On the philosophy of personal branding and selling

Personal Branding

One of the most important pillars of the integral worldview is its understanding that there is not simply one self, but a myriad of constructed selves operating in highly complex contexts which are themselves manifestations of an ultimate reality.

So the self is personal and transpersonal; either way, the self does not exist independently from the language used to communicate its nature. The self is always communicated; that is to say, from a perspective which emphasizes certain values, the self is always branded.

One contrarian, Olivier Blanchard, hates putting the word personal next to the word brand. On The BrandBuilder Blog, he writes:

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

via R.I.P. Personal Branding.

Leaving aside whether Blanchard has accurately described any actually existing school of personal branding thought, he does have a perfectly legitimate view of the self from a perspective which sees business values (reputation, image, profit, etc.) as anathema to personal values (namely transparency and authenticity).

His view resonates with postmodernism’s obsession with transparency at the expense of all other values, and its de-coupling of authenticity with achievement (“Tell me how you really feel, not what you want to achieve.”) Blanchard can hardly imagine that achievement and its necessary components (e.g., slogans, tag lines, resumes, etc.) can actually be authentic to a self, apparently because they are foreign to his self-sense (they look like artifices to him).

Blanchard’s post earned a strong and lengthy rebuke at the Personal Branding Blog, where Oscar Del Santo replies, in part:

His tirade begins with a statement that sadly lacks philosophical or sociological sophistication and can therefore be easily dismantled: “People are people,” he tells us, “they aren’t brands. When people become brands they stop being people.” Not quite, I’m afraid. By the same token and under the same faulty premises we could fallaciously argue that people are not consumers, clients, voters, patients, citizens or biological entities. Yet people are of course all of those things and many more depending on the specific context and focus under consideration. And there is no question in my mind that in our digital 2.0 world people are (perhaps for the first time) also brands and have brand-like attributes they can use for their benefit without in any way, shape or form forsaking their humanity or their identity as people.

From the ulterior development of his argument, we learn that the animosity Mr Blanchard feels towards brands and personal branding stems from his negative associations with selling and the misconception that we can only sell by becoming “a character or a product”. “That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something”, he states, “is at the very crux of the problem with ‘personal branding’. Can you realistically remain authentic and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?”. The answer to his question is obviously a resounding ‘yes’: I have not surrendered myself to any evil process or become inauthentic to create a successful personal brand and sell my services any more than I believe he has done so in order to become a social media author and sell his books. To claim otherwise without proof is intellectually arrogant and plainly misguided. And of course, both he and I – along with everyone else with a career – have “a business agenda to drive” (even if it is is just to remain in business!) and need to sell a product, service or idea: and we are none the worse for that.

I am glad to find in his post the words transparency and authenticity and once again sad that he should need to retort to expletives and offensive accusations to put forward his case (“those extra layers of personal branding are artifice… They’re bulls**t… Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS”). On at least one account I can most certainly put his mind to rest: nobody here is trying to be a fake or condone such behavior. In fact, our personal branding philosophy goes well beyond his own premises and not only has transparency and authenticity at its core, but is emphatically built on the primacy of values, can be profoundly spiritual, and is open to people from all walks of life including minorities….

Del Santo correctly realizes that Blanchard is attacking a straw man, not personal branding as it is actually described by its proponents. He and Blanchard seem unable to recognize whether “selling” can be part of the “authentic” self or not. Drawing on his personal experience (and that of others, I’m sure), he disagrees.

But is it really necessary to say that one or the other must be correct? When human development is understood as a continuum, and the self is understood as a developmental line, then actually both views can be viewed as correct from a certain point of view.

Let us loosely apply the labels modern, postmodern, and integral to describe the different philososphical points of view, each arising in a developmental sequence.

  1. The modern self is seen as divided between personal and business, and the latter is often taken as a roadmap for personal development. You are what you earn. Your business is like your family. You are the CEO of your own life. Your life has a bottom line. Achievement is everything. You work with brands, but you are likely to think of those brands as external to yourself. Your work life and personal life are highly differentiated and possibly segregated, and it is common to want to “leave work at the office.”
  2. The postmodern self is seen as authentic. You are more than the sum of your achievements. You are what you feel, think, and do. You are so inherently complex and nuanced that no social structure, no business, can fit you without alienating who you really are. Being real is everything. You know what’s real because it’s what you are developmentally moving away from: it’s everything that a business is not. The postmodern self sees its own stage of development as the end-point of self-actualization and does not recognize the difference between the modern self and the integral self.
  3. The integral self is seen as both authentic and an achievement. You don’t just be yourself, you become yourself; thus, selfhood is finally recognized as an achievement. Excessive attention to the interior life and its dramas fades away. Excesssively anti-business views and anti-achievement attitudes fade away. What remains is an achieving, evolving self. The new self must find ways of communicating itself and connecting with others who recognize its value. The new self reaches for a (trans)personal brand, a (trans)personal image, a (trans)personal worldview, etc., which allows it to integrate the stages of its previous development and interrelate with others.

