Jonathan David Lewis

Building Resilient Brands for Harsh Business Environments

(This podcast originally aired in July 2017)    

(This podcast originally aired in July 2017)    

This week on In Process: Conversations about Business in the 21st Century, (Trusted Counsel’s bi-weekly podcast show) hosts Evelyn Ashley and John Monahon of Trusted Counsel revisit a previously aired podcast from July 2017. They were joined by Jonathan David Lewis, a branding and strategist expert and the author of Brand VS Wild: Building Resilient Brands for Harsh Business Environments.

A few years ago, Lewis was in the midst of accepting an award for his firm, when he had a not-so-average “aha” moment of the realization of just how lost he truly was in the business world. Lost in the sense that nothing in the business world is predictable. Disruption is just about the only thing business entities can rely on happening in the ever-changing market. With that uneasy, yet resonating truth, how do corporations and the like stay afloat? This experience prompted Lewis to write a book.

There’s a psychological component behind the idea of staying afloat and Lewis argues that executives’ behavior is essentially no different than fighting for survival in the wild. The premise of his book stands on the belief that the way executives react in a boardroom to unforeseen roadblocks parallels with the reactions of survivors navigating their way to safety. Alluding to the U.S. Air Force Survival Manual (USAFSM), as well as several other sources, he uses these survival psychology tips to teach readers how “to navigate unremitting uncertainty and change” in the business world’s “wild”: that being the economic changes, aggressive competition, and disruptive industry dynamics that have grown increasingly prevalent since the start of the financial crises recession of 2008.

He begins his strategy by introducing the natural physiological reactions to stressful situations that stand unwavering across the board. It’s human nature for our bodies to resort to one of the following actions; fight, flight, or freeze. The pituitary gland releases hormones in this moment inevitably leading to “less logical and more visceral” reactions. Visceral being behavior reflecting inward feelings instead of that of intellect (aka emotional and impulsive). Leading us to Leach’s 10-80-10 Theory. The theorist divides the population in these ratios arguing that; 10% of people react calmly and rationally to the stressful situation, 80% literally go numb with no noteworthy response, while the remaining 10% react uncontrollably and in some cases act as a threat to those standing by.  With science acting as its supporter, there is no denying a vast amount of individual’s automatic response is irrational and erratic – seems our mothers were right, sleep on it!

Acting as the most necessary abettor against our shortcomings, Lewis emphasizes that focus is a crucial discipline. However, he follows up by noting it is conjointly “the hardest thing to accomplish and the easiest thing to lose.” Talk about a twofold setback. With that, how can we grasp this discipline to ensure our success? Lewis describes several ways to overcome the various enemies hindering us such as; success, misdiagnosis, complacency, and placation. Some key points he brings up include is to set short term goals. These are more obtainable, and you won’t become discouraged from something that seems too far fetched in the long run. Additionally, avoid losing track of priorities in response to lack of focus known as “brand drift” by implementing the Beaning’s Cycle. The cycle can be used as a tool to separate your company apart and bring it back to progress. First, determine your land mark, pile your stones, then finally confirm and celebrate. In layman terms, set your goal, get your projects and systems in order, make sure everything went accordingly, then enjoy your bit of success. With a clear, organized mind it can be that simple. So, when the market seems to run amuck step back and keep in mind, “where the wild paralyzes, focus empowers.”

 Adaptation: a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.

 Despite the magnitude of unpredictability, we encounter day in and day, there is at minimum one firm truth to hold on to – we can’t change the facts of our environment. In order to train your business to vigilantly navigate the market we must learn to adapt. Three principles are discussed that teach us never to rely on old forms of success; Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Second Law of Thermodynamics. The foundations of these principles are broken down within Lewis’s work to convey their relevancy to those in the harsh business environment. Applying these principles can aid us all in adaptation to change.

Stream the conversation with Jonathan in the player below to learn more about leading your business through the wild. Listen to examples of real businesses that trenched though the wild and how they emerged out of the wilderness. Don’t miss an episode, subscribe to In Process Podcast on iTunes and now on Google Play to receive this episode as well as future updates from the show to your smartphone.

Read the Transcription

Finding Your Bearings in the Brand Wilderness

Compass in the Wild

Psychologically, there’s little difference between a group of survivors who crash-land on a mountain, and a group of leaders in a boardroom dealing with unexpected changes. Both groups will experience disruption and both can overcome it in the same way. Disruption, whether we like it or not, is our new normal. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

In this episode of In Process Podcast,Trusted Counsel talks with Jonathan David Lewis, a branding and strategist expert about building resilient brands for harsh business environments. He explains ways to help brands navigate through the wild in what he explains is survival psychology. 

The New Economy
Lewis states, “Something that we need to get out of our minds is that things are not going to go back to the way they were. The great recession of 2008 in many ways ushered in trends that were already underway for many years….We’re in a new environment, a new economy that requires new ways of thinking about doing business.” And so, running a business today is fundamentally different than the past 100 years. Why then are so many of us pushing to operate on those old principles of success? Lewis simply states that “it’s just not effective.” Today, the economy is performing better, but across the board all organizations are being disrupted by externalities with the advent of bio-engineering, automation, and artificial intelligence that are changing our business models, whether we like it or not.

Disruption in Organizations
Inside of our organizations we are often faced with fear because you didn’t see it coming or there are unpredicted challenges inside of the organization. Faced with fear, according to Lewis, you begin to drift as an organization and then you lose your focus. Once the focus is lost, you become inconsistent in decision-making and ultimately you become savage and turn on each other. The alignment is lost. “This is the very same thing we see in survival scenarios and real-life research.” In other words, there’s a very predictable response to disruption.  

Find Your Focus
In this new economy that we all inhabit, it’s probable that you’ll go through the wilderness sooner or later. However, do it with resilience. Have a healthy team in place, and adapt. “Have healthy conflict, don’t be passive aggressive…have kind truth when entering the danger. Then you will have a culture of healthy conflict which will allow you to be resilient when you’re facing these hardships.” 

Lewis recommends asking yourself these questions about your organization. “What am I really, really good at? What does my customer actually need? And lastly, where do those two overlap? Because where they overlap is where you find your relevancy and that becomes your focus.

Jonathan David Lewis is a branding and business strategist. As partner and strategy director of McKee Wallwork + Company, Jonathan led his firm to be recognized by Advertising Age as a national leader in branding and marketing, winning the Southwest Agency of the Year. He is a regular contributor of Forbes.com, speaker and author of a new book titled “Brand vs Wild.”

Stream the conversation with Jonathan in the player below to learn more about leading your business through the wild. Listen to real businesses that trenched though the wild and how they emerged out of the wilderness. Don’t miss an episode, subscribe to InProcess Podcast on iTunes to receive this episode as well as future updates from the show to your smartphone.