“There was a time in my life where I thought all I’d be doing would be teaching, painting, and drawing- life takes you in different turns. I love what I’m doing now, but if you had asked me ten years ago I would’ve told you that would not be possible.”
In a culture where everyone is expected to have one occupation, exercise one skill, and follow one passion, David Cohen is a beacon of light for those who want to “do it all.” From founding Equation Arts as a “Brand Therapist” for celebs and business execs to being an accomplished fine artist (among other talents), Cohen has been all over the country exerting his varied interests, showing others that you can make all your talents work when you have the courage to think outside the box.
I had the chance to interview Cohen and highlight his story of combining unique passions to help and inspire others:
There are people in graduate programs that don’t have the passion they thought they had for their field- yet they’re afraid of pursuing anything else. What gave you the courage after receiving your MFA to get into marketing/web consulting?
Well it wasn’t an overnight decision. It took about a decade (smiles). In the 90’s I was in Baltimore teaching, painting and drawing at a community college and in my studio. I was also working two other jobs to make ends meet, one of which was for the AV department of the art school where I got my MFA. Thanks to the art school I had 20 slides of my paintings digitized – this was a fairly rare thing back then. I used them to make my first web site. I learned how to make a web page by basically copying someone else’s and by trial and error changing one thing at a time to see what would break I learned how to make my own. It was very exciting, fascinating – keep you up late at night stuff.
And so you’ve found a way to combine your background in creativity with technological skills?
I got an email from someone in Italy who liked my paintings and I was hooked.
“I was touching the world, and I was tapping into both my logical (I was a math major as an undergrad) and my creative sides.”
There were many twists and turns after that, so it wasn’t just waking up one day and saying “put down the paints and pick up the spreadsheet” – it was a lot of fighting in the trenches and learning and studying, but I have a real passion now for seeing people find their fit – finding that context in which their unique blend of talents can really shine.
And do you still make art today?
Yes, actually in the last few months I’ve been working to make some of my drawings a more visible part of my personal brand online – visit http://davidscohen.posterous.com to see some of my whimsical doodles. I’m also in the midst of revamping my company site (EquationArts.com) to reflect a more fun, warm and inviting demeanor that will coexist with my creative side.
“You see, brand development is a lifelong pursuit- not just a sudden turn.”
I think it’s great that you are able to do everything that you enjoy. You’re not subjected into one “career box” but exercising all aspects of your passions. Too many people think that you’re supposed to have one passion.
“The tricky bit is that we so often confuse who we are with what we do.”
The output of what you do, the job, the service, the title helps to define the context, but it rarely speaks to the differentiators that are so vital in branding. That is why I often point to Richard Branson – his businesses have been wildly diverse, but he brings consistent brand principles to each one. The brand expectations come from how those principles are applied to the new context of a given industry – airlines, mobile phones, music, etc.
What are some other business brands that you admire most?
Apple / Steve Jobs is an easy pick. It’s hard not to admire Coca-Cola as a consumer brand – they get the idea of focus. I try to take lessons from successful consumer brands and make them accessible to individuals and small businesses that operate in such a fundamentally different way than the big companies. I currently fascinated by people like Gary Vaynerchuk and Julie Stuart (visit her site at makingideasvisible.com) who are redefining career paths by recognizing their talents and shaping their businesses to fit who they are.
Should people who are not businessmen or businesswomen focus on their own brand as well? Is it just for people in business?
Unless you are a hermit (which is actually still a brand) then yes, everyone should be engaged in one’s brand. I said this on Twitter this week: We live in a world where vanilla has to compete with “Tahitian Vanilla” – there is more information and more, nuanced choices in our lives than ever before. I think it is imperative to find your path to cut through the clutter with both authority in your skills, but also in humanity.
“The problem is if you are ignoring your brand you may be finding yourself pigeon-holed in a brand or reputation that you don’t want, don’t understand how you got, and don’t see the path toward where you want to be.”
You’ve witnessed a lot of success, through interviews, nods in newspapers, and well-attended speaking engagements. What’s the next step for you?
I have a few things I want to accomplish this year – release my eBook, develop more programs that make personal branding assistance more accessible for people who wouldn’t necessarily be able to invest in one-on-one assistance.
“Keep speaking, launch the new website, and keep squeezing in time to make some art!”