I Represent Me

Executive summary: In considering Boris Mann’s recent presentation on “Personal Brand Development”, I suggest that individuals represent themselves first as people and second as employees, if at all. Furthermore, that corporations are increasingly only a figment of law that will eventually become less relevant as individuals decide to work on loosely joined, distributed, collaborative projects. Give it 20 years, you’ll see.

Open Source World DominationConversations swirling lately, mostly about not-a-whole-lot, but then there are kernels of wisdom, little things that prove that the earth is moving underneath you, that the ants haven’t stopped marching, that invisible forces continue to act unabated.

Boris presented on something called “Personal Brand Development”, giving credit to Jame and Kris for sourcing the meme.

While I shudder at the sound of the phrase, the concept is worth investigating, mostly because, as with most things of import, I had similar serendipitous conversations lately about the same concept, not suprisingly with a subtly different thrust. Let me lay out a few quotes to set up my thoughts on this:

A respected, well-known employee is a credit to their employer, just as working for a high-profile company reflects well on the employee. Forward thinking companies should encourage and reward personal brand development.

Web 2.0 and Personal Brand Development Presentation | Bryght


Neville Hobson, Tom Foremski and Mitch Ratcliffe are dispensing advice you should run, not walk, to heed immediately if you work in an organization.

The message: Guard your identity and don’t mix it up with your company’s identity. Otherwise, you risk being “disappeared” if you leave your job or get fired.

Allan Jenkins’ Desirable Roasted Coffee

So now here’s where I diverge.

After the Mena vs Ben deathmatch at Les Blogs (an historic moment for civility online), Ben received some interesting feedback from someone who worked for a rather large software company (no, not Macrosoft, the other one). We’ll call him Mr Cog (I won’t name names since I honestly forget who it was that talked to him). Paraphrased, Mr Cog’s point was this: You’d better shuddup because what you say and how you behave represents your employer.

Since Ben does work for a rather large media organization in the UK, this was rather disheartening to hear. Out of a fear that his words might insult someone who would attribute it to his employer and consequently risk his livelihood, he should go mum? What an awful way to ruin a person, let alone an employee!

Sure, it’s not unprecedented for employees to get fired over their after-hours activities. Given that, Mr Cog has a case. Just maybe he was looking out for Ben’s well being. Conventionally, what each of us does, in some small measure, reflects on our employers. Yeah, duh? Ok ok, but given serious reflection, one begins to realize how disempowering and debilitating this attitude — and the resultant fear — really is.

So you want my take? No, probably not. But I’ll tell you anyway. Here’s the punchline: I don’t represent my employer, who I choose to work for represents me.

Catch that?

Ok, let me explain, because it sure sounds more dangerously egocentric than it needs to: I represent me. I represent me in the work I do, in the thoughts I write down and publish, in the conversations I have with other people, in the mistakes I make, in the Flickr photos I post. Though I’m commonly referred to as “a Flock guy”, that’s only relevant because it’s one of the projects that I choose to spend my time on (and yes, they also happen to pay my rent).

But because I choose to work on Flock, how good it is represents me since it’s my work and my intelligence (or lack thereof) that show through in the final result. And so fundamentally I’m responsible for how good or how bad it is, now and over time.

This statement is true for each one of us who works at Flock. There are no weak links. If Flock does indeed suck, it’s up to the individuals who are collectively represented by this group project to collaboratively remedy it (ideally with the support of our community). We each have providence over our own work to a fundamental level: working in open source guarentees a paper trail in the commit log. And so what we each put in is documented, recorded, added to the collective, public record.

So let’s get down to it. Whatever you want to call it (I’ll pass on “Personal Brand Development” thank you very much — I’m a person and don’t need to be branded, but to each their own), the old command and conquer hierarchy is changing and dissolving. The playing field is not just being pulverized, it’s being opened up to the fans to come and participate, much to the dismay of the coaches and referrees. In a worldwide Cluetrainian orgy, it’s now the employees who speak first for themselves and second for their employer. Even better, first for themselves, second for their friends and social network, third for their employers.

