I set out to create a provoking article around the renowned work of Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, while putting focus on our emerging digital world, mobile workforce, and virtual infrastructure.

Obviously, it would be difficult to try and improve on the central philosophy of his book, it’s quite sound.

But, unless I’m wrong the most recent revised edition came out in Nov 2004, so there’s room to update revolving around the ongoing 14+ years of internet evolution.

Honestly, he based his work on 200 centuries of the written word – literature. How well does that translate into the web we’ve been spinning between 2004-2018?

Let’s dive in.


Paradigms & Principles

In many summaries of his book you’ll find through a basic search, like the following quote from HubSpot, there’s this core tenant,

Covey believes the way we see the world is entirely based on our own perceptions. In order to change a given situation, we must change ourselves, and in order to change ourselves, we must be able to change our perceptions.

Fair enough, but what about the way we as modern tech users, new and experienced alike, perceive the digital world? Better yet, who’s determining our web-cosmology?

There’s talk of web content masters being bias, stifling free speech…*shock*

I’m willing to bet over the last decade you’ve allowed, at least to a degree, corporations to control your perceptions of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building any kind of brand online.

Let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we…

Character > Personality > Digital Ethic

Consider the progression from what Steven describes as the Character Ethic of the pre-1920s era, where success was based on character traits, to the Personality Ethic where it became about your public brand image, and now into what we’ll call the Digital Ethic.

When attempting to conjure descriptors and define that, here’s what I came up with:

Digital Ethic Progression

Question is, how much of your (or your company’s) brand image, social media content, general content, audience, and virtual identity do you own?

How much is almost completely controlled by a small handful of other brands?

Are these brands, ethical?

If not, their place in the next-gen internet is likely fading fast (one has to hope).

Perhaps, in the not-to-distant future successful disruptive startups will:

  • Lay their foundation in ethical brand character traits like individuals of the pre-20s.
  • Project a sound and genuine brand image based upon them.
  • Behave more ethically for better impacts and end results, while…
  • Depending more on their own digital crowd than compromised and centralized content marketing giants and social media companies (parallel to government entities).

Hmm, speaking of which…

The Progression of Content & Identity Ownership

Another major underlying theme in his philosophy is the progression from Dependence, to Independence, to Interdependence. How would that look in the way our virtual economy, workforce, and infrastructure are forming?

Digital Persona Evolution

Paradigm & The Next Big Shift – Transparency

I can’t help but wonder who determines the mental map we as a business owners or individuals use to describe the digital world, business and marketing. Who designs the lenses we see the virtual economy with?

Better yet, It’s no fun anymore running into the walls they’re constructing around us and filling with irrelevant advertising and personal data-capture systems.

Why isn’t anyone being paid for their personal information? We only live once, briefly, and our lives have meaning! We’re not cattle.

The next big paradigm shift is likely to involve ETHICS. Or, in other words, what are the two most common words used to describe cryptocurrencies? I mention those because in a way, cryptocurrencies are the natural backlash to out of control manipulation & unethical central banking.

  1. Decentralized | Self-Ownership
  2. Transparent | Blockchain

The footing of the next-gen internet will likely be based around algorithmic and social ethics where it will be harder to project a false identity, either as an individual or a company. It won’t be as easy to scam, to hack, to mislead, exploit or deceive.

Imagine… what a virtual economy, workforce, and social web built on an ethical blockchain-style foundation might look like.

Will brands such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google exist in 5 to 10 years? If so, how different and more ethical will they HAVE to be to exist and compete with personal and business clouds built on ethics, artificial intelligence built on ethics, and so forth?

Then there’s the countless companies behind current internet technology that we don’t know. How ethical are they?

For a visual, this screenshot shows one still from Gerd Leonhard’s 2014 TEDx presentation, Digital ethics and the future of humans in a connected world that does a good job of showing how the web will soon be built upon tech with serious ethical implications. 3 Billion more people will be joining the discussion, adding to our evolving global digital moral compass.

