Discovering Your Identity…An Interview with Paul Graves

by Jonathan Simpson
Publication: One-to-One, Winter/Spring 2005

Paul GravesPaul Graves is the Director of Design Strategy for a U.S.-based brand strategy and communication design company. He is also involved in pastoral and prophetic ministry. I sat down to interview Mr. Graves against the backdrop of coffee and beignets in the famed New Orleans French Quarter. You might be wondering, “Why the French Quarter?” And “What is a beignet?” Well, Paul happened to be there, speaking on creativity and innovation nearby at the annual Lavacon conference in the context of “Project Management in a Recovering Economy.” As for beignets, you’ll have to experience those tasty treats yourself. Just keep the napkins handy.

Paul’s work has spanned consumer and business-to-business environments for organizations including Virgin Atlantic, Toyota, Lexmark, Glaxo, and Schlumberger. He is an Englishman now relocated to Seattle, Washington, where he heads up a newly launched satellite office to company headquarters in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Using a mix of his professional experience, as well as his recently acquired specialist MBA in Design Management, Paul’s work requires him to analyze strategic landscapes in which companies position and differentiate their brands. Paul helps his clients implement and manage total design-based methodologies that move business vision and objectives into reality and competitive advantage. It is in this context that Mr.Graves is also found operating in his pastoral and prophetic ministries.How is that you ask?

Here we go…

121: How does your business relate to your ministry?

PG: In 1998, I was called to take a year off. The Lord was speaking to me about stewardship and ministry. While on the one hand my sphere of influence was geared towards the marketplace context, my work in itself-as I believe it does for many of us-had become my all encompassing identity, rather than a vehicle for God to outwork His purposes through me. In many ways it had become an idol of self-identification rather than an instrument for His purposes! It was at that point that I gained a deeper revelation of the power of Galatians 2:20, and what it meant to die to my self-centered viewpoint of my work. This is important so that the life of Christ could be fully and authentically expressed through HIS perspective on what HIS ministry should look like in my life; a life laid down in submission before HIM at the foot of the cross.

At the same time, I was heavily influenced by a message my pastor was preaching on how the church was called to reform the culture in all jurisdictions such as education, arts, government, and the marketplace. Finally, I had a revelation; my job and my ministry were the same. Branding was both a prophetic and pastoral vehicle – that is, through my workplace ministry I have the opportunity to inspire organizations to discover their sense of purpose and destiny and then walk them through the process of turning the idea into reality.

Now, Paul works with DOXA Total Design Strategy. DOXA [pronounced Dox’-ah] means “a belief system or way of seeing things.” The company’s broad-based creative capacity and depth of design resources means it can offer its clients strategy, conceptualization, design development, and assessment services across a wide spectrum of branded touch points and marketing applications, in what Paul calls “a holistic approach of Brand Belief Blueprinting.” This “Brand Belief Blueprint” process is the examination of, among other things a company’s vision and mission, its non-negotiable guiding principles, and its uniqueness.

121: What is the value of brand establishment?

PG: You are buying a place in a customer’s mind; you are buying loyalty and goodwill. And goodwill is no longer just regarded by financial people as a warm fuzzy sentiment, but a tangible, valid, and equitable measure on a balance sheet that provides strong brands with profits over and above expected levels and greater price/earnings ratios if no brand existed. Brands also speak to a person’s identity and sense of a need to emotionally connect with something they can believe and trust. For instance, I buy a Volvo because I’m safe. But brand is not just about identity and image – it’s about authentic representation and ongoing delivery of the brand’s promise. For me that is where the real harvest is; walking the talk and helping companies understand the need to practice what they are preaching.

121: DOXA’s client list Includes numerous “Christian” organizations including NavPress, Word, and the lnjoy Group; however, you’ve mentioned that you get a bigger kick out of consulting with “non-Christian” organizations. Why Is that?

