kaputa lists 5:

Visionary with clear objectives: not just creative, but capable of identifying business objectives for creativity and of seizing opportunities.

Brilliant at problem-solving: full of ideas, but always directed towards solving important problems.

Bold risk-taking: when others hold back, Innovators are eager to design and run experiments from which to learn, knowing there’s no such thing as failure, just new knowledge.

Fresh thinking: not following the crowd but diverging from the norm.

Inventive: Innovators demonstrate the capacity to be first in new designs, new thinking and new ideas.

The point is to evaluate yourself against the attributes of the positioning type: is this you?

3. The next step is a positioning statement. Catherine provides examples:

Sample Positioning Statement: An innovative professional in an industry beset by mergers and dynamic change positioned herself in the following way.

Draft Sentence: For senior managers, boss, clients, industry who need new products and services I stand for innovative problem solver in industries undergoing massive change.

The format to use is: For (target audience) who needs (problem you solve) I stand for (value proposition).

4. Add reasons to believe. Pick three reasons and 3 keywords or phrases as to why customers should invest in your positioning statement by hiring you or giving you the project.

Innovator is just one of multiple possible strategies. Yours may be one of these or a combination of several. There’s a personal test you can take at Mises.org/E4B_198_Test for initial input to start your positioning process.

Positioning is a means not an end: there is more work to do.

Catherine Kaputa follows the logic of brand positioning all the way to implementation. It’s not a theory, it’s a practice. There are actions that brand marketers take to communicate and embed their positioning. She cites three major ones: visual identity, verbal identity and brand marketing.

Commercial brands spend a lot of time, effort and resources on a brand’s look: logo design, package design, website colors and typefaces, video style, and so on. The goal is to communicate a style and an engaging and brand-appropriate visual personality. The same principles apply to personal branding – choose your look, your dress-style and fashion carefully and thoughtfully.

Verbal identity comes from the words you use, the story you tell, and how you communicate in presentations, e-mails, tweets, speeches and conversations, whether in the conference room, the auditorium or on zoom. Work on it.

Marketing your brand should be guided by your goals for your personal brand. Once you have them defined, choose your media, your message, your content, your campaign tactics and your metrics.

Additional Resources

The New Brand You: How to Wow in the New World of Work by Catherine Kaputa: Mises.org/E4B_198_Book

Find your own brand positioning (Mises.org/E4B_198_Test) on SelfBrand.com

“Ten Personal Brand Positioning Strategies” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_198_PDF

Austrian Economics Is On The Right Side.

Iain McGilchrist is a neuroscientist, psychiatrist and philosopher who devoted his research work to illuminating the proposition of hemisphere differences in brain function. We all have a left brain hemisphere and a right brain hemisphere, and they function (or “see the world”) differently. McGilchrist makes long lists of the differences in worldview attributable to the hemispheres.  We can selectively highlight a few here:

The left hemisphere (LH) deals with detail, the local, what’s in the foreground, and easily grasped. The right hemisphere (RH) deals with the whole picture, including the periphery and the background. this local versus global distinction is one of the major differences in the processing of the two hemispheres.

  • The RH is on the lookout for and better st detecting and dealing with what is new. The LH deals with what is familiar.
  • The LH aims to narrow things down to a certainty, while the RH opens them up into possibility. The RH is comfortable with ambiguity and holding pieces of information that appear to have contrary implications, whereas the LH makes an either/or decision in favor of one of them.
  • The LH’s world tends towards fixity and stasis, that of the RH towards change and flow.
  • The RH recognizes uniqueness and individuality. The LH tends towards more generalization.
  • The RH is essential for empathy, and emotional receptivity and expressivity are greater in the RH.

