Business Advice

What a poem can teach us about brand

Michel Hogan /

David Whyte

David Whyte speaks at TED2017 — The Future You, on April 24-28, 2017, in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Source: Bret Hartman/TED.

This past weekend I joined 200 people at a talk by poet and philosopher David Whyte. During his masterful mining of the nooks and crannies of our shared human experience, he recited some of his poems.

As I listened, his work “Start Close In” revealed a poetic instruction manual for organisations trying to achieve their brand. A quiet and tender companion to my piece about deep work, it reads:

“Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.”

Start with what’s important to you. Let the “pale ground” gain colour and shade as you use it across your thoughts and actions. Don’t water it down with “other people’s questions”, “follow your own voice” and let it gain strength. “Be humble and focused” don’t look to others or be blinded by shiny objects. Embrace the unheroic work, “start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take”.

A poem may seem like a strange place to find direction if you’re confused on where to begin or mired in questions of how to move forward. Beyond the words of this poem, the license of a poem can inspire people in ways simple statements never can.

I once used a poem to help a client find their connection to the “step you don’t want to take”. When presenting our findings, I read a poem crafted by my collaborator the amazing Nance Hellmrich about what they cared about. The words reduced everyone in the room to tears (me included), and became fuel for their work for over a decade.

Perhaps the embrace of poems can act as an antidote to the collective cynicism that abounds in organisations. What would a poem about what you care about say? “Start close in”, grab a few colleagues and spend some time with David’s words — see how they talk to the way you achieve your brand result.

See you next week when I tackle ‘the tyranny of purpose’.

NOW READ: To change the culture you’ve got to change the people

NOW READ: Uber’s shiny object: Why a new logo won’t fix a rot beneath the surface

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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