Tool: Who the heck are you?

by Alex Bruton

1. Introduction

Want to be innovative? Want to boost your personal creativity? Increase the impact you can have in the world? This topic invites you – no, urges you – to take a look at who you are, what you deeply value, and how really getting a handle on those things can help you innovate and might just keep you inspired throughout your life.

You’ll be invited to embark on a journey beyond just optimizing your career, to consider your role as a citizen and your role in bringing to life (for yourself and your community) the kinds of ideas that can’t help but make significant change in the world around us – because they are at the same time highly impactful, highly feasible and highly passion-nourishing.

You’ll meet some amazing people, become aware of various ways of thinking, and take away practical activities that you can use now and in the future as you grow. It’s designed to be useful whether you want to innovate in a traditional business, in a nonprofit, or in a blended value organization such as a social enterprises or social-purpose business.

Here’s a visual tour to get you started:

2. What makes you, you?

I created this topic after having gone on my own little journey to answer the questions What am I doing? and Why am I doing it?. And eventually I got to Who am I? At least for me, it wasn’t really obvious where to start. I ended up doing a fair bit of digging into what the whole question of identity means, and the two sections below describe some of the most useful things I came across. They help me make sense of all the self-help books and promotional materials that invariably bubble to the surface when you search for things like “personal identity”, “personal brand”, and “who am I?” And they helped me break the whole question into smaller pieces that I could tackle one at a time.

A way of looking at the pieces of “you”

If you watched the video linked above then you’ve already seen this. I share it again because found it pretty helpful in sorting out what we’re really talking about here.

The “Pieces” of You[1]

In this simplified model, there are three main elements to consider when thinking about “you”:

1. Your human identity. This is the notion of self-definition that includes:

      • your innate characteristics;
      • your invisible capital[2]; and
      • very importantly, your personal values.

2. Your personal brand. This is nicely summarized being as “a personal identity that stimulates precise, meaningful perceptions in its audience about the values and qualities that a person stands for.”[3] It includes everything you put out there, from your Facebook profile, to any websites you have, to the car you drive, to what you wear and what you say when you introduce yourself to people.

3. The brand image. This is the image others have of you as a result of your personal brand. It speaks to their levels of trust in you and to your reputation.

A useful way of thinking about “you”

We’ve all done it – I’m sure you’ve taken a class or a survey during which we’re asked to do a survey of our personality type, learning style, or happiness. Those try get at your innate characteristics (recall the figure above) and they’re not where we’re going to start.[4]

Before reading a whack of articles and books or doing a bunch of activities that promise to help you “discover your inner self” and “get to your core”, I’d recommend having a listen to the ideas of Julian Baggini. He’s a philosopher who thinks and writes about the identity and the notion of self. Most useful is his notion that instead of thinking of ourselves as having all the experiences of life, i.e. having our parts (such as characteristics and values), we should think of ourselves as being the collection of all the experiences in life, i.e. being the sum of our parts. It’s subtle. I know. But check out his talk below which explains it quite well along with some pretty common sense examples.

In balance, from the above, I want you to consider the idea that figuring out who you are isn’t really about looking into your self for a core and unchanging essence or being (e.g. “you are an INTJ“). Rather, Baggini argues that it’s partly a game of discovering who you are and partly a game creating yourself. I like the notion that I have a role in constructing and changing myself. After all, the world is changing around me so why shouldn’t I be free to change with it, at least to some level? And I suspect that the better I know who I am, including what my values are, the better I’ll be at making decisions that lead to feasible and impactful change that can keep me inspired.

3. Let’s get to it

Before going any further, let’s jump right in and have a look at some key aspects of your own human identity. Here are three activities, one to look at your invisible capital and two to get you thinking about your values:

Value activity: What do you want to be remembered for? (PDF)

Invisible capital inventory (PDF)

Value activity: Note to self (PDF)

In and between classes we also did the following activities:

  • The 12 value determinants
  • The Master Plan – “The Realistic Plan”

This page and activity still under construction. Expect more here soon in time.


Thanks go out to my colleague Guillaume Bédard whose time and input was very much appreciate as this topic took shape. And credit goes to him for the suggestion to use the obituary-style activity.

And, in addition to being incredibly inspired by my visit to the new TELUS Spark in Calgary, I also saw and borrowed the Note To Self activity from something I saw there in one of their exhibits.


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5 Comments to Tool: Who the heck are you?

  1. alexbruton

    Thank you Caroll!

  2. Eve B. Córdova V.

    This is oustanding. I’ll use it soon with my class. I’ll let you know about the experience. Thanks for sharing :D

    • Alex Bruton

      Thanks Eve. Glad you find it useful. Let me know how it goes!

  3. What an amazing journey this exercise was! Just composing my submission made me cry at times, laugh, hold my wife, tell her I love her and remind my daughter just how important ‘NOW’ is. Thank you for helping me get the courage to look back and truly understand my past and present, and to stop….and breathe! By far the best project I’ve had in my 4 years at university, it was simple….yet so complex. Thank you for giving me a blank canvas to paint my life’s painting on, this project also allowed me to value myself and appreciate my own contribution in life to those around me. :) I hope everyone can embrace this project!

    • Alex Bruton

      I am grateful for your feedback and for your participation Ravi. It is both simple and complex, isn’t it? This project has provided me with an incredible experience too – personally for reasons like those you mention, and, in a way that humbles me, as someone who is fortunate to see what so many people create and share as part of it.

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