McGilchrist’s thesis is that the left hemisphere and its mode of thinking has become dominant in today’s world, and that dominance is a disaster for civilization. Why? What he calls the left hemisphere world 

  • has lost the broader picture
  • favors data over knowledge
  • has lost the concepts of skill and judgment
  • favors bureaucracy (procedures that are known and predictable)
  • elevates quantity as the only criterion versus quality
  • dismisses common sense
  • discards tacit knowledge
  • has a need for total control
  • has more anger and aggression
  • loses social cohesion
  • is characterized by passive victimhood

In the field of economics, we can clearly see McGilchrist’s left hemisphere versus right hemisphere dominance in action. Mainstream economics, the style that is practiced by government and the Federal Reserve, taught in academia and written about in the New York Times, exhibits a left-hemisphere dominated pattern. Austrian economics is more right-hemisphere, in stark contrast.

mainstream economicsAustrian economics
Principally concerned with mathematicization, modeling, aggregates and related variables (x causes y).Principally concerned with the economic system and its emergence as a result of the purposeful actions of individuals reasoning subjectively.
Empirical, working with data series and tables and numerical outcomes.Verbal and logical, working with language and reason, observing behavior to deduce motivation and purpose.
Captures data in re-usable mathematical symbols and algebraic formulae. Seeks to construct reusable/repeatable models.Deals with uncertainty, dynamics, constant flux, and flow.
Equations are solved, models are completed and self-sufficient. Point predictions.Descriptive and not predictive. Assumes constant change, uncertainty and non-linearity.
Positivist, adopting the methods of physical sciences.Humanist, adhering to the approach of social sciences.
The economy as a machine to be tuned.The economy as a complex adaptive system. Interaction of many components. Emergence.

The focus of Austrian economics on real people, individuals interacting in the pursuit of subjectively-assessed value, creating a dynamic flow of activity of benefit for all contrasts starkly with the mainstream economics focus on mathematical models and solving equations, aggregate quantities like GDP, and unremitting regulation and government intervention aimed at control.

Until we rebuild our institutions from a more balanced perspective, releasing the hold of the left hemisphere on our thinking and behavior, we are condemned to follow the downward spiral into a command-and-control economy.

197. Phil Johnson: Entrepreneurs Demonstrate A Special Emotional Intelligence

Business success goes beyond numbers and planning and finance acumen. There’s an emotional component to it, ranging from the courage to make decisions without knowing the outcomes in an uncertain future, to the resilience of weathering storms and coping with unanticipated crises. There is also, of course, the joy of achievement and goal-attainment. There’s a concept identified as emotional intelligence that individuals and teams can cultivate as an element of a mental model that’s well-aligned with business performance and positive business outcomes.

Knowledge Capsule

The entrepreneurial method is to pursue change, but people’s natural attitude is to resist change.

We have an inbuilt, biological resistance to change. It triggers fear and anxiety that get in the way of moving towards the change that we seek. In addition to this emotional resistance, we develop habits that keep us in the status quo, and present another barrier to behavioral change. We all must fight an internal battle between our old habits and desired new habits.

Entrepreneurs develop a special emotional intelligence that motivates action.

Entrepreneurs are in the business of making change. They can overcome the natural emotional and behavioral barriers because they have a highly developed emotional intelligence. They have such an emotional relationship with their vision of a successful outcome for their efforts that they can overcome fearful restraints and resistance to change. They are especially highly motivated to take action. It’s their emotion that drives action, not intellect.

Emotional intelligence is much more influential in business success than IQ.

A 40-year study at UC Berkeley found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is 400% more powerful than IQ in predicting which individuals would have success in their field. Private companies like PepsiCo and Apple have uncovered similar findings in their internal studies.

High emotional intelligence not only releases personal energy and creativity, but it also results in higher levels of interpersonal trust and shared engagement with others. With high emotional intelligence, we are driven to help others to enjoy better experiences as well as to advance out of our own comfort zones to access new areas of achievement.

The consequence of achieving high levels of emotional intelligence is higher levels of trust and engagement in business, and, thereby, better business results.

Everyone can improve their emotional intelligence and benefit from its compounding effect.

