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Deconstructed Branding & The New Economy

I’ve been on Twitter a lot for almost two years now (@drdannielle), really thinking about what’s going on in our world and what I see and how I feel about it.
And I guess, all this time, operating under the paradigm that if you’re doing something heartfelt you shouldn’t be asking for money for it.
Money Is Not The Root Of All Evil?
Someone challenged me about that paradigm and said,
“Why shouldn’t you be making money doing the things that you’re good at and that you love?”
In the moment, I responded that for certain things I do, like self-help blogs, I really felt that God was kind of speaking through me, and that it would have been antithetical and even heretic to try and squeeze money out of something that came from a place of purity.But at the same time, I had to really ask myself whether something is wrong with me, that I can’t seem to come to grips with the issue of money in certain ways. And we went through a couple of examples of people who make money from inspiring other people — Pastor Joel Osteen came to mind. And that that’s perfectly fine.
Similarly, people make money from doing journalism, and that’s perfectly fine too, even though it’s supposed to be a kind of social function, in the public interest.
Social Media Fuels The Ethics Discussion
This kind of ethics discussion, around the morals of money-making and the public interest, seems pervasive on social media as people continually are challenged about their motives.
In particular there is a deep contempt for shills, people who pretend to be part of the truth movement, but who are “really just trying to make money for themselves.”
I don’t really want to get into names here or point to specific feuds, but there have been several noteworthy bust-ups over the course of the past few years, and they all seem to boil down to the same thing:
  • Is this person legitimately trying to support themselves through contributions to their research?
  • Or are they just a liar and a cheat, claiming to have important “insider” information for the rest of us, while furtively just building up a self-serving, highly monetized brand?
No-Contradiction Personal Value Creation
When I thought about it — when I put my thoughts into conscious words — I decided that it’s fine to make a living honestly, even when that means making money in association with a cause you care about. That in fact, if you care about what you’re doing, all the better.
Getting paid to do good research or journalism, for example, is not a sin. It is, rather, exactly what we should be doing.
As workers, we should not celebrate living a society where we have this kind of false divide between the corporate world, the world of work (which is not necessarily bound by the principles we share) and the world of personal endeavor (which is, and which is driven by passion).
It seems to me that it’s not even healthy to live like this.
I think of it from the perspective of the New Economy: In the non-bubble-based society, value creation is a virtuous circle, where I give you something of real value, and you give me something of real value in return. It is a place where 1 + 1 is exponentially greater than 2.
How Bad Branding Took Us Down
I think where we went off the rails — as a society, as a country, and as a world — is to fall for the worst possible use of branding. And that is to create the perception of value where none really exists.
Good branding, of course, is when you develop a relationship with your customer that is based on actually providing the products and services you promise. They trust you, not because you’ve lied to them, but because they know that you will truly deliver.
Bad branding is a pyramid scheme, where you come up with a name and a logo and a tagline and a mission and a value statement and a set of rules for speaking to people. Nobody really believes any of it. But everybody likes making money. And at the extreme, it is the money they promote and not the many human, beating hearts that power it.
When you spend your time promoting and building and building this image and focus on image alone (or even mostly), it isn’t very long until the whole thing collapses, because your bright idea was copied and picked up by someone else who does it better. In this fake brand world, the best you can hope for is to develop an idea with promise, work it to the point where an investor actually believes it, and cash out quickly and profitably to them.
This is not sustainable. The same way that living on credit leaves all of us as debt slaves, and leads to the wanton printing of currency, which becomes little more than worthless pieces of paper.
Sustainable Value & Time as The Ultimate Currency
Before our economy collapses, we have the chance to rescue real value, but not before we get out of the “get rich quick” way of thinking.
What does work is a model of sustainable wealth, where the ultimate currency is time, because time is the only thing that is finite, that cannot be replaced.
What would you do if you had unlimited time?
I know what I would do.
  • Write, draw, and take photos. And give a lot of that away for free.
  • Spend more time with my family. Take care of them, properly. Help out my kids, to help pay for their life, to get them going, to take care of future grandchildren as much as possible.
  • Make a nice Shabbos table.
  • Give more charity, and volunteer.
  • Go back to school, to teach more, write academic papers, and maybe even get a second Ph.D. myself.
  • Learn technology — all kinds of technology — because it’s absolutely wondrous.
When we deconstruct the worst, most unethical kind of branding — taking money for nothing — and substitute the generation of exciting, useful, life-affirming products and services by trusted providers — there is no contradiction between people doing valuable work that matters to them, and achieving financial freedom. There is no psychologically unhealthy schism between doing drone work that squashes your soul and makes you uncreative, and pursuing for a profit the things you currently do as “hobbies.”
What This Means for Employers
As full-time jobs become a thing of the past and the entrepreneurial economy grows, how do employers retain their most talented employees — people who generate more value for the organization than they consume in salary?
The bottom line: Let them be entrepreneurs while staying on the payroll.
This is not a new idea, but it has so many ramifications that have gotten lost with the notion that employees should be at their employers’ beck and call almost 24/7/365.
Thinking about your retention rate, recall that you are not focused on all employees but rather only those whose presence in your organization is critical. You want to be investing in them, and in particular their time — time to pursue families, personal interests, hobbies, and yes, even their own businesses (as long as they are not using your intellectual property to do it).
From a risk perspective alone, most people would rather have a steady source of income and a community of colleagues they know and care about. And so if they know that their employer is going to support them, they are more likely to stay and deliver value for the long term than cut all ties.
If your workforce is more “disposable,” meaning you do not rely on their intellectual or emotional labor, then the question really becomes why you’re hiring these people in the first place and not automating their jobs.
The Employee’s Perspective
Flipping the perspective now, how do you develop the skills to finance your life?
I’d say this really means re-conceiving your education in a very fundamental way.
Because the economy is moving so rapidly, you need a few things:
The capacity to operate technology in a skilled way — because technology-based jobs pay significantly more than their non-technology-based counterparts.
The capacity to do practical things, like be a locksmith, a tutor, a dog-walker, or anything where you can step in and fulfill an immediate need. Again, you do not know where your income will need to come from in unpredictable times.
The ability to learn new skills rapidly, to seek out providers of training at low or no cost (better yet, ways to learn on the job) — to learn how to learn.
The fact that most people will have multiple types of careers over the course of their lives — both paid and unpaid, as they are caregivers for children and/or the elderly — is another reason why personal branding really is dead, as I’ve said a few times lately, and why we should very definitively nail its coffin shut.
Encourage Yourself, Encourage Others
In the New Economy, there is no shame associated with earning money by openly and honestly declaring what you do well and using it to provide others with real value — as opposed to spending your time “building brand equity.” By default when you are an ethical value generator, you are doing just that.
But many people are still enslaved by debt, and if not debt then a debt mindset. So one thing you can do — not just to be a decent human being, but also because increasingly we want to work with people who demonstrate basic human values of integrity, respect and kindness for others — is to encourage other people to realize their potential in the workplace.
It is important that we create, together, a world where money becomes a source of socially positive ambition, and is not associated with the need to sell out, be corrupt, or trick people into buying things.
Wear your agenda on your sleeve and you’re fine. Hide it, and the New Economy won’t tolerate you.
Have a good day and may God guide you to do what is right.
Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo by the author.