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GIRVIN | Strategic Branding & Design | Seattle

GIRVIN | Strategic Branding & Design | New York

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: the branding impetus
Girvin office lobby | Seattle

Exploring the concept of Zen in the construct of branding

In working with teams, on the implications of their brand, the process is inevitably collaborative. How can I, or Girvin, completely understand without comprehending where the brand currently lives without bridging into that culture? A place in the heart, and a place in the community, that sustains that imperative. Interestingly enough, rethinking that sense of place — thinking about brand in the context of an environment — can build a sense of “sitting,” and “siting,” how the brand rests in the confluence of market, presence, constituency. In the beginning stages of Zen training, merely sitting, studying Buddhist texts, learning to be quiet, slowing down, emptying mind — watching your self; these are all part of the introspection that moves to detaching from our obsessions with what’s around us, what we’ve cluttered up our lives and minds with. Sitting, gazing into that point just before you allows the meditator, the student of quiet seeing — zazen — to sense things in a different manner. And to see in, naked eye, true nature.

How could this possibly relate to brand, then?
Heart and soul.
Quiet reckoning.
Patience, Commitment and focus.
And sitting, watching, a renewed observation.

And in a way, this concept of sitting requires two points of examination; to one: it’s the idea of a place of looking out at the environment and contemplating the brand relationship to it. And in that framing, considering the spatiality of the place that the brand makes for itself. It’s a world. What world is it? But, two, in the experience of change it’s also a matter of considering what is not there — what’s missing? “The brand lives here, but it’s missing something.” To think about the idea of brand in place — presence, or absence — it takes one to the environment of contemplating what “could be.” Being quiet, opening up to another vista. In working with teams, this is mostly the process of evolution that we consider in BrandQuest®, the exploration of the heart and soul of brand (and more over, the people that live there.) The other side of this “meditation” to the notion of the Zen of branding is about the freedom to consider “potentials”. It’s not thinking inside the brand, but thinking outside of the brand.

As a friend of mine recently intoned — John Edelman, a leader in the firm Cloverleaf, an innovation consultancy — “Shoshin.” Meaning “Beginner’s Mind,” Shoshin refers to shedding one’s preconceptions about a topic, and adopting – and maintaining – an openness throughout the course of study. It is suggested that a naïve perspective – even when studying at an advanced level – provides a critical freshness of thought.

This parable, “Empty Your Cup,” reflecting the principle of “Beginner’s Mind” comes from Iron Palm, Darren Henson:
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.

In a way, the concept of open-mindedness and the notion of freedom from “distraction” is a foundational parable of Zen. Focus in. But the real principle is about loosening the hold of a conventional positioning and imagine what potentials could lie out there. Letting go — and finding the truth. The concept of the “empty cup” and the overfilled vessel might be, too, the notion of what Marty Neumeier refers to as “onliness”, the idea of a brand proposition as being seen as “the only,” an attribute of renewed definition. Focusing in on the distinctions of what sets the brand story apart from all others. We call that selfsame attribute “brand singularity” — what lies at the heart of uniqueness, the finalized proposition of perfect distinction and differentiation. Being in a questing — and questioning — environment, like the BrandQuest® allows for that sense of openness.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: the branding impetus

Spending time with the Shodo Harada Roshi, I sat with him, had tea. One talk, to reference, an earlier interview on Zen, and metaphor in brand, can be found in this overview, as a profile and notation, from a book on leadership. He is the Master of Sogenji, the monastery in Okayama, Japan. As well, he can be found off and on at the One Drop Zendo on Whidbey Island, Washington, near Langley. It was there that I sat with him. We talked about stories.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: the branding impetus
Hoshino Taigen (Saishokan) • 1865 – 1945 “Enter from here.” Photograph by Deanna Carroll

There’s a certain character, to the spirit of this master and it relates to the drawing of the Zen circle, the enso. Traditionally the provenance of those that have experienced satori or enlightenment, the character of this “ring of bone” as I call it, is the nature of what lies within and what lies without. In drawing the circled stroke, are you inside or outside — connected to the sinuous spatter of the inked brush, or the sound of paper drawn, in the rasping of the brush on paper? What do you see? White, black or the space between? Like the parable of Zen and brand (Roshi, forgive me) it is about focus and attention; but it is, as well, about the idea of sitting in the contemplation of place, where do you sit? And quieting, what silence in added potential, as you see — and sense — outside the boundaries of experience?

Contemplating brand as fire builds on the premise of the power of the force; which is about people, about story, literally — it’s about everything — enchanted at the heart of meaning and resonance.

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