america one heartbeat

So. For the 4th (well. it would have been the fourth except my site still wasn’t fixed in the 48 hour ‘guesstimate’ so now I am doing the 4th post on not the 4th) I wanted to talk about America.

Ok. Maybe rather just the attitude of what makes America America.

Kinda the thing that keeps us going and doing and pisses a lot of other countries off because it is perceived as arrogance (and I would imagine that is part of the attitude … some bad comes with the good).

Anyway. There is a whole new thing in the branding world called “nation branding.” In fact when I first started my site I did a post on the “rebranding of Nigeria.” I think Switzerland, Slovenia and several other countries have done ‘nation branding’ campaigns. It is interesting because when I was at J. Walter Thompson and we discussed branding we had an amazing presentation we would give ending with what we suggested was the greatest brand story – America (or the United States of America). Combination of culture and constitution and leaders guiding the ‘brand’ through critical transition moments to insure the ‘brand’ crossed generations and maintained its relevance.

But. I am not going to suggest in this post we do some ‘branding campaign.’ However I do believe we, as in “we the people,” would do well to remember our brand. Oh. And by “we the people” I also include our leaders.

So. for the 4th I want to take a minute to talk about this brand, this country I am proud to be a part of, a country I believe is struggling a bit and a country which as a whole is stronger than its parts (if we would remind ourselves of this on occasion).

America is a doing country. It is our culture. It is our ethos.

In fact, in a somewhat arrogant, or adolescent way, we believe we ARE the original doing country.

We don’t want people telling us what to do and holding us to their standards.

We want to discover things and learn how to do things our own way.

And, you know what? That is awesome. And we should be remembering it and focusing on it and being ‘as one’ as a country.

Ok. So what do I mean by “doing?”american we can do it

Well. If you want to see something done, just tell Americans it can`t be done.

Just say it`s impossible to fly to the moon, or no one can hit more than 61 home runs in a season, or run a mile in less than 4 minutes or create a handheld computer or even stuff 20 people into a phone booth. Dangle the undoable in front of Americans and you may as well consider it done.

When did this ‘doing’ culture begin?

When our forefathers came to America and viewed this huge undeveloped land.

Their first thought wasn’t “let’s take a nap.” It was “let’s get to work.”

We are doers.

We are workers.

And above this culture of doing we have a culture of how we act while doing built around an amazing democracy with a somewhat unique ability to maintain freedom of choice and expression in our doing and how we act.

Which means above all we are like ambitious teens.

We are the adolescent in a world of staid and unoriginal adults.

We rebelled against our parents in our youth (the British king) and, honestly, our rebellious spirit has never ended.

Our culture has adolescence traits:

–          intense focus on the “now”

–          dramatic mood swings

–          a constant need for exploration and challenge to authority

–          a fascination with extremes

–          openness to change and reinvention

–          a strong belief that mistakes warrant second chances.

Our culture contains the trappings of adolescence (Coke – the drink, Nike shoes, fast food, blue jeans, and loud, violent movies).

Even the people we love (celebrities and such) fascinate us in their resistance to growing up. They are forever young at heart, crazy, up one day and down the next, one day invincible, one day totally rejected – and they always come back. They are the “eternal adolescents” many Americans would love to be. Our celebrities are victorious through nonconformity.

We are America. A country 230+ years young. Our culture isn’t nearly as old as the French, Italian and German cultures (all of which existed long before the current nations of France, Italy, and Germany). We are adolescents in a world of adults.

But we are ambitious adolescents. And it has evolved as it did because the original settlers, and later the waves of immigrants who came to our shores, brought with them the necessary attitude of nonconformity necessary to not only “pick up and move” in the first place but also to survive the conditions of this vast country.

This included traits such as Puritanism, a strong work ethic, the belief that people deserve a second chance, and putting a premium on success all helped us to survive in this new world.

So maybe Nike was so successful because they captured the spirit of America within themselves: “Just do it.”

america just do itThink about it.

Our heroes are athletes, entrepreneurs, police officers, firefighters, and soldiers – all people who take action. We may respect thinkers, but we don’t celebrate them nearly as much as we do our action figures.

And as doers we have had to learn everything ourselves – through trial and error.  Learning from our mistakes not only allowed us to survive, but also helped us to grow into a powerful and hugely successful country.  We have been rewarded for our ability to pick ourselves up off the ground and do things better the second and third times.

Trying, failing, learning from our mistakes, and coming back stronger than ever is an essential part of the American archetype.

And doing is embodied not only in our 24/7bto do lists but in our attitude toward work.

Americans celebrate work and turn successful businesspeople into celebrities. Donald Trump and Bill Gates are pop stars. Stephen T. Covey, Jack Welch, and Lee Iacocca are mega-selling authors.  Instead of great literature (I don’t count Patterson or Clancy as great literary options) our best-sellers include The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Good to Great.

We associate work success as ways to get to know people, excite children, keep family going, or plan your future. Work can make you believe you have ‘made it’ in American culture.

As Clotaire Rapaille would say: the American Culture Code for work is WHO YOU ARE.

We seek so much meaning in our jobs. If our job feels meaningless, then “who we are” is meaningless as well.  If we feel inspired by our job, if we believe that we are doing something worthwhile in our work, that belief bolsters our sense of identity (as a person and ultimately as a country).

Our work ethic is so strong because at the unconscious level, we equate work with who we are and we believe that if we work hard and improve our professional standing, we become better people and a better country.

So. When you read this (despite all your misgivings on how high an importance we attach to work) this explains why a high rate of unemployment creates such a struggle to American ethos. It attacks our inner being of who we are as a culture.

By the way, this doesn’t mean we are a culture only concerned with money.

Clearly, money signifies more to Americans than the means to buy things. It shows us how we’re doing, tells us how far we’ve come from impoverished poor roots. Money reminds you that your business is successful, that you’ve worked hard to get something, that you can fulfill your responsibilities, that you are appreciated, and that you are moving up to the next level.

So. Here is what I think.

We are a doing country. And things like unemployment and an ineffective government stop people from doing. And that strikes at the core of who we are and how we feel. It strikes at us emotionally maybe even more so than physically.

The truth is 80% of our life is emotion and only 20% is intellect (I made that truth up).

How we feel is something deeper and stronger and it’s that something inside that drives us as a ‘brand.’

And America doesn’t ‘feel’ right (or let’s say we are ‘unaligned’ on what we are all about).

The government is lost. Well. Maybe, most importantly, they cannot agree on what we should “do.” and their indecision is cutting us at our core.

Our leaders are not aligned.

Unemployment is high (which as noted unsettles us at the core).

Our soul is in doing.

We will find our way back by saying “let’s go to work” on something.

Something big.

Something … well … impossible.america these bad days

Because in the end we are dreamers. We do because we dream … and dream big. Clotaire Rapaille also suggested this. He said that the American Culture Code for America is DREAM.

I don’t hesitate to say I love being an American. I won’t suggest I am not frustrated. I won’t suggest that I know the exact solution. I will suggest that if our leaders would remind themselves who we are culturally they would better serve us. Serve us in giving us an impossible assignment and let us go do it.

For in the end, for all the culture code speak and thoughts about what makes us happy, America is pretty simple. We make the impossible possible. And that is what makes America, well, America.

Happy 4th.

Note: I drew heavily upon Clotaire Rapaille’s Culture Code learnings but only used portions that I truly believed in and cut out the things that I don’t agree with him on.

Written by Bruce