My name is David Falk and I am part of the business development team at MetaDesign. Over the years, and at various places where I’ve worked, I learned one thing, which sort of became my mantra: Don’t worry too much about too many things. And of late, I was particularly struck by Mark Manson's best-selling book "The subtle art of not giving a f*ck" which I practically devoured overnight.
I asked myself how would I use the things that I have learned from the book and elsewhere to successfully advise my clients? As far as I can tell, a good brand does a fair bit to leave behind the impression that they do indeed give a fuck.
Let me rephrase that and employ the word attention instead of you know what.
How much attention are we able or willing to give to work, hobbies, friends, or family. Or to brands for that matter? Paying attention is the key to focus on the things important to you. And since you only have a limited amount of it to give, it’s best do that thoughtfully. I have learned that a good ratio between attention spent, and attention left is what keeps you sane in an insane world. The same applies to brands by the way. In my experience, brands oftentimes try to focus on too many things at the same time. I have learned that when defining your core brand or your purpose, less is more. It’s difficult to stop world hunger, reduce plastic garbage in the ocean and become climate neutral all at the same time. You may be suspected of being inauthentic and therefore lose the trust of your customers.
To dive deeper into the topic of attention and how to limit our attention to the things relevant to you and our business, I’d like to introduce two very interesting approaches elaborated in the book: Bad values and rejection.
In the pursuit of keeping your sanity in an insane world, aspects such as pleasure, material success, being infallible and staying positive can easily turn into bad values. Keeping these four “bad values” in mind, might help you avoid problems they might bring with them.
Pleasure is an extremely false God.
Pleasure – a feeling of happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment – is a fine thing. Yet it would be counterproductive to prioritize your life around it. Mark Manson says: “Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the hardest to obtain and the easiest to lose.” So many brands try to attract their customers with the lure of pleasure. Nothing wrong in that unless of course you are a cigarette company. While smoking might be a pleasure in the short term, it kills you in the long term. So, don’t go for short term pleasure too often.
Material success is not everything (but everything without something is nothing)
Material success is a pretty straight forward value. Take an expensive watch, car, or a house for example. If you have one of those three you will be said to have “made it” in most parts of the world. But did you really? I am probably not the first person to tell you that material success is not the only type of success we should aim for. Many brands understand that and try to push more towards a less materialized word. The brand Patagonia answers the question, “Why extend the life of gear?” with the answer, “Because the best thing we can do for the planet is cut down on consumption and get more use out of stuff we already own.”
Always being right is wrong.
That sounds pretty drastic. Manson says, “Our brains are inefficient machines.” What he means is that we humans are intuitive beings. We consistently make wrong or poor assumptions. We remember facts imperfectly. That being said, let’s make being wrong more normal and being right something nice and desirable. That way we can accept our weaknesses and work more towards our strengths. What does that mean for brands? Brands need to become more human and stop thinking that everything they do needs to be 100% right. Making mistakes is fine, if you learn from them, be transparent about them don’t make the same mistake again.
Don’t try to fake positive
Every single one of us has experienced someone telling us to “stay positive.” Somehow people think it is desirable to be positive about everything – really every single thing. Split up with your girlfriend? Stay positive! Unhappy with your job? Stay positive! Having a bad day? Stay positive! Being negative is seen as a bad habit and therefore people tell you to stop it. It might appear counterintuitive, but the trick with negative emotions is to accept and express them. There is nothing wrong about it, we just need to learn to talk about them. Brands need to connect themselves not only with entirely positive feelings and events, but risk being uncomfortable and evoke negative feelings as well. Because this is what usually happens, when you take a stand. Standing up for equality, against injustice, or against minorities will always call negative voices to the scene as well. To take a stand for something and against something else might connect your brand with a negative topic in the short term, but will hopefully have a positive effect in the long run.
“As an extension of our positivity/consumer culture, many of us have been ‘indoctrinated’ with the belief that we should try to be as inherently accepting and as affirmative as possible.” The is the basis most positive thinking books. I, however, say that rejection is key. But what to?
Rejection is the key to a meaningful life. We need to reject something in order to focus on and stand for something else. Without rejection we stand for nothing. We have to choose one thing over the other. If not, everything has the same value and is therefore meaningless. This applies not only to individuals, but to brands, too. A good, appealing and attention-span consuming brand knows what it stands for and what it does not stand for.
We are always “shaping” at MetaDesign. We shape brands, organizations, purpose, mission, vision, fonts, color palettes, and logos. I’m looking to reshape “bad values” to help brands get “good and meaningful attention.”
To sum up, “The subtle art of not giving a fuck” does not say you should not care about things. It says, that you as a person - and also as a brand – should care about things relevant to you. What I have learned is that attention is a limited resource, there are bad values to watch out for and we need to reject things in order to take a stand for something. These have helped me and might help the brands I work with to become and stay sane in an insane world.