Be So Brave that Even Bullets Fear You

Even Bullets Fear the Brave

Brav­ery Removes Defensiveness

Garry Kas­parov quote this as an old Russ­ian say­ing. It’s inspired me to find ways to go on offense. I hope it helps you take mat­ters into your hands, take respon­si­bil­ity for your own actions and reject mak­ing excuses.

When Curiosity is Your Hammer, Everything Really is a Nail

When curiosity is your hammer, everything really is a nail.

You’ve heard that say­ing, “If your only tool is a ham­mer, every­thing looks like a nail.” And it usu­ally refers to uncre­ative solu­tions to prob­lems: treat­ing every prob­lem the same, as if it will respond to the solu­tion that you’re best at pro­vid­ing. But if you tackle tough prob­lems with curios­ity, you may find that, with good problem-clarity, you can move past your assump­tions and cre­ate a new model. And real prob­lems are much eas­ier to solve than vague ones with fuzzy edges.

Directness in Strategy Comes from Asking the Bold Questions

Rapid and Direct

The most direct thing you can do is ask the right ques­tion, with­out wor­ry­ing about whether you know how to answer it or not.

Some peo­ple think you need to know how to answer a ques­tion before you can ask it. But inno­va­tion in strat­egy is often goal-driven. And if you know your goal, you know all you need to know to make the most direct plan possible.

Let Me Illustrate

Let’s say your city is under siege. You know an army is going to move into a space across from your walls. You also know that their gen­eral is their moti­va­tion for fight­ing. If he’s gone, the bat­tle is over. You’re won­der­ing how you’ll exe­cute the bat­tle. There are two ways to move forward.

  1. You can go into auto-pilot and do what you always do. Fol­low mil­i­tary doc­trine. Nobody would blame you. You set up the bat­tle line, for­tify your posi­tion and get pre­pared for a con­ven­tional war.
  2. Or you can ask ques­tions that oth­ers wouldn’t ask. You could say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a way to take out the gen­eral soon after the bat­tle started?” and then maybe “what if we could do it before the bat­tle started?” Then new options become open to you. You could then ask “how.”

Sce­nario 2: The Most Imag­i­na­tive, Direct Approach

Let’s assume you took sce­nario 2. The oppos­ing gen­eral has moved into posi­tion. It’s the night before the bat­tle, and everyone’s get­ting pre­pared for the next morning’s action. The gen­eral steps out of the plan­ning tent to find a place to relieve him­self. A sin­gle shot rings out, and before the bat­tle starts, it’s over.

Because you dared to ask how to take out the gen­eral before the bat­tle began, you made 3 plans. In the first, you ana­lyzed the bat­tle­field, find­ing the likely places the gen­eral would set up his com­mand tent. You send snipers to hide on the enemy’s side, gain­ing angles on the general’s likely posi­tions. Then you pre­pared fir­ing solu­tions to hit where the gen­eral was likely to move, so you could hit it with artillery. Finally, you pre­pared sev­eral traps that would lure him into a posi­tion to be captured.

Expe­ri­ence is Often the Problem

Expe­ri­ence pre­vents us from ask­ing ques­tions like this. Expe­ri­ence makes us work too hard, spend too much money and get too frus­trated. Bold­ness makes us ask the obvi­ous ques­tions that nobody wants to ask.

In fact, the plans from my sce­nar­ios would never have been thought of if nobody dared to ask the ques­tion “Wouldn’t it be cool if..?” And ask­ing dar­ing, ridicu­lous ques­tions is where we find the most cost-effective, effi­cient, direct plans.

The Desire to Win Drives us to Understanding

Excellence, not method, makes a brand

A desire for excel­lence will always win over meth­ods that make you a follower.

We some­times think our brand is lead­ing, when we’re really just fol­low­ing. We either fol­low ana­lyt­ics, because it’s the next big thing, or we fol­low cul­tural cues, because it’s the pop­u­lar thing to do. I’m gonna explain why great brands tran­scend these two pop­u­lar forms of fol­low­er­ship and take leadership.

