Published on February 4, 2008
Alfred Nobel, the successful, wealthy Swedish industrialist of the late 1800s, is credited with single-handedly inventing two things - dynamite and the detonator.
He made millions, and lived the high life.
Brother Ludwig was a well-known, wealthy businessman, too. He died in 1888. A newspaper obituary appeared the day after his death, but it was mistakenly about Alfred. It called Nobel "the merchant of death", because of the destruction to human life wrought by dynamite and detonators.
Nobel realised in that moment that everything he had done or would ever do would forever be associated with death - unless he could alter people's perceptions about the name Nobel.
He decided to change his "personal brand" by creating the Nobel Prize for three things he cared about - peace, literature and science. When he died in 1895, Nobel left his millions to the prizes.
Instead of his name going down in history as a byword for wholesale slaughter, it's attached to awards that are today recognised as the highest possible recognition for their fields.
Author Brenda Bence takes Nobel's story as an example in her curiously titled book "How You Are Like Shampoo". In it she explains how important "personal branding" is to each individuals reputation.
A "personal brand", in Bence's definition, is "the way you want people to perceive, think and feel about you in relation to others".
Many might argue that they're happy being ordinary, and don't have time for fanciful notions like self-promotion. But the truth is everyone already has their own brand. This, says Bence, shows through in the way they communicate, or in how they look.
"People already have personal brands because the way you are already exists in others' minds."
Furthermore, that "personal brand" has influence over whether people succeed or fail in their careers, or whether they are happy or sad in life.
The book points to statistics that suggest around 75 per cent of working people today are unhappy with their jobs. It goes on to show how defining your personal brand at work can help turn the grind of the nine-to-five into something more enjoyable.
The first step is to define and clarify your role at the office, taking into account what you want to accomplish - that's the very essence of personal branding, and should help you embrace your career with renewed enthusiasm. Everyone can be happy, fulfilled and motivated on the job, Bence explains.
And now the key question: Do you have the personal brand you want?
In Nobel's case, he was perfectly happy with his millionaire lifestyle, but was shocked to discover that most people didn't share his exalted view of himself. Then he was lucky enough to know what personal brand he wanted, and knew he had the resources to create and control it.
But most people don't know where to start when it comes to choosing the personal brand they want.
To begin with, think of how you appear to others now - your current brand. Then bring to mind all your strong points. Now, think of how you want people to perceive you and what you need to develop in order to achieve your goals.
"Ask yourself, what do you do best and what is your passion?" Bence suggests.
After finding your true character strengths it's time to start promoting them.
While products, services and corporate brands broadcast brands through mass media, like television or radio, Bence singles out five activities that promote your personal brand- actions, reactions, looks, sounds and thoughts.
Though there's no such thing as a brand-new beginning, anyone can start now and build a new brand for the future.
But Bence warns of the pitfalls. Brand building, as countless celebrities have found to their cost, carries the risk of sudden destruction. No one ever recovers. We're advised to check our brand against our true abilities if we don't want to crash and burn.
Having a desirable personal brand should surely be a wonderful thing. However, Bence gets a lot of questions from sceptics who wonder if her suggestions will work in Asia. Asians are usually more reluctant than Westerners to stand out - will people here be so willing to grab attentions?
Bence sees things differently.
"A lot of people have questioned this, but I discovered Asians have a love affair with brands, and the idea that each of us already has a personal brand - even if you live in a 'group culture' - is intriguing to many," she says.
Instead of anxieties about "sticking out in a crowd", she suggests each of us correctly identifies our "audience" and its needs. Then we can set out to meet those in a way that allows us to be the best we can at work, while staying true to who we really are.