You can’t outsource Respect.

One of the great pleasures of this time of year for me is the range of shows and events focused on gardens. Row after row of beautiful gardens, flowers, trees and people whose lives revolve around growing things.

There is also the pleasure of the theme that runs like a thread through these events; that of nature, growth, and craft. I find it quite humbling to visit a stand dedicated to Bonsai, and witness the dedication that has gone into creating things of outstanding beauty.

Then there are those who want to tag along in the hope of being linked to the feelings generated by those dedicated to their craft. The big banks, the corporates, the big brands.

For whatever reason, it was this area that left a real impression on me when I visited the Chatsworth Flower Show this week. Set in spectacular surroundings, in one of the most beautiful counties in the UK, it is always a pleasure.

The big brands were out in force, making their presence felt through advertising, sponsorship, and other quite “shouty” techniques. I was very aware of their presence, but felt little connection. On the other hand, there were the small businesses, unable to afford that sort of commercial noise, who relied instead on what they produce, and how they talk about it.

The craft belt business who spent ten minutes sharing the pleasure he gets from making a beautiful product locally that he sells for a fraction of the price of a product sold by a major fashion brand further down the line of stalls that is made far away by someone I’ll never meet.

The team who put on the “power of trees” exhibit that displayed a love of what they do that was tangible.

The craft cheese maker whose product has never been near a factory, and whose variations elicit joy and curiosity, not the wrath of quality control.

The maker of jeans who only makes jeans, and strives above all things to do one thing well, and has a clear goal not to become too big and lose the pleasure they get from what they make.

I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that branding was like being a woman in politics. If you have to point out to people you are one, you’re not.

Branding is about being constant about who you are, what you do, and a dedication to who you do it for. It’s about the pleasure people get from knowing you, knowing that you know them.

Not the size of your budget, or the price you paid for the design of your logo.

The Brands that make you smile have little ego.

Brands that matter make themselves felt even if their marketing spend is invisible.

People who try to brand by tagging along are plain to see.

You can’t outsource respect.

Fear is a habit.

Over the weekend, I attended an excellent workshop by Jamie Smart on influence. Not the normal yadayada, but something altogether something less formulaic, and much more useful.

Jamie’s central tenet is based on concepts of Clarity, and central to this is the notion that our feelings are a product of our thoughts unfolding in the moment. That we create our own world on an “inside out” basis. In other words, what we feel is determined what we think, and what we think and feel governs our relationship with, and our perpective of the reality of the world we inhabit. That is influence on steroids.

As I listened to the six o’clock news this morning, I reflected on this. The news was, well, equivalent to an oily black mass seeping out onto the floor. From prospects of doom for the economy, to unfathomable brutality in the Middle East, it seemed designed to put me into a black mood before I brushed my teeth.

Except of course, all the news items were, in reality, neutral. It was my reaction to them that wasn’t. And that is a choice. I can either accept my limbic system getting fear and prediction to do a tango round my head, or I can understand what is happening, and engage reality. There are many ways we can react to the news, which is certainly real, but allowing ourselves to be hijacked by it is not an advisable one.

I cannot yet find a positive side to the news from the Middle East, other than that this type of activity is inherently self destructive.

But as to the Economy, and our individual propects? – Uncertainty is now our standard fare. Things will certainly change, and only some of that is in any way predictable in advance (other of course, than in our heads) For most of us, that is an opportunity to be grasped.

Generating fear may suit those who benefit from a status quo, and it seems some aspect of fear or control is rolled out as standard fare by those in economic or political power or as a way of encouraging dependent compliance.

Every change presents opportunity for those prepared to entertain possibility. Fearing change is a pretty pointless exercise.

If everybody is being encouraged to be afraid of the same things:

  • How might these affect you – really?
  • What’s the “base rate” – the likelihood – really?
  • What might you do differently that leverages your unique skills, perspectives and abilities to increase your impact and reputation?

The power of small numbers.

There is a real challenge for those of us who are in a services business (and the reality of course, is that we are all in a services business to a greater or lesser degree). It is this; we can now make more contacts, reach more people, and be more visible than at any time in history, but it is extraordinarily difficult to build relationships with more than around 150. The number is pretty solid, and the 5 min video here shows an extract from Robin Dunbar talking about it.

I think that creates both opportunity and challenge. Try this exercise for a day. For every email, text, or other communication you get or send, give it an AQ, an Authenticity quotient from 1-10.

1 signifies little or no sense of connection, whilst 10 is total understanding and empathy – a real and deep sense of connection.

At the end of the day, consider how much of your time has been wasted on contacts with little depth, who you will not remember, and who will not remember you.

Your biggest asset is your connections with other people, not in number, but in quality. These are the people who you bring out the best in, and who in turn bring out the best in you. Authentic connectivity, and no matter how many Facebook friends you have, if Robin Dunbar is right (and he’s a very smart guy) you have a ration of 150.

In an age of hyperconnectivity, we can dilute our authenticity to the point where we are indistinguishable from every body else in an attempt to reach ever more people. We are reduced to making decisions on the basis of shallow marketing messages. As individuals, we become invisible.

What if we considered our closest, most authentic relationships and focused on them. Those people who really know you and what you stand for, what you believe in and who really trust you. Now you have a tribe, a following. They might convey who you are to their 150. The compound effect of that is a high degree of credibility to 22,500 people who might connect with you, your values and your purpose – not a marketing message of dubious provenance. How many contacts do you need again?

How might you spend your time tomorrow?