Who am I? How do I know it? How can I communicate it? These are three of the most enduring, difficult questions for us to answer, and they only become more difficult as we grow; as individuals, partners, groups, and organizations. Why is that and what can we do about it?
As individuals, self-identity feels as if it should be straightforward. We plug away at our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all day, rarely asking if what we’re communicating to everyone is the best representation of who we are. We not only assume that others see us for who we really are, but that we really are who we want to be, or should be. Most of us have difficulty even acknowledging the fact that self-identity can be anything but straightforward. We’re told it should be easy when for most of us it’s anything but. Internally we’re often facing a myriad of personality conflicts which can expose themselves through sudden actions and communications that others perceived as being completely out of touch with the person they’ve come to believe we are. However, as individuals, we still benefit from the relative simplicity of being one single human. We “only" have ourselves to figure out.
Contrast that with the increased complexity of defining your relationship with your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband. “Me" questions suddenly become “we” questions; who are we, how do we know it, and how can we communicate it? These questions are infinitely more complex, in part because two people who may have defined themselves somewhat differently are now faced with the challenge of presenting a unified identity; who they are as a couple. Questions like "How should others perceive us as a couple?” or "What evidence can we present together in order to support this?" Every couple, at some point, either consciously or unconsciously begins to project their own kind of "brand image" to those around them. Some examples of this might be: “We are the most loving, caring couple of all the couples we know” or "we are an artistic twosome who are ambitious and non-traditional" or "we act like we hate each other, but really we love each other; we’re cute that way."
Because couples are made from individuals, they bring with them their internalized processes for self-identity and apply that to their new dual identity. Which might explain why so many relationships fail to last. In this article discussing the 10 reasons most people get divorced, the top 4 are specifically related to personal identity issues.
Now think about how complex this gets when you put ten, twenty, or twenty thousand individuals together to create large organizations who somehow hope to present themselves as one unified voice and brand personality. It boggles the mind that any organization can ever even dream of accomplishing such a daunting task. And yet they do. Nike, of course, is one of the most overused examples, but consistently the best.
As individuals, we have the freedom and luxury to explore personality issues at any pace we choose, silently in our own heads. We can test out new ideas or directions with very little risk. But for large organizations the risks are much larger and immediate.
Organizations typically find themselves being forced into having actual conversations about their personality and identity; most of which are moderated and expertly guided by agencies like the one I work for, who specialize in these fields. These conversations are what lead to the creation of business strategy, brand strategy, communication strategy and corporate identity. The content covered can be as large and complex as the organizations they serve, but at their core, they’re essentially about self-identity. A strategy simply helps organize a chaos of ideas, into a clear set of choices that can be communicated to others.
Which is why I believe one of the keys to solving the complexity of large organizations starts with solving the assumptions we have as individuals; that we know who we are, and others do as well. When we start to explore, identify, and build a strategy around ourselves as individuals, we begin to gain incredible insight into others around us; our friends, partners, and the large organizations we’re a part of. The ultimate benefit could be the snowballing growth of clarity around the most challenging questions of all time: “who are we, how do we know it, and how can we communicate it?"