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  • Writer's pictureMark Button

Soul Power: Balance, authenticity, integrity, and the importance of regularly recalibrating, persona

Balance. In nature, in health, and in our home and work lives, finding balance is one of the key elements to stability, harmony, rationality and to keeping the bigger picture in focus. Upsetting that equilibrium can, left unchecked, cause havoc. For us as individuals, making time to stand back and look holistically and objectively at life can unlock great value. Stepping out of the 'day to day' for periods of reflection can help us to rediscover our soul, our purpose, what drives us. Focusing on authenticity and seeking to act with integrity invariably serves us well. What's more, rebalancing ourselves when things are out of whack is an important habit to nurture to keep us focused and centered. Similarly, true self-awareness, soul, authenticity and integrity, and the ability to course-correct are qualities in organizations that increasingly savvy consumers seek out and identify with, and which can be tangible differentiators.

The speed of life

Life feels like it moves at an increasing rate of knots. Just this week, one of my friends commented that she couldn't believe that we're almost a third of the way through 2019 and it doesn't seem five minutes since Christmas. My Facebook memories serve up images and videos of my little boy, learning to walk, sat on my lap playing my drum kit or singing along to a song as a chirpy wee toddler, and it seems like it was just a couple of years ago. I say little. He turns nine in October, is designing insanely complex worlds in Minecraft, making us excellent cups of tea each morning, and plotting to take over the world. Obviously though, time moves at the same pace, but it just feels quicker as we get older. As John Cleese's long-suffering, nihilistic Basil Fawlty perfectly opined: "Zoom. What was that? That was your life, mate. Oh, that was quick. Do I get another? Sorry, mate. That's your lot."

In October 2018, the American Psychological Association reported that 77% of 'Generation Z' adults and 64% of all adults cited work as the major cause of stress, more so than health concerns, money worries, or the state of the economy. These are pretty alarming numbers, but are they really that surprising? I'd say no, in part because we're 'on' for longer periods of the day. The technology apparently designed to make our lives more convenient quite often does exactly the opposite, and many of us find ourselves more stressed and more time constrained.

In a world where applications are an integral part of daily life, where constant communication drives social media (and yes, I'm aware of the irony that I'm writing this for a social media platform) and an incessant 24 hour global news cycle, we spend more time looking at screens in their various guises more than ever before, both at work and in our home lives. The boundaries between our digital work and home lives are increasingly blurred (written as my phone chirps with a client email at 7.45 on a Sunday evening). I could power off my phone of course, but what if it's important, or urgent?

And therein lies the rub.

We've become conditioned to demand instant gratification, to binge watch TV series or buy level upgrades in games, whereas previously we'd have to wait for, or earn, that gratification. We're incessantly bombarded by noise, yet we tolerate, no, welcome it for fear of missing out. Apart from sleeping, do we ever truly totally switch off these days? Serious question.

Get out of your head

As human beings, we can only function optimally for a certain period of time before we inevitably dip. Increasingly, we are seeing more people stepping back, applying the brakes and making time to regularly reset, to recharge, to reflect, to regain perspective. To recalibrate. Interest in "mindfulness techniques has surged in the past few years," writes Amy Norton of HealthDay News in a November 2018 article. "In 2017, more than 14 percent of U.S. adults said they'd practiced yoga in the past year -- up from 9.5 percent in 2012.

Meanwhile, the number of meditation practitioners more than tripled -- from 4 percent to 14 percent." Of course, technology developers are getting in on the action, with brands such as Headspace and Lululemon seeking to drive meditation and mindfulness into the mainstream. “Something really special is happening with our culture at a time when we need it most,” said Megan Jones Bell, Headspace’s chief science officer, quoted in an article by CNBC's Angelica LaVito, also from November of last year. “At a time when mental health problems are on the rise, something that improves focus and compassion is certainly something the world needs more of.”

Taking time to reflect is something that I have had to teach myself to do at least once a day. It requires discipline, especially if you're like me and have a mind operating at a thousand miles an hour, brimming with ideas and thoughts, and.... Squirrel!

For me, it's a case of finding a quiet space and making a cup of tea - Blue People Ginseng Oolong is my go to. All devices are off. All I have is a pencil and paper, as inspiration often comes when noise is removed. Sit down. Breathe in. Hold it for five seconds. Exhale slowly. Repeat five times. Then just listen.

It takes some getting used to, as invariably your mind just wants to bring you back to wondering what you should make for dinner this evening. As I write this, I am enjoying silence. Apart from the light tapping of my keyboard, the breathing and occasional puppy dreams of our dog, who's napping in front of the fireplace and probably chasing imaginary gophers, and the ringing from my tinnitus (blame drumming and DJing), all is calm.

Quiet time is a good thing for me, personally. Unplugging for at least half an hour and really thinking objectively about whatever area you choose to focus on, really helps me to prioritize my life, my short-term goals and how they feed into the longer-term life plan. It helps me to not "sweat the small stuff" and it's surprising how much clarity this gives me. Of course, there's the occasional curve ball which you have to deal with, but perspective provides clearer solutions, at least in my experience.

