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The Sparkle of the New

Potential and Authenticity

Spectrum colours arranged by chance III, Ellsworth Kelly, 1951, from his plant drawings

In An Alchemy of Mind, Diane Ackerman writes: “A self is deciduous, it leafs out as one grows, changes with one’s seasons, yet somehow stays briskly the same.”

I like this idea, it feels true for a person or a brand. It holds in it the aspiration to grow, evolve, return to your roots, begin again.

Ackerman also tells us that the human brain “composes a self-portrait from a confetti of facts and sensations, and as pieces are added or removed the likeness changes, though the sense of unity remains.”

People do the work of identifying themselves amidst the endless flurry of stimulus, and brands do the same.

Brands spend untold resource understanding how new things work, striving to be on the cutting edge — doing all the things to have just the right amount of sparkle — but in that pursuit of new, it’s easy to lose sight of who they are.

This is most true, ironically, in an era where brand leaders are absolutely obsessed with authenticity. My question in this era, the work I am most engaged in with clients, is this: How can you be authentic if you don’t know who you are? 

How do you evolve, yet stay “briskly the same”?

I’ve long advocated adaptability as Survival Skill Number One for brands, and it only gets more pressing as our world becomes more rapid-fire. But there is a sweet spot. Just like joints need a balance between laxity and tension to function at their best, brands need to find a balance between their own core values and the sparkle of the new.

So what is it about the sparkle of the new?

I think it’s about potential and the natural rhythm of that deciduous tree. There’s a delicious one-two punch in how potential sparks our imaginations, and how a shared vision delights us with its feathery tickle.

Completion, endings, have a distinct energy that often feels like hard work — there’s a characteristic heaviness. Like a late summer tomato at the peak of its ripeness, the fruit hanging so heavy that the plant tips to the ground. Endings can’t sustain themselves, at least not for long.

“… the great gift of autumn is that the beginning of the end doesn’t feel like decay, at least on the surface, it doesn’t feel like a crumbling and a rottening [sic] and a collapse from within; it feels like the arrival of a world of new sensations.” Michael McCarthy, Independent UK 

For my husband Hal and I, the sweet spot of “new” (in life and work) has always been in experimentation, knowing that new can be both a lighthouse and a siren song. 

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