We are pretty much born with our IQ — we can’t increase it. But everyone can raise their level of emotional intelligence. Not only that, but emotional intelligence is a compounding asset — we can raise it and raise it again and keep on raising, so long as we work at it.

Part of the equation is personal energy management.

Phil Johnson identifies personal energy as the core element at the heart of the power of emotional intelligence. We “give our energy away” when we permit others to disrupt our emotional flow — make us annoyed or angry or resentful or frustrated. As a consequence, we feel the need to “steal energy from others” by getting the better of them or by exercising a command-and-control management style. The net result is strife, dissension, and misalignment — where team or corporate energy is wasted. We can avoid this waste by cultivating emotional intelligence.

There are high-ROI habits, practices and skills that help to build emotional intelligence.

Happily, we can practice some of the habits and skills that develop and demonstrate emotional intelligence.

One such habit is authentic listening: when we take criticism personally, we give away energy. So, if we eliminate all personal inner-directed emotion from our reception of comments and suggestions from others, we can utilize all the experience and knowledge that’s shared with us for betterment and improvement. Don’t resist, don’t judge. Don’t let attachment to our own preferences get in the way of receiving input. Don’t raise walls. We have no personal interest in what others think of us, only in the information they can impart, which might be useful

The other side of the coin is authentic communication: be sure that all the content of our communication is factual and positively motivating and designed to be helpful to others, strengthening trust and engagement. If we develop a consistent reputation for authentic communication, we’ll raise engagement (and Gallup reports that employee engagement is at a very low level today, which is a great cost to economic productivity).

In addition to habits and practices, Phil Johnson urges us to commit to the emotional labor of recognizing our own fears, biases, and status quo preferences, and to establish an emotional distance between our motivations to action and our ego-based fear. It’s emotional labor that pays interest — it has a high ROI.

Emotional intelligence releases the power of intuition, and creates a state of flow.

When we fear making decisions, we try to rationalize those decisions, to seek objectivity and lower uncertainty. When we distance ourselves from fear, we can unleash intuition — that decision-making capability that is beyond our understanding and comes from our unconscious brain. Intuition takes over more and more as we master emotional intelligence. We make choices that are not intellectual — we go beyond our intellectual ability.

Emotional intelligence takes us to a flow state. We get away from thinking and move towards intuitive doing, beyond our comfort zone beyond our fear and anxiety.

Additional Resources

Phil Johnson on LinkedIn: Mises.org/E4B_197_LinkedIn

Phil Johnson’s Zoom Calendar: Mises.org/E4B_197_Zoom

Videos from alumni of Phil Johnson’s MBL (Master Of Business Leadership) Program: Mises.org/E4B_197_MBL

UC Berkeley Study, EQ>IQ: Mises.org/E4B_197_Paper

196. Bart Vanderhaegen: How Criticism Fuels Knowledge Creation in Adaptive Entrepreneurial Firms

Success in business — serving customers well, and achieving growth in revenues and assets with a return on capital greater than its cost over the long term — is tied to knowledge-building, whereby everyone in the company learns more and more about specialized and advantaged methods of generating value for customers. Customer value fueled by knowledge-building flows back to the company as cash flow as a result of customers’ willingness to pay (which, itself, is a piece of knowledge to be discovered through testing and experimentation).

The uncertainty of the future means that a lot of knowledge-building must be achieved through experimentation — testing ideas to find out if they work or not. The earliest stage of this testing is bound up in the concept of criticism. Bart Vanderhaegen, a philosopher, epistemologist, and business consultant, explains the role of criticism to Economics For Business.

Knowledge Capsule

There is broad agreement on the need for adaptiveness in business.

It is becoming more and more accepted to view firms as operating within a complex adaptive system in which the interactions of millions of agents, and the resultant emergence of new outcomes and new system properties, require an acute sensibility regarding change — and speed of change — in the business environment and an ability to make adjustments in response or, if possible, in anticipation.

