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What’s your line in the sand?


There’s a small, family-owned business not far from where we live in London.  Founded in 1918, it has enjoyed a solid reputation for close to a century.

This same business is now in the midst of building a larger home at a new location.

A sign at the construction site reads as follows:

Future home of Nash Jewellers… for the next 100 years.

Don’t you love that level of conviction in a brand?

It’s the Nash family’s way of drawing a ‘line in the sand.’

As Jason Fried wrote in his ground-breaking book, Rework: “A strong stand is how you attract super fans. They point to you and defend you. And they spread the word further, wider and more passionately than any advertising ever could…”

Fried goes on to use the line-in-the-sand metaphor to wake us up to the idea that, as businesses, we have to stand for certain core beliefs and stick to them… no matter what. If we try to appeal to everyone, ultimately nobody will care.

  • Volvo’s line in the sand has always been safety.
  • The Life is Good guys took a stand (and built an amazing business) on ‘spreading optimism.’
  • Nash’s stand is consistency and reliability.  In essence: “We’ve been here since 1918. We’re here today. And we’ll be here 100 years from now too.”

Note that these are core beliefs. They’re legit and proven. They’re backed by real action and real results. They’re not fake or self-righteous values that get written up, promoted… and never acted upon.

Drawing your own line in the sand:

So what about you? Here’s a simple way to start uncovering your own core beliefs. You can do this on the beach, in a sandbox, or even on a plain piece of paper.

  1. First, draw a big circle.
  2. Next, draw a line down the middle of the circle
  3. Now draw a single stone on the left side of the line. That’s you, or your business.
  4. On the opposite side of the line write down what you DON’T stand for. These are the practices you can’t stand, the things you’ve never liked or believed. Once you get a good ‘unlikable’ list going, whittle it down. Circle the words that especially make your skin crawl.
  5. Now, go back to your side of the line. Write in all the opposites of those unlikeables. These are the things you feel strongly about, the beliefs that make you unique. Enough to stake your brand on. You’ll be lucky if you have a strong opinion. If, however, you feel like you operate in shades of grey, then use this exercise to make your point-of-view stronger.

Sometimes it’s hard to start with positives. Trying to pin down our beliefs as a business can make the line in the sand seem intimidating. So start with the DON’T side to get yourself stirred up, but don’t dwell there. The challenge is to hone in on where you can make a stand.

Then, stick to your side of the line.  Capture your beliefs and make sure they’re shaped and shared through every aspect of your brand.

That’s when others will know you’ve drawn your line in the sand.

And they’ll likely want to stand behind you.

So ask yourself:

  1. What turns your stomach?
  2. How can you shape the opposites of this into your core beliefs?
  3. What’s your line in the sand?