Gerd Leonhard Digital Ethics

What if you began sizing up the value of a technology based on its moral and ethical implications – to yourself, the digital ‘crowd’, and the environment?

And with all that said, let’s see if we can get through the 7 habits.


Habit #1: Be Proactive

Wikipedia Summary:

Talks about the concept of Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. Work from the center of your influence and constantly work to expand it. Don’t sit and wait in a reactive mode, waiting for problems to happen (Circle of Concern) before taking action.”

It’s time business owners and startup teams en masse begin taking full responsibility of their brands, rather than chiseling away at them, and handing them over bit by bit to large social media companies, software companies, cold automation, and the like.

Why? Because too many amazing ideas, solutions, products, and services are being lost while the biggest fish get bigger, and bigger, and bigger!

Look at the income disparities globally, where something like 2/3rds of the human species lives in poverty. This is so incredibly inefficient it’s mind-blowing. It won’t last, and neither will parallel disparities in the digital world.

How will this impact the way human ideas – crowdfunding – take precedent in our society?

Proactive vs Reactive Marketing

In this context, the proactive digital brand owner must begin with their direct sphere or Circle of Influence. Start marketing your brand where you can make a direct impact. Innovate with what you have, where you are and with who you know.

You cannot govern Google, or any social media platform, or anything you don’t directly control!

The reactive brand owner is focused on everything they can’t control – traffic, paid advertisers, social media companies, views, likes, vanity metrics, etc., rather than what they can, which are the relationships already in place, and those which can be quickly fostered through proactive ethical marketing (within reach).

Instead of responding to cold hard data and analytics, focus on making positive impacts in people’s lives. Focus on making the world a better place for those within your direct Circle of Influence. This is how to organically, and genuinely, and transparently build a crowd – personalization.

How are small businesses going to evolve with the demise of conventional reactive marketing?


Habit #2: Begin with the End in Mind

Wikipedia Summary:

Envision what you want in the future so you can work and plan towards it. Understand how people make decisions in their life. To be effective you need to act based on principles and constantly review your mission statement. Are you – right now – who you want to be? What do I have to say about myself? How do you want to be remembered? If habit 1 advises to change your life to act and be proactive, habit 2 advises that you are the programmer! Grow and stay humble.”

A big part of being proactive is having a serious and specific brand experience, vision, or journey. If you substituted your brand in that paragraph above from Wikipedia, what would the answers sound like?

  • Is your business what you want it to be or what others are telling you it should be?
  • What do you want your business to be remembered for?
  • What’s the big picture around it?

Brand story HAS NEVER been more important (increasingly so with the rise of digitization & automation). Neglecting to incorporate ethical brand character traits like integrity, honesty, social & environmental responsibility, fairness and compassion, etc., is unwise.

To update or renovate a brand, consider starting with the vision. Not based on the brand’s success, or the brand’s growth, and not on the benefits of using your product or service, but the greater good that your company’s doing in the world.

And no, just saying “We donate X% of profits to <Insert Charity/Nonprofit>!” isn’t going to cut it. That’s too easy. It’s too vague. It’s too obscure. So someone makes a purchase and something happens behind the scenes they can’t feel, see, hear, taste, touch, or smell.

For true success and growth, next-gen consumers need to really sense we’re a part of something greater than ourselves as consumers, and greater than brands as profit producing entities.

Within a handful of years tech will put nearly any experience within reach…


Habit #3: Put First Things First

Among the most common reasons businesses (and empires) fail is because they stretch themselves too thin. For new entrepreneurs, this can happen before their product or service, or even before their website goes live.

Overextension. Day after day, the mainstream digital marketing overlords are trying to get businesses to invest in and focus on the wrong things – activities that tend to make your business poorer, and theirs richer.

The system Stephen created for setting priorities in this light still holds true for digital brand owners. Look at everything your current perceptions of digital marketing and brand success has you thinking you must do.

If you flipped things on their head and focused on your brand’s purpose, values, roles, and priorities, where would all your ‘needs’ and processes fall?

