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Know Who You Are, And Act Like It

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C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

The closing address last week at FEI2010 was presented by Bert Jacobs, CEO (Chief Executive Optimist) for clothing company Life is good'. His presentation was an excellent finish to an outstanding conference. He was entertaining and inspirational. His down-to-earth, decidedly non-corporate style mixed together what I'd describe as a little bit Robert Fulghum, a little bit Confucianism, a little bit Ben & Jerry's, and a tiny amount of foul-mouthed language for timely humorous effect. Like I said, it was entertaining and inspirational.

Like the clothing sold by Life is good' itself, Bert's presentation was filled with little life-lesson sayings to help us on our organizational journeys.

'Whatever you are, be a good one.'

'Do what you like. Like what you do.'

'Not all who wander are lost.'

'and more.

From the perspective of those of us looking to innovate, the most intriguing saying for me was

'Know who you are, and act like it.'

I think often times, either as individuals or organizations, we find ourselves copying others or mimicking their actions. Taking the lead of others can be simpler and productive. And doing so isn't necessarily inherently bad. There are certainly valid reasons for choosing this path. From an organizational perspective regarding innovation it might make perfect strategic sense. I don't think Bert Jacobs is suggesting that taking the lead of others, or copying what they do, is inherently bad either. It becomes problematic however, both for individuals and organizations, if such mimicking defies your own inner nature and perspective. Copying and following others is problematic to the extent that mimicked actions do not represent who you or your organization really are. It's okay to copy others unless it leads you down a path that goes against your own being.

Life is good' for instance, rather than following more traditional marketing approaches put forth by other successful clothing purveyors, decided its promotional roots lie in 'festivals'. Rather than spend their dollars on traditional advertising, they took their message to the people on the street at festivals ' pumpkin festivals, music festivals, etc., many of which are used to raise money to help kids with life-threatening illnesses. Life is good' has nothing against the promotional approaches used by more affluent or upscale imaged clothing brands. It's just that these approaches and their subsequent image are contrary to what Life is good' is all about. You've got to remember that Bert and his brother John are two guys that drove around in a beat up van for five years, living off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches hocking t-shirts door-to-door in college dormitories.

Know who you are, and act like it.

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