So when looking at the debate between personal branding and its critics, it’s important to ask yourself: what is the self that is being branded? There is not just one self, and people often talk past each other when they fail to recognize this philosophical point.

How do you explain “Integral” in 90 words or less? Here’s my best effort so far.

From this blog’s new “What is Integral?” page:

Integral is an approach to life which seeks a full-hearted embrace of existence and unconditional surrender to the passionate reality behind the reconciliation of all polarities, however we conceive that reality. An Integral worldview values the development of human potential in all dimensions, individually and in communities. We embrace vocations of playful creativity, enlightened authenticity, deep inner healing, and engaged service to others and the planet. Our ultimate goal is the liberation of all sentient beings into the most richly enlivened and radically illumined possibilities for being in the world.

I’d love to hear from you. How would you put it differently? Any suggestions? Go to the “What is Integral?” page to leave your views in the comment boxes.

What do the colors on this blog mean?

Until uses the color scheme of Kronology to describe coordinates of human experience, nature, and development. The colors of the rainbow (primary, secondary, and tertiary) describe each of the 12 stations (S130 to S13B) of visible light. The result is most comparable to the color scheme of Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality, in which each altitude of human development corresponds to a marker such as infrafred, red, magenta, amber, and so on. (But then again, how do you display infrared or ultraviolet light visibly?)

Additionally, many colors correspond to locations on the SDi map of spiral development. Persons familiar with Wilber’s or SDI’s color schemes are welcome to “mentally translate” the colors back into the language they are familiar with, just so long as they recognize that colors as used in Kronology denote Stations, not altitude markers or vMEMES.

Terminology Notes

Kronology. Kronology is my own effort (which is very much a work in progress) to produce an “emulator” which “includes and extends” Ken Wilber’s Integral Operating System; (b) an application of Integral Theory to the magical or astrological worldview (and therefore, in a sense, an updating of natural religion into a post-metaphysical structure of expression); and (c) an ordering system for the major symbols of human development.

Tiers in Kronology. T stands for Tier, a base-12 designation of one of the 30 tiers of the Kronos mandala (i.e., T0 to T25). Tiers are also designated by a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, with early tiers corresponding to invisible radiowaves, microwaves, and infrared light. T13, the 15th tier, is depicted by the range of visible light (thus, the 12 colors of the rainbow). T14 to T25 is depicted in terms of invisible ultraviolet light, x-ray radiation, and gamma radiation. Each tier represents the number of cycles of motion completed by a point moving across the Kronos mandala over time. T13 depicts the visible cosmos and all of its temporal contents from history until the end of time.

Stations in Kronology. S stands for Station, a base-12 designation of one of the 360 stations in Kronology (S0 to S259). The most commonly referenced stations are S130 to S13B, the 12 stations corresponding to visible light (i.e., red to red-violet light). Each station is a Kosmic Koordinate which can be used to trace the motion of a point moving across the Kronos mandala over time, and therefore is useful in tracking development (evolution) and regression (involution).

The current average stage of development in human nature and potential is in transition from S135 to S136 (i.e., a shift from yellow-green into green). The cutting edge of consciousness is thought to be the transition of a significant number of individuals from S136 to S137 and S138 (i.e., a shift from green into blue-green and blue consciousness). Various integral theorists call this latter shift the “emergence of integral intelligence” or the “leap into the second-tier”.

The Major Stations of Kronology and Their Corresponding Colors

The precise Hexadecimal values of the 12 colors used are shown below, so readers desiring to use this sheme in whole or part can easily do so on their weblogs.

Red (#ff0000), S130 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: infrared (Wilber), beige (SDi), prenatal, infancy, oral sensory, neediness, willfullness, disassociated consciousness, altered states, archaic, Stone Age, root chakra, animal.

Strategy keywords: Uroboris, survival, lifeforce, the courage to be, birth and rebirth, unconsciousness, psychosis, hallucination, electrical shock, awakenings, fundamental trust, Aries.

Red-Orange (#ff6600), S131 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: magenta (Wilber), purple (SDi), early childhood, adoration, bodily sensations, desire, magical, kinship, wonderment, body shame, safety, sacred spaces and objects, emotions, tribe mentality, team building.

