Is ‘Our Brand’ getting in the way of ‘Our story’

personal-branding-photoI was recently in a meeting where the coordinator said “People judge you by what you look like and how you act. It is YOUR BRAND. It is what they see”.

The phrase took me off guard
.

I’ve heard people talk about ‘Your Brand’ before. It’s not a new concept and if we were to be honest we’ve all been doing something like it (regardless of if we knew we were doing it or not) for centuries. You may have heard phrases that came out of this line of thinking such as “Dress for the job you WANT, not the job you HAVE”.

This thinking is not wrong,
as it’s good to take pride in your work place and even more importantly yourself. The issue I have with this line of thinking is that it starts to get in the way of some important stories of the communities/team’s/families we are in and makes us focus on just the individual.

So let’s unpack this a bit further. Take the example of “Dress for the job you want…” idea (just because I bought it up earlier). The intention is for people to take pride in how they look and how they present themselves, so that when people meet you for the first time there is a good first impression made. Plus the added bonus is that it makes you feel better about yourself because you have taken time and effort in how you are presented.
Unfortunately sometimes it just becomes an ego driven self marketing tool that is all about who looks best and owns the appropriate fashion for a particular role. And it potentially leads to disappointment. It’s far too easy for people to think “I dressed for the role I want and I still didn’t get it, maybe I didn’t market myself well enough?”.
We start to base things on what we think we know and not on what we have actually discovered about someone. It’s almost as if we throw out their CV and reduce them to a kids picture book ‘This is John. See John work’ .  It’s like the old adage about books being made in to movies and puts it into the context of life.

“Is like taking your oxen and seeing it made into an OXO (bouillon)  cube”
– John le Carre’

Has this grown out of our own laziness? Instead of seeing the first impression as an indication of the substance that may be hidden in the pages of the book beneath the cover, are we actually taking time to read the story rather than just the basic synopsis or overview of what the person is about?

A good friend, pastor and musician Malcolm Gordon once said “We pretend we’re people without shadows” and while he was talking about people going to church, I think it’s a much bigger epidemic.

Some of  our greatest world changers – from Lincoln to Edison,  Churchill to Princess Diana – have fought hidden demons. While these world changers were ‘flawed’, their stories made their accomplishments even more impressive. Their hardships/demons/flaws gave them the push and drive to see the world differently. Our ‘self brand’ technique has just become a way to bypass the mundane, to leap frog the pain and to ‘become the people we were destined to be’ with all the fanfare and poise of a well executed marketing campaign.

It’s actually killing our work places. Imagine great self marketers gaining great positions without knowing what the hard times are like and without understanding the pain points that lead to growth and improvement. No wonder society is becoming less engaged, less empathetic and more reactive. Isn’t this just setting people up to fail?

In the age of Facebook and social media saturation are we becoming so trained at hiding our shadows, that we don’t see the bigger story?  We don’t see the story of our community and work place it’s in?  Or even worse don’t see the story of an individual more than just at synopsis level?

New Zealand journalist and news reporter Nadine Chalmers-Ross had that dilemma at a very real level. Making a name for herself under the name Chalmers-Ross she recently got married. Should she remain Chalmers-Ross or become Mrs Higgins? What does she do? Her name was her brand, what she was known as, part of her ‘News identity’ if you will.
I love the conclusion that Nadine came to:

“My name is my brand, sure, but my marriage isn’t about what’s commercially savvy.  It’s about forming a team and a name is the loudest way I can think of saying he’s my person. So, may I introduce you to Mrs Higgins?”

YES!
Nadine has certainly got it. It’s about so much more than ‘my own personal brand’
Our ‘Brand’ affects far more than just ourselves – it affects our families, our teams and our communities.
What if instead we started looking at ‘Our Brand’ as our way to be the superstar of our own story? What if we started to see our stories interweaving with others in our communities? What if we looked at ‘Our Brand’ as something that adds to not just our own story, but the stories of our community like our own entry into a section of the Iliad.

We don’t just have one story. We have our own starring role in a story of our life- the fears, the failures, the wins, the loses and the mountains we have conquered. However we’re also playing a supporting role in many other individual’s stories, many other team’s stories, and many other community’s stories.

In these stories we’re not the superstar, we’re not the white knight, or the cowboy with the white hat. We’re the neighbour who said “Hi” every morning, the guy or girl who took time to notice the lack of smile, and the person who let you into the queue of traffic during rush hour. These stories are the mundane, but these stories are the brands that reverberate throughout the world we live.

So let’s talk brands… but let’s tell our stories.

Album Review: Malcolm Gordon ‘The Cobblers Grandson’

The Cobblers Grandson

The Cobblers Grandson

Often at the start of formal gatherings in New Zealand a mihimihi is given… A mihimihi is a basic introduction to let people know a little bit about yourself. It tells people where you are from and who you are by sharing your whakapapa (genealogy, ancestral ties) and other relevant information. To know one’s whakapapa is to know one’s identity.
It’s the story behind the name, it’s the pain behind the smile, it’s the things in your life that have woven themselves to help make you exceptionally YOU.

