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Business is Practical, Brands Aren't

David Sherry
3 min read
Business is Practical, Brands Aren't

A Brand's magic comes from original thinking.

And original thinking comes from freedom from obligation.

Like all things, we have to balance our creative insights, with our justified experiences about how the world works. While we may dream of possibility, and fantasize about the way things could be, most often we are challenged by the internal narrative about how things are; which can only assume that things will continue to be the same.

But, as artists and creators, we have a special ability. The ability to create something from nothing. The ability to change things.

The ability to get a reaction.

When we create and share it with someone else, something new happens. We might recognize that we aren't alone, or that something we do can have an impact.

Art is not practical. It doesn't feed you (directly), you can't use it for fuel, or if you get sick.

But I'd venture to say that that's precisely its value.

This impracticality is at the heart of every great brand. Luxury is about impracticality.

You can tell a story like, "Instead of just going to the local well to get this water, this water is from the spring of a mountain in the Himalayas, blessed by a guru" and suddenly people will pay more for it.

We pay for impracticality because we pay for emotional connections to things, and emotional connections aren't rational. They're therapeutic. And they make us feel like our best selves, or like we are connected to others in the way we'd like to be connected.

And so a violinist wears a suit instead of baggy shorts and sandals on stage. What they wear, is part of it.

Is it more practical to wear a suit? Not really. But it helps us emotionally, and so we wear it.

I'm often in conversations with companies and brands about building, launching, and developing their products, and so much conversation starts with a spark of the imagination but dwindles into the world of practicality.

We have a part of our brain that tells us that if we're not practical, we won't survive.

If we don't do things *how they are* then we will be shunned, and we should shut up about *how things could be* because, well, that's risky.

But this line of thinking completely misunderstands the entire point of all of it. That, to create something without impracticality is to create nothing of emotional value.

And all of the value, which creates margin is in emotional value. I mean this literally.

One of the best books I've read in the last 2 or 3 years was by Rory Sutherland.

Rory Sutherland, Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense he says,

"When you demand logic, you pay a hidden price: you destroy magic."


"Engineers, medical people, scientific people, have an obsession with solving the problems of reality, when actually … once you reach a basic level of wealth in society, most problems are actually problems of perception."

Perception is our job when building a brand.

It's why I love brand and community building so much in the first place. It requires this type of thinking, which is counter to most of what we've learned.

So all of your success will in some ways be counter-intuitive.

And while you can learn from others, every great brand and business and artist is an N of 1. They are the only example.

They are like this or like that person, but they aren't.

They exist in their own category, even within the category.

Jerry Seinfeld is not Kevin Hart is not Jay Leno. Kanye West is not Tyler the Creator is not Kendrick Lamar.

An artist does something for the first time.

The practical person hides from that fact.

But the longer the hide, the more you fit in, and the less your art gets seen.

Then the harder you work, the more effort you put in, the farther you slide down the ladder.

And then you wonder why it appears effortless for others but so effortful for you.

It's not that everyone isn't working. It's just that you've misunderstood which area is the hard part, and you haven't developed your sense of walking out around the wilderness, where you can be wrong, stupid, and break things… which is precisely where artists learn to get comfortable.

And I'm not saying it's comfortable.

But it may be practical.

And deep down, it may be what you've been hoping for all along.

Brand Building