By Michel Hogan
I’m a voracious reader and always on the lookout for titles to add to my reading list. It’s particularly nice when that reading connects with the enduring question about how to achieve a brand result.
The book, in this case, is Deep Work* by Cal Newport. And while the headline gives away the link between the two things, the substance is less visible.
Apologies to Cal for hijacking his idea about the necessity for a less distracted individual focus to deliver work of value. But the premise also applies to the work and effort of the organisation and the distractions that so often get in the way.
In the book, he notes “knowledge workers, I’m arguing, are tending towards increasingly visible busyness because they lack a better way to demonstrate their value…”
Replace “knowledge workers” with “organisations” and you have an excellent description of what passes for ‘branding’ today. Lacking a connection to or even understanding of what they care about, organisations throw busy at the problem. Pushing ever more things at their customers and employees to try and engage them amid shrinking and fragmented attention spans.
Deep work is described as “the ability to concentrate on hard things”. And to achieve a brand that is robust, resilient and woven from the fabric of an organisation’s identity, that’s what is needed.
The surface stuff, the busy things such as visual presence and social media posts all have a place. But to focus on them alone forfeits the opportunity to achieve something of value. To resonate, they need to be layered onto the kind of substance that only deep work can provide.
Deep work requires a voluntary sequestering from the myriad distractions of today’s organisational landscape. Not only phones, apps, email, social media, and customer complaints to name a few, but also from what others are doing. A bit of regular structured organisational solitude goes a long way.
What does deep brand work look like?
It’s exploring and understanding what the identity foundations of purpose and values are for your organisation, and not stopping until you’re clear on what they are, what the related language is and what the language means for you. No matter how long it takes.
And once you know them, it’s asking ‘does this help us meet our purpose?’ — not just during the strategy offsite or occasional big decision, but in every meeting, when making any decision. And changing your approach if the answer is no.
It’s saying ‘no, we’re not doing that’ because it doesn’t align with our values. Even though no might be a competitive disadvantage at the time.
It’s finding ways to make purpose and values visible and tangible even in the small stuff. Especially in the small stuff. If you’re not sure what that looks like try completing this statement: ‘My [x] meets our purpose/reflects our values because [y].’
It’s bringing your identity into every promise you make and only making promises you can keep.
It’s avoiding the trappings of best practice as most practice and looking for what is ‘us’ practice, aligned with what you care about, consistently delivered.
It’s resisting bright shiny distractions and spending time on the unheroic day-to-day work.
It’s looking at people’s experience (employees, customers and all other stakeholders). knowing experience is where you either keep or break your promises, and designing on the side of what you can do.
It’s knowing you’re never done because there will always be another decision to make and action to take. And mostly it’s making the time and taking the time because achieving a brand is an ongoing result, not an event.
A deep work approach is antithetical to the way organisations typically go about brand, and is also the best way to achieve a robust, resilient result.
This article was first published on SmartCompany, and this updated version can be found in the upcoming book “The Unheroic Work.”
Michel Hogan is an Independent Brand Counsel advising organisations on the risk to their purpose and values of making promises they can’t keep.
*Cal Newport’s Deep Work examines how to focus without distraction in an increasingly distracted world and achieve better results in less time