Here it is: I have a voice (have always had a voice, figuring it out how to really use it recently) that I should never be afraid to exert. I speak for me and I’m the only one that I can rely on to speak for me and to authentically represent me. My employer understands that my silence would reflect more seriously upon them and the culture they’re creating than anything I might eventually say. Yes, it’s a big messy and wonderful catastrophe, but in the words of dotBen, That’s life.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

19 thoughts on “I Represent Me”

  1. Imagine a future where harmful corporations can’t get employees because what individuals value most isn’t a big paycheck, but the integrity of their personal brands. “Sorry, Mr. weapons manufacturer, but you’ll have to close the company because only three people will work for you, and they wish to remain anonymous because they’re really ashamed of themselves…”

  2. Well said my friend. Well said. Unfortunately, that’s all I can say in a forum as public as this. But, I think about this. Every. Day.

  3. Way to run with the concept…good write up, Chris. Note of course that I presented in the context of an old school company where only one senior member really “got” blogging, in an organization that deployed and implemented mainly MS tools. So, as per usual, a lot of my language is chosen not to freak people out too much with this pinko open source commie stuff we all like 😛

    Note of course that here, with this comment, I choose to promote myself and my personal website, not my company blog. Tricky choices all the time.

  4. Boris, totally agree. I would have posted this without your post. But you encouraged me to write on this topic as I’d already been thinking about it.

    Besides, I know you, you’re bigger than Bryght, and that’s the whole friggin’ point.

  5. Bang on guy…

    Although the “personal brand development” concept is meant to sell this concept more to the enterprise, rather than the individual. It isn’t hard to convince people that they need to invest personal capital (time, effort, thought) into themselves.

    … the reality is that most organizations don’t *really* want their employees’ brand to succeed *too* much… why? Because it will increase the personal “market cap” of the employee and price them out of their employers reach.

    I argue that an employer that implements a successful personal brand development program is ultimately investing in the corporation indirectly by ensuring that their employees are increasingly valued in the market, increasingly value themselves within the context of their “value offering” and increasingly value the environment that allows them to accomplish this.

    … in my experience the cost to keep this person a productive member of your team is significantly less in contrast to their worth/value to the market.

    By the way: I do believe that we can serve a “win-win” situation here… it isn’t so much a matter of prioritizing yourself before, or behind, the organization… but rather gaining momentum in the forwarding of your thoughts/ideas/principles/etc. and helping the organization by inherently being a contributing member of that community.

    … keep banging the drum!

  6. It is my job then to personally represent myself according to my self actualization needs and ideals. It is me that I represent in the work I do, the way I appear, the quality I provide, and even in the mistakes I make. I have concluded that the key to the ideal representation and promotion of myself as a brand is setting myself apart from the rest and maintaining that unique identity.
    In most circumstances, just as brand names compete for consumer preference, it is my brand name that is in direct competition with those that surround it. In my academic circle, it is putting forth the extra effort to make my paper or presentation flawless and to make it stand out amongst my peers’, executing each assignment to the best of my ability. Socially speaking, it is how is present myself to others that helps me reach my self-actualization needs. As one the first and most vital elements of consumer attraction, my thoughts on appearance reflect those of a marketer’s ideal for a product they promote. In all honesty, as my own marketer, it is my designer shoes, my perfect clothing ensemble, my manicured nails, and the perfect hairstyle that projects the image I desire, therefore promoting me as a brand the way I need it. Whether it sounds vain or not is anything but my concern; for it is those qualities that make myself as a brand stand out. Compared to gaining consumer preference, it is the quality I provide to others that is key in promoting myself socially as well. Did I give my friend good advice? Did I make anyone smile today? Did I teach anyone something new? In the workplace, the combination of the way I promote myself academically and socially is what I use to set myself apart from others and maintain a unique identity. In my experience, when my personalized needs are met in promoting “me” as a brand, I gain satisfaction which accordingly builds my confidence.
    Although there are non-competitive aspects of my life, it is in those areas I am more passive and the stress I place in promoting myself as a brand name becomes considerably lower. The balance in my life is at a good point and recognizing mistakes and flaws is all a part of my brand development. I am young and the process of developing myself as a brand has just begun. Although I am not where I want to be yet, I am perfectly content with where I am at the present time and where I see myself in the future.

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