This past week I had the chance to spend time with some really amazing women who are the next generation of great minds, critical yet equipped with a good sense of humour.

In one of our conversations we spoke about leadership and self-perception, and how when we embark on self-development (or start dating), we need to define who we are.

My friend noted that essentially each of us has 3 kinds of perceptions: who we aspire to be, who we think we are, and who we actually are.

Essentially, this also very much relates to brands. It is extremely important for a brand to be consistent, to know its values and aspirations, and then leverage those to deliver something of value to customers.

In academia, it seems that most of us are ‘brandless’ as the underlying main assumptions has been that to make it as a scientist, all you have to do is to do great research and then write a scientific paper about it.

This thinking, however, is hugely in the past.

Nowadays if you do want to be known for your work, writing a paper is not enough. We need to start thinking what we want to known for e.g. which keywords/concepts people immediately think when they hear your name.

Start with your values and aspirations

In the masterclass on career development that I ran in Cape Town last week as part of Adaptation Futures 2018, this is exactly what we focused on.

There are a range of strategies and tools that we can use to convey our message but if we are not clear what our values and aspirations are, then it is difficult to create a consistent brand for ourselves.

Building a great LinkedIn profile and being active on Twitter will both only benefit you if you have a story and you know which story you want to tell.

The strategies and tools available to us are put in best use if we have gained personal clarity as to how we want to position ourselves. Hence, focus on the ‘black box’ first.



During the conference, I had the chance to meet early career researchers and practitioners. I spent an hour with one student who has a year to finish his PhD and is starting to think about work opportunities and what he wants to do.

One of his issues was that he has done lots of research but in all different topics. So we sat down and I challenged him to think and reflect what the red string is that connects all those topics.

This is not about just comparing yourself to others. Once a friend said to me that each person’s life is like a painting. The main pitfall that often stops us is that we look at other people’s paintings and feel inadequate as we admire the colours and the lines they have chosen and used. This makes us unhappy about our own painting.

But if we focus on what we are painting, the colours that we want to use, and the lines we want choose, then we can actually start getting somewhere that we think is meaningful and right for us.

3 dimensions for climate adaptation

My friend’s words have stuck with me ever since, and the more I have thought about this, the more this actually relates to climate change adaptation as well.

When we talk about measuring adaptation, its success and progress, we are inevitably faced with a subjective assessment as to where we are at.

But more than that, I think the same 3 dimensions show up in this discussion as well: where we aspire to be with adaptation and what we think it should deliver, where we think are in terms of adapting, and where we actually are.

Honing out those details will prove difficult as these can mean different things to many people and organisations.

Just this past weekend, the Expert panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience released its report on measuring progress on adaptation and climate resilience, with a set of 54 indicators.

What I think will be the most challenging parts of any such effort are a) the development of the baseline as to what we measure against, but also b) long-term tracking of moving from aspirations to actual implementation and action. .

What is important here is the alignment of our 3 dimensions, and asking questions around those dimensions should encourage us to define specific steps and tasks.

Looking to the future from now

Separating these 3 takes a lot of self-awareness however and sometimes we are not able to do this by ourselves but need also to ask others what they think about us, or how they think that particular adaptation initiative is progressing.

I recently came across Marshall Goldsmith’s “FeedForward” technique which is about exploring these kinds of aspects of our lives with the help of others. This technique is about asking questions how you could better achieve a goal in the future and ask for advice which kinds of steps you could take along the way.

Another emerging topic is that of measuring ‘subjective resilience’ that has been suggested by Lindsey Jones and Tom Tanner as an alternative in understanding and measuring how resilient households are.

This all relates to asking different kinds of questions, using subjective measures and people’s self-perception as proxies in defining what they think resilience is and means.

What these examples demonstrate that there are different ways to understand the different dimensions of ourselves but also of the people that we aim to assist and lead.

The question then is how we take some of these forward and how we put in place techniques and strategies to measure the strategic alignment between the aspirations, the perceived progress, and the actual state of play.