About a year ago I was lucky enough to meet a Supreme Court Justice and sit next to him at dinner (thanks, Phil!). The first question I asked was about the Citizens United decision and how it got passed. He made it clear that he was firmly opposed to the ruling and had voted against it. Then he launched into a seven-minute explanation supporting the judgment. When he finished his very compelling explanation, he again stressed that he was against the decision. My next question was how he became a Supreme Court Justice. His answer was that there are two parts to the opportunity, both equally important. These days, he said, it’s necessary to meet all the requirements — go to law school, become a federal judge, have political connections, etc. before you can even be considered for the nomination. But more importantly, he said, was to be standing on the corner when the bus comes by.
Can you believe that? Achieving one of the most powerful positions in the country — and perhaps the world — takes a lot of preparation, work, and study, but it also takes luck, the luck of being in the right place at the right time.
I gotta tell you, even though I know this is true intellectually, I have a really hard time with it. I like to believe that we are masters of our own destiny and live and die by our actions, but what I’m learning, and what his honor confirmed, is that a lot of our success (or failure) is out of our control.
So what’s the valuable takeaway from all this? That we have to work harder to be ready for our big moment, or that we might as well chillax because the ultimate result is out of our hands anyway?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that the waiting around part doesn’t work real well for me. I’m more like that 60’s Day-Glo poster of the two vultures sitting on a tree stump where one turns to the other and says: “Patience my ass, I’m gonna go kill something.”
So if it’s true that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every solution looks like a nail, it would stand to reason that my way of dealing with this would be with a branding angle. And that’s exactly how I see it.
Just like when you’re waiting for the bus, you don’t sit quietly on the bench and wait for it to zoom by. Instead you get up and flag it down. So it makes sense to do what it takes to wave down the metaphorical bus as well, because that’s where your brand gets into the game.
By building a compelling brand and attracting more attention to whatever it is you’re doing, you can significantly increase your chance of success for whenever the bus happens to pass by.
Have you been in a Tiffany & Co. jewelry store lately? Do you know what is the most valuable thing they sell there? It’s not the jewelry, the crystal, or the sterling. The most valuable thing in a Tiffany store is the distinctive blue box with the white ribbon. Really. It’s the box. Those blue boxes are so valuable, in fact, that you can’t even buy them at a Tiffany store (you can buy them on eBay, however). They are so valuable that the proprietary robin’s egg blue color, specifically Pantone’s PMS number 1837, is trademarked and not in the Pantone catalog.
Look at it this way: despite its emotional and romantic import, the gold wedding ring on your finger is only worth its weight multiplied by the price of gold. That’s it — gold is a commodity just like heating oil, gypsum or corn and only worth what the market will pay. But place that simple gold band in that famous blue box and it’s instantly worth more thanks to the power of the meaning of a gift from Tiffany. And mixing my metaphors even further, if a plain wedding band and a plain wedding band in a Tiffany jewelry box were standing on the street corner waiting for the bus, which one would be more likely to get picked up? I think we’d all agree it’s the ring from Tiffany.
So did my Supreme Court Justice gussie himself up in a blue box? Probably not. But he did say that part of the prepping for the assignment was to have a relationship with the sitting President so he would be top of mind when it was time to make a decision. And while cozying up to POTUS is a pretty tall order for most of us, building our own brands and making them relevant to our consumers is a whole lot easier.