Want to Keep Keep Your Job? Stop Trying to Fit in
I was at a street fair recently in downtown Raleigh, NC on a very hot day. There were, of course, plenty of food carts with any variety of food you wanted to indulge in at the time. It was just past noon, and I noticed that not many of the food trucks were very busy. I mean maybe a short line of 5 to 6 people, but not too many more people were in line for what would normally be a rush to grab lunch.
As I continued to walk the fair, to my surprise, I noticed that one truck, in particular, had a very long line. I was thinking, the food must be really good, unique, or inexpensive. So I took a moment to pause and determine what was happening. What were they serving? What was the low price? Was it the large portions being offered?
And then, to my surprise, I noticed two things:
- A food truck employee was walking the line taking orders.
- There was a sign offering free “ICE COLD” bottled water while waiting. (the bottled water was given to everyone in line, and their order was taken right there in line, and the hot, thirsty, hungry customer paid for the entire meal before receiving their food).
The water was given to everyone waiting with the person placing their order. It did not matter if the people waiting with them was a one-day-old baby or an 80-year-old grandmother. Each one of them got a bottle of water.
In any highly competitive field — and these days every field is highly competitive — being different is the ONLY way to win. Nobody wants to sell a commodity, and nobody wants to be a commodity.
However, we all know that just about everyone spends a remarkable amount of effort trying NOT to be different but to fit in. We spend a disproportionate amount of time modeling ourselves and our businesses after other successful people and businesses, spending a ton of money and expending a tremendous amount of energy discovering and replicating best practices, looking for that one recipe for ultimate success.
Here’s the deal: If you look like other people, other businesses, then all you’ve done is expanded your own pool of competition.
In 1987, there was a film call “Wall Street”. Michael Douglas played an unscrupulous corporate raider, Gordon Gekko. Within a few weeks of the film being released, just about everyone was taking on the persona of Gordon Gekko, me included.
In most business cultures, we school like fish. We try very hard to fit in when we worry about losing our job or getting laid off. We stupidly start to think that being different will remind them that we’re here, and then they’ll lay us off too.
But “fitting in” has the opposite effect. You become more dispensable. If you are like everyone else, then how critical are you to the business?
You may be one of the millions doing everything you can to fit in. I talk to quite a few people every week, and a large majority just want to fit in and do their jobs.
I have a friend who lost his job. He was a very successful at fitting in. In the early 2000’s he was a very successful executive with a large on-demand provisioning company. He was a good consultant and sales professional — I always learned something from him when we were together, and for a long time he acted like the other executives. He sold products and services just like everyone else. He was over 100 percent of quota every quarter.
Then, several years later he got divorced, he lost his footing and couldn’t keep his sales up.
And here’s the kicker, He didn’t bring anything unique to the table beyond those things. It wasn’t that he couldn’t, as you’ll see in a moment. The fact is he didn’t. So he lost his job.
Look, trying to distinguish ourselves by being the same as others, only a little better, is a losing proposition. Not only that, it’s very difficult to sustain. There is always someone smarter, someone working harder trying to get ahead by being the best at what everybody else is doing.
It’s better and easier to be different, to be unique.
Entertainment is a great example. If you are alive at all, you know that Prince, the music entertainer, died recently. In a field where there is a tremendous number of gifted, and talented entertainers it is difficult to be a better singer, musician, and entertainer. But, Prince managed to do just that. He broke a mold and started a new trend that ultimately no one could match, which is why everyone is remembering Prince and his contribution to the world well beyond entertainment.
There is a tremendous body of research, Google it if you want to know more, proving that talent is not inborn, it’s created by practice.
But even in business cultures that want diversity, it’s hard to be different because of the cultural norms that encourage sameness. That’s why we have rules and dress codes. And expressions like “toe the line” and “follow the rules”. I say at the very minimum you should bend the hell out of the rules.
That’s what my friend finally did. Once he lost his job he decided to look in a completely different direction, he realized that he was never fully saw himself as a member of corporate America, at least not while working for a company in corporate America that promoted sameness.
He’s doing many of the same things he did before he got laid off, but he’s more successful because he feels and acts like himself. In other words, he’s being who he is deep inside, and there is nothing more gratifying in the world. And, oh yea, he’s indispensable. Not simply because of what he does, but because of who he is.
Look, this does not mean you need to take such a big leap. For most of us, that would be absurd. Copying someone else who’s different won’t help. Can you imagine someone trying to copy Prince? You’ll never be as good at a version of someone else or another business. But you can be a great version of yourself, a great version of the business you are considering.
Face it: You are different, and unique. The sooner you embrace that, the sooner you embrace and leverage it, the more successful you’ll be. The same goes for your business. Sameness sucks!
That’s why one food truck vendor with free ICE COLD bottled water can draw a long line at his food truck while the others park their trucks and wait for someone to walk up and order.
And there you have it. Stay motivated!