Solve or signal?

Are we building to signal how many bricks we’ve laid?

Or are we building because we see a problem that needs solving?

Measurements are necessary, of course. The architect needs to know the proper amount of all the materials and the cost of each.

But we always have the option of turning measurements into signals of our influence.

A friend of mine pointed out that we shake our heads at anyone who flaunts their income. But when we see people we like signaling how much they’ve earned off of their products, we let it slide. We become enablers of the behaviors we shake our heads at. Because they’re doing it “holistically.” They’re sharing their secrets to success in under 280 characters. To us, we feel like we’re part of their journey. Because if they can build something with only a few viral messages, so can we, right?

As creatives, as builders of remarkable things, we have a choice: solve or signal?

Some fundamentals of personal branding

I used to believe that personal branding is personal.

It’s not.

Personal branding is tailored. It’s tailored to the subjective experience of whoever engages with your work.

Everyone perceives the world in their own way. And your audience experiences your work in their own way, as well.

Alice reads a blog on productivity because she wants to learn how to get more work done. But Joshua reads the same blog as Alice because he’s a productivity fiend. Not only is Joshua looking for ways to be more productive, he’s seeking the hottest productivity tricks to share with his friends. Same product, different experience.

Personal branding isn’t exclusive to the entrepreneur, or the YouTube star. Personal branding is the feeling you get after eating your favorite meal. It’s not about the actual work while it’s happening to or around you. Because that’s when you’re actually in the thick of it, and you’re not aware that there’s magic happening. But afterwards? After you’ve complimented the chef? After you’ve left an unusually generous tip? That’s when you know you’ve experienced something remarkable.

And as an artist, or an academic, or a well-groomed professional, you have a personal brand. You have a stamp. You have a footprint to leave behind. “This is the work I’ve done for you. I’m proud enough of this work to put my name on it.”

You can do personal branding even if you don’t leave your name on it. Consider the work of an anonymous Japanese chef. Anyone who eats this chef’s curry udon, without knowing the chef’s name, knows who cooked it. The branding is in the hard-work of delighting the customers after they’ve finished their meal.

Do you think about an actor’s performance after the credits roll? That’s personal branding.

Do you think about the taste of the first sip of your morning coffee, when there’s no more coffee left? That’s personal branding.

Personal branding is how your readers think about your blog while they’re daydreaming.

It’s how your audience geeks out about your work behind your back.

It’s how they’re spreading messages (good or bad) about your work through social media and emails.

But you don’t “create” a personal brand. When you lean into yourself, you create a body of work which becomes an obsession for your fans. This is why artists sometimes respond with, “I don’t know, it just sort of happened” when asked how they got the ideas for their best work.

No great works of art are made by force. They “just sort of happen.”

Your true fans are those who obsess over the work that “just sort of happened.” And when you have thousands of those kinds of fans, that’s when you know you’re good at personal branding.


Personal branding is about showing up, uncensored, unfiltered. But that isn’t the same as offensive or rude. It’s about adopting the mindset of the professional who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

If you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, or self-doubt, please consider scheduling a chat with me. I’d love to help you get unstuck so you can make work you’re proud of, and share it with folks who care.