Let me let you in on a secret.
It’s not something they’ll teach you in business school.
Or in strategy books.
Or on branding courses.
In fact to be honest I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard it explicitly referenced anywhere at all – although the hints of it aren’t hard to find:
If you want to make an interesting brand, then you first need to be an interesting person.
Or, if you want the shadow spin:
Behind every boring brand, there’s a boring founder.
You see, the dark truth is that founder-led brands always end up being reflections of their creators.
They say you can learn a lot about an artist by observing the art they create, and the same is true for a business. It’s unavoidable. It’s like you’ve taken your deepest self – the self that you probably aren’t even aware of – and have reconstructed it in the world at large, in the guise of a brand.
At the deepest level, there’s probably some sort of therapeutic process at play here. A working through of subconscious neuroses that then manifest in the strategy, aesthetics, values, and culture of the brand you create.
But to be honest we don’t even need to go that deep.
The more basic formula is this:
- Interesting people make interesting decisions.
- Interesting decisions make interesting brands.
- And interesting brands are naturally attractive.
Here’s an example.
When Steve Jobs was in college he took a calligraphy class. People made fun of him for it. They said it was useless. But he didn’t care, he did it anyway, simply for its own sake, without a thought to the “utility” or “career relevance” of it.
Years later when he was designing the original Mac, it was this class which drove him to insist on building multiple fonts into the interface – a decision which was so groundbreaking and foundational that it’s hard for us to imagine today that once upon a time it was a very weird thing to do.
Of course, this anecdote barely scratches the surface of just how interesting a person Jobs was “out of office”. He hitchhiked, lived in an Ashram, played harmonica, walked barefoot, etc. etc. He was a fascinating guy.
So no wonder he created a fascinating company.
You don’t have to look far to find other examples like this. Most charismatic brands have charismatic founders, and that isn’t a coincidence.
Just as Jobs personified Apple, so too did Branson personify Virgin, Musk personify Tesla, and Chouinard personify Patagonia. And that’s before we even get onto eponymous brands like Dyson, Saatchi & Saatchi, Brunello Cucinelli, and all the rest of them.
Basically if you find a cool brand, then you’ll find a cool founder.
So my question to you then, is obvious:
Is this you?
Do you have weird interests?
Do you have an odd backstory?
Do you do things just for their own sake?
Do you have a full life outside of your business?
Do you have a distinct outlook on the world?
I think for most of us, if we’re honest, the answer to these questions is “no”. Most of us are deeply conventional – these days more so than ever, as we’re relentlessly algorithmically funnelled in the same direction.
This being the case, how can you ever expect to make the kind of divergent decisions that will produce divergent outcomes?
The answer is: you can’t.
Is this depressing?
But it’s not too late.
All you need to recognise is one simple truth: that the useless is useful. That the irrelevant is relevant. That the niche is broad.
Just as you can draw a clear thread between Job’s calligraphy class, and these very words you’re reading today, so too will you be able to draw a thread between your own idiosyncrasies and your future successes. It’s just you won’t be able to predict them ahead of time.
So consider this your license – nay, your obligation – to lead a curious life.
Curiosity, and the interestingness it yields, is a skill that can be learned.
It probably doesn’t come naturally. You’re too numbed by scrolling and Netflix and consumer culture and all the rest of it for that. But it can be cultivated if you force it.
So force it you must – and one day you might be a brilliant weirdo too.