PG: Well, let me prequalify that. We are very privileged to serve the vision of our Christian-based clients, particularly where the causes are critical in presenting a biblical worldview to our postmodern culture. My opportunity is to be a bridge to secular companies. To help them see that they are created for something bigger than they realized and to create a relationship. They think we are there to redesign their logo, but we start with a conversation about their values, helping them to authenticate who they are, what they do, where they want to go, and why it matters. Such issues aren’t just to do with a company’s marketing strategy; they are designed to test the validity of the business model and raison d’etre of the whole organization. For instance, most everyone will list words like integrity when describing their values. We ask, what does that mean to your receptionist? How does that person live that value through every detail of their day-to-day work-every call taken, every complaint handled, and so on? It is critical that values are translated to every single person in the organization-otherwise there’s no real brand penetration within a company, no traction, and no meaningful and lasting differentiation and transformation. This moves them from conceptualization to living and owning.” It is “brand discipleship”-passing along the identity. We play a fine line expressing our faith, but not a hidden one.

121: How do you see God Interfacing with your creative/design process?

PG: We live in a postmodern culture. There is a lot of thinking that, on the surface, seems close to a biblical worldview but what we end up with is deceptively diluted or inaccurate. The creative process or the primary motivation for creativity continues to be theorized about. God designed me to be creative unto His glory. Before taking an action, I ask the question, “Does this action bring glory unto His name? God designed the creative process over six days for a reason . He could have done it instantly. He set out a deliberate pattern. This pattern sees elements working together. The birth of a vision is death to self. You must lay it before God. Design is a bridge laid down, not a monument.

As our discussion continued about the creative process. Paul shared with me that he is learning to see God in interruptions. Whereas before, an interruption may have appeared to be a mere distraction, Paul now often takes time to explore a direction that God may be leading him into, rather than automatically continuing with the task at hand. Paul cited an instance when he had a divine appointment with a fellow passenger on a plane during what he originally thought would be a working flight.

In the latter part of our time together, Paul and I discussed several areas outside of his work with DOXA where he is involved in marketplace ministry. Paul described a three-fold, cross-generational ministry that is part of Christ Church Kirkland where he attends in the Seattle area. For the school age, Christ Church offers training by an elder, which presents an introduction to the concept of marketplace ministry and mission, providing an overview of what a workplace sphere of influence might look like.

College-aged young adults can participate in Z-Team (Zerubbabel-an influential marketplace leader and governor), which focuses on mentoring and discipleship training. For those in the work force, indeed the congregation at large, there is “Work In Progress,” which is “a vehicle that ignites people toward a fuller understanding and application of their faith in the sphere of work.”

Members recognize that each individual is still being formed and processed by God. They meet monthly to challenge and encourage one another and “mirror each others• transformation.” Each one shares the following challenges: “What did I give? What did I receive? And how did I go away changed?” Paul pointed to examples out of this group where people had experienced real change spanning from the very spiritual to the intensely practical-such as increased levels of work-focused relationships that ultimately resulted in lives won for Christ in the marketplace setting, to promotions at work because of skills one member taught another, and young people learning tips as they prepared for a job interview.

121: What else ls happening through “Work in Progress”?

PG: These people, and the testimonies they bring back, are what lights me up. It’s seeing people take all the incredible teaching we have received, applying it, seeing change and fruit in their lives, as well as in the lives of others that they work with-all with the primary intent of being conformed to Christ’s image, and seeing God’s glory and His Kingdom demonstrated more authentically in and through people’s workplace ministries. Oswald Chambers said, “It’s in the process that He gets the glory.”

It is because of the “buy in” from the church members and leadership that these ministries are producing tangible results. The challenge with much of today’s marketplace ministry is that it is divorced from the local church. The challenge with going off and doing your own thing is that the church is God’s chosen delivery method.

To that end, Paul recently was asked to join the board of Kiros in Seattle, which has representation from approximately 30 churches in the area, and emphasizes the intersection of faith with work. Paul’s list of past accomplishments are too numerous to mention here, but as my time with him in New Orleans ended, and I dusted the powdered sugar off of my coffee-stained notes, I knew there would be much more to come from this anointed marketplace minister.

Scripture Reference: Galatians 2:20

About the Author:

Jonathan Simpson

JONATHAN SIMPSON is a frequent contributing writer to CSM’s Marketplace Exchange.