So what does this have to do with an album review about ‘The Cobblers Grandson”? … well nothing… and everything.

‘The Cobblers Grandson’ is the latest offering from New Zealand worship leader and songwriter Malcolm Gordon. Well known for writing thoughtful, melodic music for use in worship and spiritual reflection, Malcolm has taken a turn down the singer/songwriter alleyway.

And this is his family history… His mihimihi if you like.

Approaching this album, I initially listened to it as if it were any other album. That in itself was beautiful, purely as an album of songs. However the magic of the album was that the more you listen to it,the more it became so much more… a family photo album… a book of family history… a gallery of moments in time that have shaped a family, a generation, a man.

The album starts off with the track ‘Oh My Heart’ that sets the tone for the album with a lyric that both draws you into the story and also seems to challenge you:

“‘You weren’t to know how far you’d gone… adventure called you ever farther on”

It’s clear right from the outset that this is not Malcolm’s typical album.

The album tells a story exploring themes of origins and heritage through Malcolm’s trade mark haunting style that is laced with the celtic tones that echo his previous offerings.

The songs that really work best are the songs like the title track ‘The Cobblers Grandson’ and ‘Ash to Ash’. These are the quieter,  more ‘folky’ songs that are so sparse that you find yourself listening to the track as if it was actually a story being told to you… which of course is exactly what is happening.

Many of the songs are far more sparse than Malcom has dared before. Often the tracks rest on just an acoustic guitar sitting hauntingly behind his vocal with nothing more than the drone of a cello or some piano used sparingly to add more depth or tension. Once again Kirstin Cant adds perfectly timed backing vocals and harmonies.

The pinnacle of the album is the first single ‘Hey Stranger’. This is  the most pop style song on the whole album and is all about being a great neighbour. The chorus has a kids’ choir accompanying Malcolm with the words:

“Hey Stranger, Hey Neighbour, you don’t need wings to be my angel”

Some people might question Malcolm’s new direction on this album.

Why would someone move from a place where they were writing songs for church, and writing them well?

Actually I wonder if the question should be, why aren’t more people doing this?
The obvious answer is simply that not everyone is as talented and theologically grounded as Malcolm.
This direction is a sign of someone who isn’t interested in just having a good idea… but listening to GOD ideas, and having faith that God who gave the vision will also give the provision for it.

I think there is certainly a place for ‘church songs’ or ‘spiritual songs’ but the best way to reach people is through story telling. Wasn’t the best example of a storyteller Jesus himself with his parables and testimonies?
So why won’t we combine it with an international and spiritual language like music?
Doesn’t this seem like the most logical step?

“Let me tell you a story of what has happened to me… the pain, the hardship and this is what gave me the strength to get through it”
This is the best kind of story isn’t it?

I left this album thinking I wish I could see this as a soundtrack to a movie or a stage show… this is already a beautiful back drop to a wonderful story.
I can’t wait to hear the next chapter.

Release date October 4th, and can be ordered at onevoice.org.nz in the meantime
Or after October 4th it can be purchase at iTunes, bandcamp and Manna Christian stores.

Album Review: Malcolm Gordon ‘Into the Deep’

Malcolm Gordon 'Into the Deep'

Malcolm Gordon ‘Into the Deep’

It’s all about context.

There seems to be so many mega churches putting out albums full of generic worship songs that talk about Gods grace and goodness but miss the heart of it all… sometimes it just seems like they are just putting words to paper, and do ‘Worship by numbers’ – now please hear me I’m not saying that these songs aren’t authentic or can’t be used… I just sometimes think they lose their organic-ness due to deadlines etc.

And so it’s refreshing when you hear an album like Malcolm Gordon’s ‘Into the Deep’
You find yourself being drawn into the worship. It’s not about lights… it’s not about performance it’s about turning your eyes upwards… and it’s so natural.
Malcolm is a Presbyterian Minister, serving as the music director at St Peters in Tauranga in New Zealand… and the easy going nature that New Zealanders are renown for certainly shows in his music.

I love how Malcolm’s music is constantly routed not only in the Bible but also church tradition… a constant step forward while being rooted in the past. The Song Christ Before Me was inspired by ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ an old hymn that is thought to have been originally written in the 8th Century. Most of the songs have this foundation of scripture first which could seem quite heavy although Malcolm treats the scripture with respect and beauty and the result is a beautifully flowing album with real kiwi tinge and a large helping of Celt.

The album takes you on a journey as you start with ‘Waiting For the Dawn’ a real sense of expectations as you find yourself singing “Yes I am longing, For Jesus to come”… and then you are gently lead throughout the scriptures.
In fact being lead would be a really good way to describe how this album takes you to a place where you find yourself in worship, and it’s done so naturally you don’t have to think about it, the worship is something that just flows from where the music leads.

The real highlight of the album is when you hit the acapella  filled song ‘How Long Lord’ based on Psalm 13 sung as a Celtic tinged round… it’s melodic, it’s soothing and it’s the perfect time on the album to change the feel of the album.

Although this album is beautiful as a whole it’s each song that really feel like they have been individually hand crafted that really bring it together.
This is a beautiful inspired album.