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I was sorting some old papers, looking for stuff to throw away, when I found the following piece in one of my old resumes.
Before I tell you what is wrong with it, I have to explain my relationship with “personal branding“. And there are things wrong. On so many levels.
Do you know that situation where for years there is a small dirt spot on your ceiling that you haven’t noticed, and when someone shows you the spot, you can’t stop looking at it? Once that cat is out of the box, there is no way in hell you can put the animal back in the damn box. Well. That basically is my relationship with “personal branding”.
In the summer of 2007 I had a month between jobs. It was raining, as summers do in The Netherlands, and I had too much free time on my hands. I spent that time on the Internet. I decided I wanted to start a blog. And I did. It’s this one and it turns 5 in two weeks.
Five years ago, “personal branding” was a hot topic. People were calling themselves “The E-zine Queen”, “The Blogging Kaizar”, “The Brazen Careerist”, “The Branding Maven”, stuff like that. I thought it was funny. Interesting. And worth a shot. I was so curious how this would work, that I called myself ‘The Project Shrink” and started a website with the same name.
There are a couple of ways you can get attention. One is by telling people that they are stupid and doing things all wrong. “Why You Make the same mistakes over and over.” “How Male Machismo Shaped Project Management”. “Project Management Is Dead.”
I started out that way. And it was fun. Of course I believed what I wrote at the time. But. Well. Today-Me wouldn’t write like that.
At the same time, The Project Shrink was going to answer the question “Why do we do what we do?“ I was going to use psychology, sociology, complex adaptive systems and many more incredibly smart domains to hack into project life and to come up with the ultimate explanation on why it is what we do in and around projects. I was going to research a couple of months and outsmart everyone else. I was so excited!
You know now, it didn’t turn out well. We’re celebrating the fifth anniversary of not finding the answer mid July.
It was sociology that caused me trouble. It provides answers to why we do what we do. To explain it to myself I wrote “Do You Know Why Every Manager Wears A Suit?”.
It’s this whole labeling and group affiliation thing again.
“We radiate to the outside world our icons like Gantt Charts, two-digits precise risk assessments, large documents that seems to cover every little aspect imaginable. If you are a member of our group, you ooze control. I once told my wife that I was “unable to comply to her request”. She smacked me on the head telling me that she was not my customer. So, I assume that we also have a specific language that sets us apart from other mortals. By adopting our symbols, our rituals and speak newbie PMs try to affiliate themselves with the group called Professional Project Managers.
As an identity is how we see ourselves within the ultimate large group of humans, it not something that is to be seen an an individual level, it is a group thing. Without groups, the whole concept of identity wouldn’t make sense. We are shaping identities by combining three mechanisms: categorization, identification and comparison. Although broadminded people like to think they do not put everyone in boxes, everyone does. We always put people in categories, we label them. This is done by looking for signs that we associate with a certain group. These signs are the mentioned use of icons, rituals or speak. To be able to associate yourself with a group, we first have to divide society into groups. Identification is the part where you affiliate yourself with a group.”
At first this seems harmless. It’s amazing to look at the world like this. You see all kinds of interesting things.
But it is also effecting myself. In the online world, where you can only present a small fraction of “You” to others, which fraction should that be? And how does that work when people have the attention span of a fruit fly?
Before “The Project Shrink” I was blissfully unaware of my own use of language, rituals and objects I carried around with me. In the course of the blogs existence I became hyper-aware of them. I learned to read cultures as an ethnographer, but get into a tailspin when people ask me what it is I do on the Interwebs. Exactly.
“Well. I am a Project Shrink.”
You see. Very effective to avoid that conversation.
How can I summarize the awesomeness that is me in 20 words? Especially when I’m not sure where my awesomeness is. I can’t.
Personal branding and me are having a love/hate-relationship. It showed me a map of the world. And by showing me the map, it also gave me this question: where am I on this map?
So. What’s wrong with the piece of old resume I started this post with? In it’s literally sense, nothing. The text is more or less accurate. But it’s also very wrong. I don’t say “opportunities to innovate”. I never told anyone to “self-organize”. I use way more text to explain myself. Really. Way more.
And the picture. Yes, I do drink coffee. Let’s leave it at that.
It’s just not me. At least, not today.
It is the wrong design. And the wrong story. It was the only design I believed was available.
To be fair, I only used this piece once, and it is a while ago. Still. I did create it.
If I need something that reflects what I am about, today, it would look like this.
And if I really needed a picture of myself to go with it, I would use this one, by the amazing Frau Shrink.
You see. The word “project” is gone. Storytelling and design are at the center now.
I don’t think The Project Shrink is still the right moniker. But it is the one that brought me here, so I’ll keep it for now. “You have to dance with the one that brings you to the dance.”
And I did not learn about storytelling and design without being a Project Shrink.