Licked. Not stuck.

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Now you can send your letter to Hermione with David Bowie’s image on the envelope.

Featuring six of his most iconic albums and four of his tours, a commemorative collection of stamps produced by the Royal Mail are marking the 50th anniversary of the singer’s first album. The stamps serve as a slightly incongruous (old school stamps, an absolute throwback when set against the arch innovator himself) reminder of what it is to have the capacity to regenerate and revitalise.

What made Bowie able to change the game at will and still be true to himself, when other contemporary artists get stuck in the past and obsolete by comparison? What is it about artists, products, people or businesses that means they remain current, relevant and necessary when others fall by the proverbial wayside?

Places are the same. Look at London, which is so adept at regenerating itself, and soon to be creating its first new park in 100 years with Fitzrovia’s Alfred Place being transformed into an inner city idyll, minutes from the British Museum. As for that half-mile long Peckham coal-line, it’s going to give New York’s highly admired High Line a run for its money.

The skyline of London serves as an exciting living physical graph charting the progress of the city. Just look at all the new, funny shaped structures that have sprung up with their charmingly faux-basic utilitarian names: the Scalpel, the Stage, the Shard, and that’s just the S’s to accompany the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie and so on. So fresh. So terribly vibrant. No wonder the tech giants are happily setting up camp in town—Groupon in King’s Cross, Snapchat in Soho, Facebook in Fitzrovia and Amazon in Liverpool Street, to name just some of the recent bunch.

London, like Bowie, regenerates because it has a very clear idea of who and what it is, and just as importantly who and what it isn’t. That, as we’ve seen time and time again, is what counts. Don’t copy. Never imitate. Be yourself. Life is so much easier then. It’s simpler.

Brands can learn a lot from the enduring sense of self that comes so inherently to some people and places. They would be well-served to take a leaf out of those playbooks.

One prime example is Hermés—a brand built to trot, not gallop. Hermés, for whom sales grew fourfold between 1989 and 2006 to $1.9 billion through a smart expansion of its footprint. Hermés, the serial regenerator, the brand that Forbes ranked ahead of Netflix and Starbucks in a list of the world’s most innovative companies.

Hermés knows who it is. Like other great businesses, it’s clear about what business it’s in and so can market itself brilliantly. It is said that Hermés doesn’t have a marketing department, just as McKinsey doesn’t have a consulting department, nor does Microsoft have a software department. Marketing is Hermés’s core business. Hermés knows that.

Whether you’re looking at a half century career as an artist, multiple centuries of evolution as a city or 180 years as a leading global brand, the same principles apply for those that really want to endure beyond the flavour of the month or the new tech kid on the block. Endurance is about adapting, regenerating and revitalising to remain relevant and necessary. Like David Bowie did, like London does, like Hermés determines it will.

Those principles can be best expressed with three questions worth asking when not merely refreshing, but rather, regenerating and revitalising a brand. They’re the same questions that are asked when seeking to patent an idea as original, not derivative.

Is it new? Is it non-obvious? Is it useful?

Used as a filter, they’re a failsafe. Answering to each of those three questions is not a bad way to approach any decision about moving forward with your business. It’s how heroes are made.

Philip Davies is president of EMEA at Siegel+Gale. Follow him on Twitter: @PhilipDavies10

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