You are what you preach

Something that I've learned over the last two and a half decades is that clients too need time to reflect, to be able to step back and look at their business objectively and holistically. My work is centered on how organizations present themselves. Initially that focus was public relations, but it's evolved into much more than that, encompassing business and brand strategies, messaging development, tactical programs across earned, owned and paid media, events, collateral, basically any area where a client relates to a public. Sometimes it is working with clients from inception to market, sometimes it's established brands, but it's always focused on moving that client meaningfully forwards to add value to its interactions and engagements.

I find it useful to view client organizations as you would an individual, in that they are conceived and born, they develop and, given the right nutrients and nurturing, they should grow. They mature and it's not uncommon for them to have a mid-life crisis. Each has its own unique set of circumstances, demands and desires. Each has strengths and weaknesses. Each can wither and perish if they are not looked after. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for moving organizationally forwards. However, there are several common pillars that I actively encourage clients to embrace, the most important being to promote active self-awareness as an organization.

Reflection and reaction

Progressive organizations regularly review and analyze, both internally and externally, assessing both their own business and the competitive landscape, openly and objectively. An honest and transparent review and assessment process breeds self-awareness within an organization, and can include any and all elements of a business. This process typically encompasses market research, competitive analysis, brand and awareness research, product/service review, assessing external facing elements (for example, website, media relations, collateral, social media), the customer engagement/sales function and the customer fulfillment function.

The ability to periodically and purposefully step back from a business, to devote time to assessing one's organization in a holistic 'warts and all' way is not an easy thing to do, simply because we're often so close to our work that it can be challenging to truly review everything in an objective and unbiased way. However, the potential pay-off can be huge. Self-awareness enables us to identify and solve issues, evolve, refresh, change markets and even create new ones. The most successful companies are always looking ahead, fully engaged with the present and learning from the past. Here are some common sense pointers that I recommend clients consider:

  1. Firstly, we're all human, flawed and fabulous at the same time. Nobody, and nothing, is perfect. Consulting colleagues and customers and engaging them in the process of review and recalibration in a genuine and transparent way can provide unity and clarity of purpose. When everybody buys into and is invested in the process it can be very powerful.

  2. It's healthy to look back, to revisit your origins and core values. It can both ground us and put perspective around the journey we've been on. There will have been highs and lows, triumphs and mis-steps along the way, but look how far you've come. It's often a very eye-opening part of the whole process.

  3. Do not fear change. Just like death, taxes and England probably never winning another football (soccer) World Cup, it's an inevitable part of life. Instead, be open to it. Create it. Embrace it. Live it. Love it. It can be liberating.

  4. Be objective and honest. Celebrate the good and commit to positive change in areas needing improvement. Positive change is not authentic if it's not grounded in reality, so aim to keep it real. It can be cathartic and set the stage for positive momentum.

  5. Don't be afraid to admit mistakes, as that authenticity breeds integrity and, ultimately, trust. And in the age of 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' trust can be a game-changer.

As mentioned above, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this process. But some common goals are to assign ownership of the process and review regularly. It's an ongoing task, a work in progress (aren't we all?) and a path of continual learning and insights.

Why is this even necessary?

It's a good and valid question and the way I see it is that across many market sectors we are at saturation point. Brands have become extremely powerful, in some cases more powerful than governments. In many ways, markets have become ubiquitous and, dare I say it, boring. We've seen, for example, the traditional high street decimated by online retail and big box out of town stores (and even some of those out of town megastores are now in decline).

Big brand commoditized products, in some instances, are being brought to task as potentially adverse information regarding the processes and ingredients used in their creation has surfaced. We've seen the rapid rise of craft and artisanal products, traceable to source and fully authenticated, as consumers become more savvy about the products they purchase, what is in those products, and the wider effect that those products might have on, say, the environment.

The desire to go back to consuming products that one can trust, that are not going to harm you in any way, and which are not detrimental to nature, has spurred growth in specialty products. We've seen an explosion of farmer's markets and cooperatives, the return of traditional butcher shops offering locally sourced, grass-fed, hormone free and organic meats. In Colorado, we've even seen the return of door to door milk deliveries. Almost every sector has now been touched by this new paradigm. Consumers are more keyed in, more willing to make objective and informed decisions, and often willing to pay a premium for that peace of mind.

What all of this boils down to is a demand for integrity and authenticity from brands has become an important factor in brand adoption and continued loyalty. Cultivating a climate of self-awareness of your entire operation, committing to finding balance and course-correcting head on as needed, to highlight the positives and mitigate the challenges, with clarity, honesty and purpose, can only be good. And let's face it, why wouldn't you want to provide customers with a product or service that has tangible good karma, because that halo effect, once a brand has cultivated it authentically it through actions and built that integrity and trust with its audiences, can be a real and measurable stimulus to continued growth.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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