How to Grow and Disappear
Before you read on, check out last week’s post where I write about revealing truth by holding tension. What you are about to read will make more sense. :)
A couple years back, I was having a conversation with a friend who—like me—also enjoys having some heady conversations. [Side note: holding heady topics in tension with dumb humor and trash TV discussions is my conversational truth.] I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but it was on the topic of contentment and fulfillment. All I know is I said something along the lines of “…I just want to grow and disappear.” It really resonated with me, even though I wasn’t 100% sure what I even meant. I stuck with that thought and, overtime, it started to click.
To grow and to disappear are important—if not the most important—set of tensions I hold. I could probably trace most of Blank’s values and my personal values to this concept. Let me break down what “How to Grow and Disappear” means to me. The most extreme interpretation of this is to be the best at something while never seeking to be known. Imagine someone who lives in the middle of nowhere. They have crafted the perfect pizza and they know it. If anyone were to taste it, it would undeniably be the best pizza they’ve ever had. But this secret chef doesn’t care about that. They don’t seek to be known or have their pizza be known. They have immense fulfillment just from knowing that they did this.
Ok, that was the extreme version of it. I don’t seek to necessarily be the best or to be completely unknown. To grow, for me, means to constantly be pushing myself to the furthest level of what it means to be a better designer, friend, family member, business owner, earth dweller, etc. When something grows, however, it becomes more visible. It takes up more space. The tension I hold with growth is to disappear. Not to literally be invisible—but to keep ego small. To disappear, for me, means to take some of what I have achieved from growth and find ways to give it away. To disappear is the idea of sharing your wealth—whether that’s love, knowledge, skills, money, etc.
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If I chose to live only in the concept of “to grow”, it would be growth for pure personal gain—a greedy, narcissistic pursuit. If I chose to live only in the concept of “to disappear”, I would eventually be drained of any value I could provide to others. But when I hold these two, I start to find this foundational element that guides me to immense contentment and fulfillment. It’s when I feel and act like the best version of myself. The even wilder part is it’s regenerative. These two opposites, when held together, start to feed each other. I’m pushed to be better when I’m giving more away. And when I give some of what I have away, I strive to grow more so I can do it again.
I use these tensions in my personal life and when building my business. Revealing and holding tension is also something I carry over to client work.
The Center of Order and Experimentation
One of our projects that’s a great example of this is The Center of Order and Experimentation, a retail store. Before this business had a name or brand, we were holding discovery sessions with the two owners. We kept recognizing opposing thoughts popping up. We captured those in a visual framework which we used as we developed the name and brand. It’s a simple tool, but immensely powerful for staying aligned. Check out the rest of the case study to see how we expressed this through the visual identity (hint: look at the globes).
Our work for Second Generation also used tension as a way to create a foundational framework. The team at 2G, a new restaurant in Chicago, expressed the richness and depth of growing up in America as children of immigrants. Rather than resisting the tension of growing up with two cultures, they held these two cultures together and challenged patrons to rethink what American food is. We expressed this visually through the wordmark. The flipping of characters creates a tension of its own and encourages the viewer to take a second look—to reexamine. We also directly proclaim 2G to be “American Food” in a way that invites everyone to reinterpret their own definition of that term.
Using Tension for Clarity
As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the most impactful piece of revealing truth through holding tension is the idea of the fourth way. When you reveal this truth, you are given a compass you can use to navigate your business through what’s next. I use this with my clients to help us discover visual work that feels deeply connected to the culture and mission of the brand. But they can continue to use this for all aspects of their business. It can be used to navigate operations, product development, user experience—the list goes on. I personally know this to be true and I’ve received the client feedback to know that this is true for others as well. This early work of discovery is the most important part of branding. But the value of it goes far beyond the process of visual brand. For me, that’s some of the most fulfilling work I do.
Thanks for reading. This was a longer one :). I’m always open to continue the conversation, so please reach out. Lastly, Holly Howard just released a new podcast episode that features me as the guest. I have an immense amount of respect and appreciation for her, so this was really an honor. Give it a listen here.