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important and not Urgent
  • Not Important and Urgent
  • Not Important and not Urgent

What’s most important are the ways in which you  form partnerships, leverage open innovation, and impact the world.


Habit #4: Think Win-Win-Win

Wikipedia Summary:

Genuine feelings for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships. Value and respect people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten their way. Think Win-Win isn’t about being nice, nor is it a quick-fix technique. It is a character-based code for human interaction and collaboration.

It’s safe to say the majority of ‘mainstream’ digital marketing and advertising today isn’t built around a win-win scenario for both customers and who they choose to shop with.

Not much of our current technological infrastructure (real and virtual) is a win-win for users and the web of interests behind them.

But call me a relentless optimist, because when I look forward I see a digital realm that again, is built on an ethical foundation where win-win is literally baked into the pie…or it doesn’t survive.

Awareness is building, and the globe is connecting – shrinking. Soon, we’re all going to be much more aware of the impacts of our micro-decisions from day to day. Efficiency will sweep across this modernizing world of ours and take with it countless inefficiencies that hurt humans and the environment.

It’s really a triad of wins – humanity, environment, and technology.

This is getting deep! 2 more to go.


Habit #5: Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood

Now we’re talking big data. The last decade has been about tracking and capturing more human data than you and I could possibly comprehend. In fact, it’s only gaining steam. Now, truthfully, how well in a digital sense can you know your ideal users or customers?

Honestly. How well? If you’re shrugging your shoulders, ask yourself where all that big data’s gone? Who’s REALLY using it unethically to their benefit?

For most small businesses, really getting to know ideal users and customers online through conventional channels can be tough. There’s a thousand so-called tricks and shady methodologies for sale, with just as many software tools and tactics…but it’s about genuine communication!

Once you understand a need, it’s about leveraging ethical content and means to put your brand out there and be understood. Here’s a good quote,

“Use empathetic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.”

Habit 5 is greatly embraced in the Greek philosophy represented by 3 words, and the order is important here, from E, to P, to L, so from an ethical brand image, to your brand’s relationships (open innovation), to the logic behind your initiative (vision) that’s a win-win-win!:

  • Ethos: Brand credibility. The trust it inspires – the Emotional Bank Account.
  • Pathos: The empathetic side – alignment with the emotional trust of customers.
  • Logos:The reasoning part explaining your brand’s existence and purpose.

This next habit’s where we start talking crowds and clouds.


Habit #6: Synergize – Building Your Crowd

This is a subject that should really excite you, the fast-paced evolution of digital networks, the reach of digital content, and how well-connected people can get when rallied around someone or something.

Brands now can have staggering impact, if they build it into their business model. If they choose to make their platform something that people can engage with far beyond getting emails, making purchases, or standing in line.

Note: I go into this with some depth in my article, Entrepreneurs: Tapping into Crowd Wisdom. Check out mindsharing.

Why focus on continually improving your product or service, when the focus could be the big picture impact of this optimization instead? An easy example would be, instead of putting focus on the style of an electric car, show people the positive results from offset negative impacts due to fossil fuels.

Instead of telling potential customers how much time your software can save them, show them what your company is doing with profits beyond making the board happy. These are the types of messages that build communities.

Just picture what social media networks and P2P communication will look like in 5 years!

Alright, we could peel back twenty more layers but let’s get to the 7th habit.


Habit #7: Sharpen the Law

Wikipedia Summary:

Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. It primarily emphasizes exercise for physical renewal, good prayer (meditation, yoga, etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. It also mentions service to society for spiritual renewal.

Hmm, we could go in interesting directions trying to connect that to brands. But, yeah, as digital entrepreneurs tips like that are critical. Besides, we’ve got to get used to this idea, “if it can be digitized, it will be.” Whether we like it or not, most digital brand owners will not be required to put in as much screen time.

Remember to get out, exercise, and enjoy the physical world. If your brand doesn’t fit into a healthy lifestyle for you and those in your direct sphere of influence, then make some changes!

Hope this has been an engaging read. Would love to hear your comments and critiques in the comment section.