The Cobbler’s New Shoes
by Ian Doescher
The phrase “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” is a common phrase in the business world and beyond to describe the phenomenon, for example, of a business specializing in a particular field but not bringing that field to bear internally. For instance, a computer company with out-of-date computers, a window company with broken and chipped windows, or, as the saying goes, a shoemaker whose children don’t have shoes.
The last thing we at Pivot want to be is a marketing agency that doesn’t market itself well. We are, therefore, currently in the middle of going through our own brand architecture process. This process—which we use with our clients to identify key branding elements like brand values, brand personality, brand story and more—is now focused on our most personal client: ourselves.
It turns out that applying your own tactics to your own company can be both difficult and extremely rich. We are enjoying the process, and finding it challenging. It’s much easier to turn the bright lights on a client, examine who they are and why they do what they do. It’s harder to turn that spotlight on ourselves and try to talk objectively about ourselves.
That said, a few guidelines are arising from this process that could be useful to you as you examine your own company. Here goes:
- Emphasize common goals and points of agreement. At Pivot, we’re all engaged in this process because we believe in Pivot, we want to see Pivot succeed, and we want to tell our story as well as possible. It can be helpful, throughout the process of talking about ourselves, to step back every now and then and remember that we have much more in common than we disagree about. Broadly speaking, all of us engaged in the process want the same things for Pivot, even if we have different ideas of how to achieve them and how to talk about ourselves along the way. These are my coworkers and friends, even when—or maybe especially when—we’re arguing points about our branding. That’s helpful to bear in mind.
- Listen more than you talk. It’s easy to think of myself as a Pivot expert, because I’ve been here for years and I think I have Pivot figured out. Surprise, though—all of my coworkers feel the same way, and the Pivot they have figured out looks different from the Pivot I have figured out. How could that happen?! To find out, I’ve had to practice listening really carefully. What are other people saying? What are their opinions? If I believe they are intelligent, well-meaning people (and I do!), then what they say about Pivot should matter as much or more than what I have to say. That doesn’t mean I never talk—oh, believe me, I talk plenty—but I do try to be as good of a listener as I am a talker.
- Focus on the good and leave your baggage at the door. When you talk about your own company, you bring memories of both positive and, um, less-than-positive stuff with you. It’s hard to separate negative or confusing feelings about your company from positive feelings. After all, your experience at the company is a single experience. It’s far easier to be objective working on branding with clients, because we don’t have years of experience working in a client’s office and seeing the bad alongside the good. With clients, we try to focus on the good, so we should do the same with ourselves. Leave our baggage at the door, and ask—as we often do—”What is Pivot like when we are at our best?”
The cobbler’s children need shoes, but the process of making them can bring up all kinds of things. Focus on places you agree, think of the good work you are doing together, listen to each other well, and leave your baggage at the door. The process will be easier and your company, too, can figure out how to meet its needs.