Most lead­ers either think it’s all about the num­bers, or it’s all about what peo­ple want to hear: the Zeit­geist. So we become slaves to num­bers that we don’t com­pletely under­stand. Sta­tis­tics that claim to tell us the whole story, but only give us a sliver. Or we become slaves to pub­lic opin­ion and polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, and we tell our inner selves to be quiet, stop fight­ing for what’s right. We’ll do that once we get next quarter’s numbers.

But that’s all been played out. Everybody’s either going with indus­try best-practices, or they’re pan­der­ing to polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Today, the way to be inno­v­a­tive and edgy is to stop try­ing to be inno­v­a­tive and edgy. Instead, set your heart on excellence.

Excel­lence doesn’t mean pleas­ing other peo­ple. Now there may be some over­lap, but you are not a slave to what oth­ers think. Whether it’s your lib­eral, artsy friends try­ing to get you to con­form to their way of being “open-minded” or your con­ser­v­a­tive friends telling you to con­form to the way it’s always been done.

Excel­lence, Not Method, Makes a Brand

When excel­lence is your goal, not a work­flow or method, you gain the con­fi­dence to ques­tion the num­bers. You become hum­ble enough to admit “I don’t under­stand these num­bers, could you explain them to me?” And then ask questions.

Here’s what you’ll prob­a­bly find: the num­bers tell you much less than what you thought. And you may find the researcher totally mis­rep­re­sented them. It hap­pens, and it hap­pens often.

Fol­low­ing pub­lic opin­ion won’t get you there either. When excel­lence is your goal, you’re not gonna do what’s polit­i­cally cor­rect unless it’s also right. Think about this: what are the chances that, in all of his­tory, we’ve finally dis­cov­ered the true pur­pose of human­ity and all the cor­rect morals to go along with it? Soci­ety is always right about some things and wrong about a lot of other things. Do you want to do the right thing, or the pop­u­lar thing? I think you’ll find that “right” is bet­ter than pop­u­lar, espe­cially if you’re clear about what you believe and hum­ble (even if you’re straight­for­ward) in your speech.

Eas­ier Said Than Done: What Excel­lence Looks Like

It’s hard to call BS on cul­ture. So how do you develop these disciplines?

Stop Trust­ing Experts

You can­not take people’s word for it, not even the experts. You’ll lose your grasp on real­ity. You’re the one who cares about your brand. Most other peo­ple have an incen­tive to tell you what you want to hear. Get good at the num­bers, at a basic level. Don’t become a sta­tis­ti­cian, but make sure you under­stand how they got to that conclusion.

When I was teach­ing brand­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Ore­gon, my stu­dents made deci­sions on their own and then defended them. I wasn’t giv­ing them work­flows to fol­low; I made real strate­gists who could build their own work­flows. And brand strate­gists ask a lot of ques­tions, and make you feel uncom­fort­able when you can’t explain your stand with strong reasoning.

Refuse to Pander

Know what you stand for. Decide what you believe. Chick-fil-A knows what it stands for, and they don’t apol­o­gize when peo­ple don’t like it. Yet tons of brands that we all like make vac­u­ous state­ments sup­port­ing polit­i­cally cor­rect causes because they’re pan­der­ing. But if you refuse to pan­der, but find what fires you up and know what really helps your cus­tomers, you take a lead­er­ship posi­tion. I mean, do you know what peo­ple need or not? Own your story by stand­ing for what you believe in, and watch your heart–and the heart of your brand–catch fire.

Yes­ter­day, to be dar­ing meant to be counter-culture. Now, that’s the safe thing to do. Today’s dar­ing lead­ers are get­ting back to logic, ques­tion­ing the new val­ues, under­stand­ing how they inter­act and improve on the old val­ues. But they’re not just swal­low­ing them because Obama, Hol­ly­wood, or some uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor says so.


Take con­trol of your brand by know­ing what you believe and why you believe it. Get out of the weeds, and ask peo­ple to help you under­stand what they’re sug­gest­ing you do. Don’t ask for reports, ask for expla­na­tions. If you’re try­ing to lead a brand by try­ing to keep up with all the com­pe­ti­tion, it’s time to get back to your val­ues. Because there’s a big­ger rea­son for you to be in busi­ness. Find it, and you’ve found your brand.