As a foreigner in the United States, I have battled with the idea of branding, selling yourself, and speaking up. Where I come from, these are not very familiar notions.
Meanwhile in West Africa…
In West Africa, it is said, “the emptiest drums make the loudest noise.” In this analogy, the drums represent the people, and their depth their level of experience and knowledge. As you have probably learned, only the eldest, wisest and most experienced people in society have a say. When night-time arrives, the villagers gather around the campfire, the elders speak, and the youth listen. With the historical absence of technology and because of analphabetism, history has been passed on from one generation to another through stories, chants, and riddles. So much in fact, that it has been said that when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.
These type of hierarchical societies leave no space for neophytes or wannabes to speak up. In the words of a Nigerian author, Wole Soyinka said, “Tigers do not proclaim their tigritude, they pounce.” Unfortunately, this cultural framework impedes the creative process and creates barriers to innovation and progress. The youngest ones better understand the world they are surrounded by, have a different perspective, and have a creative mindset that would allow them to come up with game-changing solutions to problems faced by their communities. They are often perceived as young tigers trying to pounce too early. Those young tigers who decide to pounce anyway, are considered iconoclasts and are often reminded of their youth as a handicap.
Meanwhile in America…
In the United States, I discovered a society where each and everyone’s contribution towards resolving problems at hand is considered valuable. It was the home to young Mark Zuckerberg where he disrupted the way the world communicates, simply with his imagination and basic knowledge in coding. It is the place where little Elon Musk, now grown, once dreamed about Mars and revolutionized the way we travel to space. He achieved all of this by simply using his imagination and some engineering skills. It is also the place where “branding” is a recurring buzz-word in every conversation. This “branding” is important, given the ephemeral nature of most of our social interactions in such an open and egalitarian system. The first impression is often the last impression.
Unfortunately, this “branding” can lack substance, and has led the way to the rise of fake prophets, such as Bernie Madoff, the Ponzi scheme architect, or Jordan Belfort, a stock-market manipulator. In these instances, the Tigers have proclaimed their tigritude, but without substance, they never pounced. What if the best approach to “branding” was through the work we do ourselves? The hard facts on the substance we bring to society? What if we wasted less time trying to convince people of what we are worth and actually reinvest this time in mastering our craft and developing ourselves?
Through the process of finding the optimal branding effort, I believe that both the West African, and American cultures have a lot to learn from each other. On one hand, we should work relentlessly to master our craft and gain experience without having to proclaim anything, as preconized by West African culture. On the other hand, per American culture, we should not be scared to bring our contributions to the world, because, in the end, no matter the age, a tiger is still a tiger.
By combining branding and substance, we are able to sell ourselves much more efficiently, without having to make much noise.