Strategy keywords: self-love, feeling at home in the world, acceptance, getting grounded, enjoying life, dysphoria, flakiness, wishes and curses, divination, Taurus.

Orange (#ff9900), S132 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: red (Wilber/SDi), childhood play age, validation, power to control, freedom to pursue happiness, hedonistic, accumulating experience, narcissism, addiction, winner-take-all games.

Strategy keywords: self-expression, heroism, messiah complex, freedom to be let alone, mastery of the will, surrender, setting healthy boundaries, fascism, holy war, Gemini.

Yellow-Orange (#ffcc66), S133 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: amber (Wilber), blue (SDi), middle childhood, mythic-membership, purposefullness, law and order, stability, promise-keeping, fulfilling duties, guilt, hierarchy, ecclesiastical religion.

Strategy keywords: conformity, congruity, integrity, moral principles, honesty, virtues, vices, orthodoxy, dependence on a higher power, Absolute Truth, heaven, hell, Cancer.

Yellow (#ffff00), S134 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: orange (Wilber/SDi), adolescence, truth as correspondence to facts, cautiousness, unshackling from irrationality, Newtonian physics, rebelliousness, desire to control natural world, achievement.

Strategy keywords: modernism, spirited argument, individual conscience, industriousness, thrift, success, doubt, mental clarity, logical reasoning, demands for proof, Leo

Yellow-Green (#33cc00), S135 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: yellow (SDi), early 20s through age 30, attempts to synthesize skepticism and faith, devoted to ideals, focus on personal growth, refinement of practical skills, keeping to essentials or fundamentals.

Strategy keywords: Individualistic, Meta-systemic, Western medicine, late modernity, humility, sacrificing for the greater good, service, victim mentality, perpetrator role, critical methodologies, justification by works, Virgo.

Green (#009900), S136 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: green (Wilber), thirties, settling down, empathetic sensitivity, plurality, spiritual but not necessarily religious, taking delight in beauty, recognition of multiplicity and particularity, romanticism, self-contradiction, compassion, kindness.

Strategy keywords: Pluralistic Mind, HumanBond, self-realized, alternative medicine, postmodernism, camp humor, multiculturalism, achieving life balance, gender and sexual liberation, aesthetic attitude to life, Libra.

Blue-Green (#336666), S137 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: teal (Wilber), late 30s to mid-40s, mid-life transition, brooding questioning, dissatisfaction, suspicion, dominance and submission, interpersonal intimacy, jealousy, death and resurrection, occult or esoteric knowledge.

Strategy keywords: Low vision-logic, Systemic, FlexFlow, post-postmodernism, complementary medicine, shadow work, aliveness, reclaiming the soul, deep presence, tantric sexuality, looking into the abyss, sincerity and authenticity, existentialism, Scorpio.

Blue (#3366ff), S138 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: turquoise (Wilber), forties, mature adulthood, integrative, multiperspectival intelligence, holistic and universal healthcare, Third Way politics, multidisciplinary academic studies, concern with evolutionary and developmental dynamics.

Strategy keywords: AQAL Framework™, high vision-logic, GlobalView, Construct-aware, personal style of stewardship, flexible and flowing awareness, parental figure in divisive environment, bridge building, “analysis paralysis”, pilgrimage, Sagittarius.

Blue-Violet (#000066), S139 (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: indigo (Wilber), fifties, prime of life, Humpty Dumpty, passionate efficiency, high creative flow, deep sense of interdependence, expanding need for power, “resistance is futile,” high-order problem solving.

Strategy keywords:Illumined Mind, Transcendent, strategic, genius, nannying or meddling interference, multi-national, global reach, multidimensional spirituality, Capricorn.

Violet (#333399), S13A (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: violet (Wilber), sixties, retirement age, golden years, creativity inspired by intuitive visions, holistic synthesis of old and new, revelation, zeal and impractical idealism, ineffectuality, spontaneity.

Strategy keywords: Intuitive Mind, Meta-Mind, imagining the impossible, creative syntheses in art, stabilizing subtle energies, oracles, wisdom of King Solomon, psychic powers, New Age spirit and rationality, Aquarius.

Red-Violet (#cc33cc), S13B (Visible Light)
Concern keywords: ultraviolet (Wilber), seventies, old age, elders, near death experiences, living with illness and dying processes, radiance and bliss, nondual awareness, altered states, instability, lack of strong personal boundaries, insanity, institutions.

Strategy keywords: mysticism, divinization of the Self, Overmind, deity, eccentricity, lightness of being, simplicity, distinguishing delusion and illusion, addictions and rehabilitation programs, Pisces.