Raise your hand if, as a child, you ever said, “When I grow up, I want to be just like everyone else.” Most people wouldn’t raise their hand. Many might even say, “That’s ridiculous.”
True confession… I said it. And I truly believed it at the time. The adolescent version of me thought it was the ideal position to be in and the key to a life of success. But let me explain.
As the byproduct of a mixed race relationship, I never fit in. As I sought to find inclusion, white folks told me I wasn’t white and black folks told me I wasn’t black. Both groups denied me membership to their communities at a time when my particular blend was seen as a rarity. (We’re everywhere today.)
You see, I wasn’t allowed to conform or absorb the identity of those who came before me. I had to forge my own path, make up rules as I went and live outside the lines. Blatantly banned from the status quo, my foundation was built on the resounding strengths I picked up along the way.
Most importantly, living in the “gray area” taught me to be comfortable with discomfort. That’s really the only way to respond when you’ve been earmarked to stand out. You have no crowd to shrink into and hide, so you’re forced to find your footing. From this vantage point, I learned how to recognize and understand multiple perspectives. I developed an ability to stand in another’s shoes and truly empathize with their version of reality.
In the “gray area” you become predisposed to risk taking and regularly find yourself pushing the boundaries. Often operating without the feeling of a safety net, you learn to sink or swim. You become resilient to land mines as you discover forging a path is better than living under someone else’s shadow.
Today, as I work with different clients, my goal is to help their business make its mark in the world and stand out from the crowd. Life experience has made me sensitive to the needs of a business struggling against the plague of conformity. Oblivion is no place to thrive. It inhibits any real potential to make things happen in a magnanimous way.
Most business owners don’t make the conscious decision to conform like the adolescent version of me had wanted. In fact, I believe they feel like they’ve already chosen the riskier path with self-employment.
Few examine their chosen field or industry with the mindset to go against the prescribed grain, while others make small attempts to appear different, with little to no effect. There must be reason to choose to stay in the status quo. Is there some kind of emotional payoff or group-think validation? Let’s review some of these influencing factors:
- ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mindset – you identify competitors you perceive as successful and believe if you do what they do, you’ll be successful too. When you take this approach, the potential customer makes decisions based on price, proximity and reputation. You’ve become a commodity. If you don’t present something fresh and unique, most customers will choose the name that’s been around longer…sometimes despite the fact that your pricing is better.
- secretly seeking acceptance – performance anxiety is haunting you in this scenario. You have a few doubts floating about your subconscious causing you to question if you’re up to the task. You need to know what makes your business unique and one-of-a-kind and have faith in your abilities. See the true value you can bring to the table.
- there’s safety in numbers – Sure. If you’re a gazelle in Africa on safari. Choosing to follow the path everyone else is taking will often leave you overlooked. You’ll spend more time and money trying to win the attention of potential clients. Or even worse, the ones you get are looking for “the deal of the century” and you find yourself compromising on price.
- to try something different is risky – when exploring uncharted territory, the associated costs may present as prohibitive because you have no proven ROI track record. In this case, you need to measure that potential cost against the cost of sales lost to competitors also using the “popular” methods. You may discover the new way has more potential for sales and less interference from the competition.
- it shortens the learning curve – when you conform, you minimize the amount of educating you need to do for potential clients to buy in. Already acquainted with predetermined terminology, processes or procedures, it allows you to enter the race a little later and directly approach the already informed customer. You get the benefit of all the groundwork laid by the pioneers. However, you still need to wow them with a unique, attention-getting offer to win them over to your team.
- you feel more secure – your confidence increases because the existence of others doing the exact same thing tells you there is a market for what you do. How long will that security last? As the established competition looms large, you may find yourself jockeying for position and ultimately attention, before you know it.
Fight against conformity. The struggle to stand out.
My least favourite saying in the world is, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” If you allow that thought to penetrate your mindset, it can—most likely will—throw cold water on every ounce of creativity you possess. It effectively supports the idea of conformity. I am categorically opposed to anything set on squelching the creative process.
So, when you’re looking to realize the opportunities or benefits of nonconformity, remember truly achieving that status requires a dedicated, fearless approach to pushing boundaries. The following potential scenarios may influence your decisions:
- the more risk, the more reward – as you redefine your market, you have the ability to create a big splash. First-to-market tends to garner the most attention. Think about creating new relationships or applications for old or existing products and services. The inserting of a new idea in this way creates a paradigm shift from the established norm, which can cause upset in the market.
- gain status as an industry leader – whether you’re swimming in a new pool or discovering a secret body of water, you are teaching the market about this new found treasure and gaining status as a result. Depending on how you choose to strike out in your new direction, you could be seen as an expert, thought-provoker, visionary or influencer. Enhancing your credibility will lead to even more opportunities.
- apply pressure to the competition – when you step out, your competitors can’t ignore you any more. As they see you pulling away from the pack, they begin to question their own methods. All of a sudden, you’re the one with a target on your back. From the front of the pack, you’ll find the view to be so amazing, that you won’t mind one bit.
- set your price, get your price – when present your business as the unique stand apart business that it is, price resistance will become a thing of the past. With no one to directly compare to—or at least very few—your days of compromising on price to win the deal will be over.
- shining a spotlight on your business can open doors to opportunity – as you step into the spotlight with your stand out concept, you will likely draw more opportunities to you as you command more attention. It may even cause you to expand your offer as you observe how the market responds. Let’s face it…most living things grow when you introduce light to the mix.
- independence is hard to beat – as you establish yourself as a unique and special entity, you will gain independence from those you’ve previously been compared to. Your leap forward could be a giant head-start leaving you at the forefront of the others for the foreseeable future. Just remember to periodically check your rear view mirror for encroachers. They won’t be a problem as long as you banish the habit of complacency once and for all.
When you decided to start your business, which path did you choose?
Are you comfortable as part of the status quo, getting your modest sliver of the pie?
Or are you blazing trails, breaking molds and generally leading the pack to places unknown?
Like most things, a business will experience periodic stages of evolution and stagnation. If you feel like you’re being consumed by the pack and losing your unique position in the marketplace, let’s talk.
I’d love to help you discover that special thing that sets your business apart from all the rest.
In the comments, share your triumphs or frustrations, whichever they may be…