Tom Asacker wrote Sandbox Wisdom ten years ago. The book was a personal journey for him at the time – self-published and sent out to those he thought would find it useful – and proved to be a pivot point for what became the next act in his life.

I read Tom’s blog long before I ever picked up the phone to speak with him live and much longer before I realized I was going to go down a similar path myself. Tom’s is a very deep and uncommon wisdom and I’ve always appreciated his unique perspective. This explains the rather metaphorical image, above, as well as the two posts I’ll put up this week.

Tom took a moment to reflect on his own observations ten years after publishing Sandbox Wisdom, writing six truths that I found very much worth posting here, and what started as a quick exchange took on a slightly more vibrant life of its own.

Let me present, in a fairly non-linear form, the first three of Tom’s observations – with commentary from the both of us. Add your own comments, if you would, and both Tom and I will be happy to continue our non-linear conversation with you, too.

Ten Years After: The First Three Observations

The Grand Illusion.

(TA): Most people understand the world by chopping it into bits and categorizing those bits. But it’s an illusion. For example, there is no discrete thing called “tree.” “Tree” is simply a word we’ve created to refer to a particular pattern of ground, atmosphere, energy consuming and producing cells moving in shapes we call “branches,” etc.

The same is true in business. An organization is not a bunch of disconnected departments and activities, like marketing, finance, HR, operations, IT, et al. Rather, it’s an arrangement, or pattern, in which every so-called part is a function of the whole.

I’ve come to find that this “whole” is only seen and appreciated by a very few exceptional leaders, and that this one distinction, this dominant viewpoint, makes all the difference to their ongoing success.

(SD): This point is more an exhortation to leaders than anything else. Like the eyelash mite, whose entire world exists somewhere above your eye, the average worker in the developed world lives in a finite “tree.”

Their leaders need to decide if they want to be pioneers, forging ahead and damning the consequences, or the bodhisattvas on the edge of the universe who know nirvana but pause so that they can let others understand, as well. The exceptional leaders are these latter ones. They’re exceptional because they’re rare as hell.

(TA): Gandhi wrote, “A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.” The same is true of business. And in any organization, the most practical of affairs is building a culture of empathy and innovation by unlocking the hearts and minds of people.


Bye-Bye Branding.

(TA): Despite my effort with A Clear Eye for Branding and the efforts of many others, for the vast majority of people the words “brand” and “branding” will never take on the strategic and unifying significance that we preach.

Rather than suggesting a business philosophy and systematic approach to creating happy customers and increasing profitability, brand and branding will continue to evoke naming, logos, design and other aesthetic and mnemonic concerns. I’m over it. You should be too.

(SD): There’s an easier road to take, always. My thoughts on Eigen Values and creating branded truisms (“This Sentence Has 5ive Words”) touch upon this frustration, as well – but I’m not over it.

Brands who take this seriously beat the daylights out of brands that don’t. Oddly – or not oddly, come to think of it – the brands that often do the best job of this are run by CEO’s or founders who think of little else. Apple, Sony under Mr. Morita, Method, The Boston Beer Company, JetBlue, and the list goes on.

I will never give this up. This is a story worth telling still.

(TA): The story is most certainly worth telling. But perhaps it’s better told with different language.

What’s the Recipe?

(TA): Business people hunger for a recipe for marketplace success. They swarm like bees to the plethora of books, articles and advisors that promise “the way,” despite the fact that there is no one way.

At Southwest Airlines, the employee comes first. At Whole Foods, it’s the customer. At Apple, it’s the product (and Steve Jobs). There are no formulas, but there are patterns. My goal with Opportunity Screams is to expose those patterns and to have readers feel them in their bones. Success is about discovering insights, seeing with new eyes, not about following a new blueprint.

(SD): “The tao is not above you, nor below you.” Taoism, Buddhism and more, all in one blog post! Back to our branding conversation, then.

Southwest says employees first because Herb knows this to be true. Apple, or Morita’s Sony, put product design, aesthetics, material choices and user interface first because they, too, knew it was the right thing to do. Eric Ryan at Method puts user experience first – but also sustainability. Brand tension is key to Method because Method is a complex brand. It’s complex because they know this to be true. What we know to be true, we do with all our hearts! An Eigen Value!

(TA): What we know to be true, we do with passion. Now you’re talking my language.

Next Thursday, part 2.

I figured we’d end up talking each other’s language.

Add your own to the conversation, please – would value your thoughts, as always.

I’ll fill you in on the other three points Tom raised on Thursday – see you then.