On being different…

I’ve written about “being different” before, but from another perspective, more, let’s say “business oriented”. This time it’s more personal. I want to share with you a lesson I learned this evening about personal identity and having the courage to accept and communicate to the world that you are who you are, even when “you” are perhaps, in more ways than one, different from the norm. We all take on roles in this life – professional roles – marketing specialist, trainer, coach, sales person, manager and personal ones – mother, daughter, friend, husband. What I have just realized this evening is that once we’ve communicated that particular role to the world, others start having certain expectations that we fit the role. There is something akin to dogma surrounding different roles. There are “right” and “wrong” things that mothers, coaches, friends should do or should avoid doing. Once you are “qualified” to be in a certain role, it’s as if you’ve just, inadvertently, joined a community of people, all sharing that role. You have a child, you’ve joined the community of mothers. You are a qualified coach, you’ve joined the community of coaches. You’ve joined a family through marriage,  you’re part of a whole new community of in-laws and cousins and friends of the family. And that community has standards, rules, regulations, procedures that you must follow, if you want to be accepted by that particular group. What happens when you trespass others’ expectations from that particular role? What happens when you don’t behave as you are supposed to, within the role? What happens if you craft your own, personal version of the role, that is different from anyone else’s? What happens, for example, if a high-profile finance consultant decides to wear blue-jeans and a t-shirt to work? Will he suddenly become less competent in managing his client’s finances? What about a sales-person who cares more about customer satisfaction than sales targets? Or a mother who decides to offer a completely different education to her...

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On being different – are you an apple or an orange? Or maybe an applorange?

Dec 26, 10 On being different – are you an apple or an orange? Or maybe an applorange?

Posted by in Books, Business

“Sameness” and “difference” are the type of yin and yang concepts that are bound to get one’s imagination going. And to me they’ve always been fascinating. Combined with my fascination for people and the workings of their minds, these two concepts have been an intellectual leitmotiv for as long as I can remember. What makes people different? What sets them apart? What makes outliers, mavericks, iconoclasts? How are people similar? Are there things we all share? Why do we strive for differentiation and then end up with sameness? To make a point, take teenagers, whose striving for differentiation is probably more blatant than that of any other age group’s . Emo, punk, rock, hip-hop, whitewashed jeans, all black outfits, piercings, tattoos – all are marks of differentiation, signs that shout – “I belong to this group!” or “This is my tribe!”. But when everyone strives to be different, the paradox is that everyone ends up being the same. I’ve just finished a great book, “Different”, written by a marketing Professor at Harvard Business School – Youngme Moon. Besides having a real knack for writing, which kept me interested from beginning to end, Youngme Moon managed to get me thinking on how this paradox of differentiation leading to sameness ends up ruling our lives. The book is about brands and the way brand competition leads in fact to a “competitive herd” where everyone is striving to “keep up with the Joneses”, so much so that companies end up offering the same range of benefits to a growingly bored mass of customers. Think of all the shampoos that promise to “increase volume”, “make your hair silky”, “offer a new and enhanced formula” -in their quest for “brand augmentation” (adding more and more characteristics and benefits to the product) they end up creating what Moon calls a “category blur” – a situation where the customer can no longer distinguish between brands and ends up being loyal to none. Moon also analyzes what makes some brands stand out...

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