What’s the old joke about cockroaches and Cher?
If you’ve ever lived in a pre-war New York apartment, you know how tenacious those little suckers can be. And if Cher’s celebrity seems just as enduring and resilient, let’s hope she takes the comparison for the compliment it is.
Cockroaches aside, what is it that has kept Cher in the spotlight for so very long? A look across the years reveals a parade of distinct personas, like so many tiny revolutions, the shedding of old skin and the embrace of new values, an infinite capacity for reinvention.
Constant reinvention is, in fact, a hallmark of successful people. (Anyone here a Madonna fan?) Part of that reinvention is a recalibration, to better fit the tastes of their audience, to align with what’s trending. But part of it is more personal. A periodic cleanse, both emotionally and physically, does a body good.
To cleanse: to free from dirt, defilement or guilt. We regular non-celebrity mortals have taken to detox cleanses in droves. We may not have it in us to go for a whole new hairstyle and wardrobe (and, by the way, who would care?), but we can reset, recharge, restart nonetheless with a few weeks of clean living and fruit juice.
Brands do this too. (The reinvention, not the fruit juice.) Burberry's, Chanel, Dove, even Snapple have managed to dramatically change how they look and what they stand for, while remaining relevant and – yes – authentic. No easy task, but we as consumers do grant special permissions for such makeovers, because – let’s face it – everyone loves a phoenix-from-the-ashes story.
Those before-and-after pictures in fashion magazines are fascinating. We love entertainment TV’s where-are-they-now stories. Because reinvention is about hope. It’s about a belief in the future. A belief that it’s never too late, that the ending is not already written, that we have the power to change our destiny. If they can do it, so can we. The story of Cher – or Burberry’s - is both inspiration and aspiration. Do we not all desire to live long lives and to remain fresh and relevant throughout?
Easier said than done of course. Reinvention is challenging, especially to do it with a sense of integrity and authenticity. So what do successful reinventions have in common?
Don’t walk away from your past. Build on it.
Scary plastic surgery ‘reinventions’ are scary because the original person is unrecognizable. They past has been all but lost, the baby tossed out with the bath water. But even dramatic makeovers can be appealing when they leverage and highlight the assets that were always there.
I.B.M. turned 100 last year. Not so long ago, it was unclear whether the company would survive. In the early 1990s, mainframes were under intense pressure from PCs. It was reinvent or die. I remember doing consulting work for them back then, when the idea was to crush the whole personal computing movement. Even then, as young we all were, we could feel in our bones that THAT wasn’t going to work. Stopping progress is not a viable strategy.
Then they brought in new management and a new point of view: change with the times. Under Lou Gerstner, I.B.M. built a successful software and services business – utterly reinventing what the company stood for, yet leveraging its prime assets: long-term customer relationships, scientific and research capabilities and unparalleled technical skills.
Resistance is futile.
Constant reinvention is an acknowledgement of a fundamental, universal truth – that life is endlessly dynamic and cyclical. Everything is but a phase. Or as my mother would say, “This too shall pass, dear.” Reinvention is about embracing, rather than fighting, that truth. Successful brands know that they must adapt, even when it seems like doing so is giving in to attack. Because digging in one’s heels and fighting the march of time is certain death. When we stop changing, we stop living.