All around us, one message permeates everything: differentiate yourself. Brand strategy, a career that didn’t exist until the arrival of mass communication, encourages us to identify our differences so that they can be commodified. But what if brand strategy has it wrong?
The root of “identify” is the Latin word idem, which means “the same.” So why is that we strive to differentiate ourselves from one another, or create rigid boundaries between the myriad work we do, rather than identifying what can unite it all. Understanding the similarities allows for more connections, and maybe even serves a greater good.
My journey into traditional Chinese medicine is rooted in my love of the natural world and a desire to help people. Yet explaining my leap from marketing to medicine is a challenge. Humans are fond of boxes and nomenclatures. Can someone who builds strategy also be a doctor? Absolutely! What is medicine if not mastering observation and analysis, both critical skills used in marketing.
The life of Leonardo da Vinci best illustrates someone who understood the value of sameness. Although renowned for the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, Leonardo also made substantial discoveries in anatomy, geology, optics, and hydrodynamics. He was knowledgeable in so many areas that today he is considered a “Universal Genius” or “Renaissance Man.”
Leonardo was undoubtedly brilliant, but what nurtured his genius was a willingness to identify patterns in the world. In doing so, we recognized not only the differences among things but also what connected them. In this way, he saw everything as part of an evolving whole. His inquiring mind would substantially benefit the fields of medicine and science. Leonardo’s intricate drawings of the human body were the precursor to the modern science of biomechanics.
What drove Leonardo to work across such a vast array of subjects? It doesn’t seem to be a religious yearning. “Shopping lists are more prominent than prayers," wrote Jonathan Jones in the Guardian of Leonardo’s personal life. Some scholars believe he was an atheist. Among his work, the religious art was commissioned, while everything else — the trove of anatomy and mechanical studies — was personal. Why bother to explore beyond visible boundaries, especially when being a specialist in one field is better than being labeled a dilettante?
I suspect Leonardo was always acting on a hunch. He was following his intuition. Observation often leads to some sort of truth. For me, intuition guided me to apply to a medical program in Shanghai, but so did research — and not just about the school. I also studied my self. First, examining my early life as a curious girl who preferred designing experiments to playing with dolls. Then, reflecting on what motivated me over the years, my work style, and how I wanted to evolve. Only then was I able to identify the patterns that wove together the person I am today. I found, like Leonardo, truth within.
Few people will approach the genius of DaVinci, but there is something that we can from him: To find the truth, identify what you can offer the world, and then be willing to give it no matter the cost.