This adjustment process often goes by the name of adaptiveness.

What, exactly, is being adapted?

Bart Vanderhaegen’s analysis is that it is ideas that are being adapted and adjusted. He defines idea in this business context as a goal and a plan to achieve that goal — a desired end and the associated means. It is ideas that ultimately result in changing people’s behavior, changing product and service offerings, and changing markets.

If the idea is wrong, it will fail in achieving any desired change. To establish why or how an idea is wrong requires criticism.

Criticism is an artifact of the science of knowledge.

Critical rationalism views knowledge as useful information we use to solve problems we face. It can never be viewed as final — it’s conjecture about possible solutions that we are continuously challenging and criticizing to expose any error that we can subsequently correct to improve upon the solution, and to get closer to economic reality. That’s adaptation.

Firms actively seek the criticism of the market.

Once ideas have been activated as products and services, firms are comfortable with the criticism of the market. As Mises observed, the customer, by buying or not buying, returns a verdict on every business’s offering. And business welcomes the criticism, in the form of sales report, or market share analysis, or market research. The market is full of feedback, and in the case of non-buying, the feedback is criticism and triggers improvements or an adaptation of the plan.

In business, there tends to be less comfort with criticism in the pre-market stage, but it’s a necessary tool for refining options and making decisions.

In Bart’s way of saying it, the word criticism, when used in business, has “kind of a weird smell around it”. There’s a culture of what he calls justificationism. We are taught to project confidence bout business plans. Executives claim expertise in the domains for which they were hired. The boss is correct.

This is all misplaced. What we should be confident about is capacity to solve problems, and not be scared of making mistakes, but rather to be eager to adapt our knowledge to observed reality when it changes.

By utilizing criticism methodically, businesses can unleash its power.

The proper use of criticism is to criticize ideas and not persons. We always want to celebrate the owner of an idea, and grant them autonomy to accept or reject criticism. Bart’s three step method for business criticism is:

  1. Start with the presentation of the idea by the idea owner. There should be the opportunity for a full and reasoned presentation. Questions of clarification can be asked, but no criticism at this step.
  2. Then follows the offering of criticism. It should be high quality, constructive and specific as to what elements are in doubt and why, and what can be improved. General opposition such as “That will never be accepted here” (which could be said of any idea) is not acceptable.
  3. The criticism session is completed with a consent stage, in which the idea owner indicates which criticisms he or she finds relevant and will act on to improve the idea, whether in ends or means or both. Consent is in the discretion of the idea owner and should not be the result of any pressure by critics, whatever their rank or status. There is no “softness” in this: there is a shared and passionate commitment to improve.

Successful adaptive businesses develop a positive culture of criticism.

It’s important to analyze and classify the prevailing firm culture. Some cultures will discourage or reject criticism as a method for improvement, especially those that are hierarchically organized and have a tradition of authoritarianism.

The appropriate culture values truth and values adaptiveness, and celebrates the identification of error as a successful step towards improvement. Bart called this culture a “tradition of criticism”, which sounds contradictory since the word tradition is usually associated with preserving the status quo; but a tradition of criticism implies a kind of stability around the practice of criticizing. People become comfortable with it, and try to become better at it, and are proud to be part of the path to betterment through criticism.

The Amazon 6-page memo system is a good example of the tradition of criticism. Idea owners are required to prepare a detailed memo describing the idea and the business case and this is submitted to a committee of reviewers in a dedicated meeting, escalating in rank towards the most senior management as the idea is vetted, improved, and increasingly strengthened. It’s a tradition and a part of the Amazon culture.

Such a culture is not initiated with an announcement or a campaign, but emerges organically as a universal tool for everyone in the firm to utilize.

Additional Resources

Pactify Management: PactifyManagement.com

Bart on Twitter: @B_Vanderhaegen

Bart’s podcast: Fallible Management (Anchor.fm/FallibleManagement)

Bart’s email: bart.vanderhaegen@pactifysoftware.com