Identity and recognition

A well-known term

From our perspective, identity is one of the most important topics for meaningful leadership and management. It is not a new term. In fact, it was used already in the 1960s by the corporate identity movement. But over time the conception of identity changed. In 1990s the term ‘brand identity’ was coined and has become generally accepted in the marketing community.

But not well understood

At the beginning identity was just another word for appearance. This early definition actually did not capture the essence of the term. This started to change in the 1980s. Since then people typically draw a direct analogy to the human identity. They say: An organization has an identity similar to an individual person. But having said this, immediately a technical perspective is taken and we are told how to ‘manage’ the company’s identity. With our discussion of emergence in mind, it is clear that this conception doesn’t make sense. The collective identity of a company is not designed and implemented, but emerging.

What it is really about

To develop a profound understanding of identity and its importance, we have to turn to the philosophers Axel Honneth and Charles Taylor. They explain that identity gets formed by mutual recognition processes. We are – as individuals and as groups – dependent on the recognition of others. Since our identity describes who we are and what we stand for, being not recognized or misrecognized brings us into existential difficulties. This is not a ‘technical’ process! It affects us deeply to be seen in ways which do not match our self-understanding. Whatever we do, we find ourselves in a ‘struggle for recognition’ as Axel Honneth calls it. With this conception of identity and recognition we have found an approach which enables us to understand social dynamics in depth.

The question of meaningfulness

One aspect of identity is that people want to do something meaningful, something which relates to them, something which is worth to be recognized for. Thus, a crucial question is how we can deal with meaningfulness.

This brings us to the concept of public spaces.