We often think that it is better to stand out from the crowd. And sometimes that is the answer: to become an improved version of who you were yesterday to do what the "other" does with a few extra features. However, this is often an inferior strategy as you repeatedly improve someone else's work.
A better way to become world class is to completely change the game. Do not be better. Be different.
(HT to Casey Graham, who taught me this idea and heard it from Victor Cheng.)
For years, I was obsessed with comparing myself to others and constantly measuring my own accomplishments in the work of others. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried, I always felt like a failure. I could not shake off the idea that my work, no matter how good or successful it was, was always a fraction of what someone else had done. Not enjoying my success, I fell into a trap that robbed me of my unique contribution to the world.
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Teddy Roosevelt was right. Comparing yourself will rob you of your joy. Not only that, it will cheat you of any real success you could ever achieve because you will constantly question yourself and see what you do not do for what it is but for what it is not. And you will find subtle ways to sabotage your own efforts without believing that is good enough. People will compliment you and you will not hear them. You are influenced by what you do and it does not matter. And over time, people will not want to hear you thunder about why this is not good enough or what you have imagined. To be honest, that's pretty disrespectful.
I needed a brutal awakening to face this problem in my own life. My misfortune with my work was a slap in the face of anyone who had ever read or experienced a word that I had written or that I had experienced in one of my creations. And I had a decision to make: I could continue trying to be a better version of someone else. Or I could learn the art of becoming myself. Maybe success was not so much about getting better. Maybe it was more about being different.
Anders is better than better
Different is almost always better than better. In every field – economics, science, athletics – the individuals and organizations that are striking are brave enough to pave their own way. To go in a direction that only a few have gone before, waiting for the world to catch up.
Why does it work?
Because it attracts your attention. A slightly better version of the iPhone will not make headlines. Bing will never surpass Google's attention in search. And you will not be the next Taylor Swift if you sing slightly better versions of their songs. That's not how it works. Even if you are better, people do not care, because it is not enough to be better. You have to be different.
One of the reasons why it is different is better than better, because all the examples above were originals; They did something the world had never seen before, not like that. Surely they built on what was before, but they did something new with it. This is a branding concept often referred to as "the same but different". In other words, take an idea or model that someone has previously used and essentially proven, and then optimize it in a substantial way. The iPhone was not the first smartphone and it certainly was not the first phone with a camera or a music player, but it was the first device to combine all three of these features in a simple, beautiful touchscreen. It was different, not necessarily better. And by creating a category of one, they dominated this category by coming first. Whenever you are the first in something, you will win. Kleenex owns the "facial tissue" strategy because they were the first.
Costco is successful because it does not try to be a better version of Wal-Mart. The Grateful Dead have attracted millions of fans over the years, precisely because they have not tried to be a better version of the Beatles. This strategy works because it forces you to follow other rules. They divert attention from what they are not and focus on what they are. When you play the game you want to play, you win every time. Because it completely changes the conditions of the game and lets you dream of completely new possibilities.
That's the only way you can feel good in your skin and stand out from the crowd in a world of imitators and charlatans: Be different, not better. This is the stuff of innovators and pioneers, of inventors and entrepreneurs who are changing worldwide, and where true genius is found. I believe it is also an exercise that we can all do when we are ready to let go of the lies that keep us from being the best in what only we can do.
You can not defeat them if you join them
The first belief is the idea that the way it has always been done is the way it should be done. They need a bigger vision.
A belief that keeps us from becoming the best we can, is the idea that someone else found out. If we just walked in the footsteps of size, we might as well be, if not a little better, than the last one.
And that's true to a degree. If you fall into the comparison trap, you can improve. They could even become a slightly better version of what came before. But so rarely do we receive paradigmatic innovations and world-changing creations, such as putting a person on the moon or splitting an atom, or understanding how the human mind works. These advances were indeed leaps and bounds, not because they only built on the work that was done before, but because they were willing to make massive mistakes in the wrong direction.
Yes, there is a place for iterations, for slow and steady improvements, based on precedents. But for all 99 physicists in a lab building on the work of their predecessors, there is a simple patent employee who is conducting thought experiments on the nature of the universe.
For every one thousand startup employees trying to keep up with the insane hours, a child dreams of doing things in a different way.
For all evening news, a woman from Tennessee is seeking to be the main anchor who dreams of someday owning her own network. The world does not get Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey just because she's trying to do what has been done a bit better.
More than our circumstances, we are limited by our imagination.
The first belief that holds us back is the idea that we should only pay attention to how it was done or how it is done. This way of thinking to rewrite Teddy Roosevelt is the death of joy. Yes, comparisons kill your satisfaction, but it can also destroy any chance of success that you could have, because to make a significant difference to the world you must first believe that it is not flat. You have to resist what "everyone" says, does or believes. You can not defeat them if you join them. At some point you have to go your own way and face the rejection and hardness – and size – that comes from such courage.
Their limitations are leverage, not liabilities
Another false belief is that our limits stand in the way of our success. Basically, we consider them liabilities when they can actually become huge levers if we let them.
All your weaknesses, all your shortcomings and setbacks are not necessarily the obstacles that you believe you are. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is said to have said: "The obstacle to action drives the action forward. What stands in the way, becomes the way. "Or as Ryan Holiday succinctly summarized," The obstacle is the way. "In other words, what we often find inhibitive can indeed be the secret key to our success.
But most of us do not think so. I certainly have not and still have not. Many of us tend to think, "If I was born in another place, in a different family, or under different circumstances, I could be someone else." And of course it could be you. You would be. Completely different. But it did not happen, did it? What good is it to consider these questions? They only serve to distract us and slow us down.
If we wait for our borders to disappear, if we actively fight to find a way for what we really want, the path often becomes more difficult and confusing. What if all the things you thought were working against you could somehow be used in your favor? What if, as a trained martial artist, you were able to work with the seemingly negative energies and redirect them to serve you? In fact, I think you can.
What if all the things you thought were working against you could somehow be used in your favor?
When Southwest Airlines lost a price war against another airline in the early 1970s, they decided to completely change the game and shift focus from price to experience. When their competitor lowered the price for a flight from Dallas to Houston from $ 26 to $ 13, Southwest decided to give every passenger a bottle of whiskey on every low-cost airline flight. Your customers came back in droves. Why? What would you rather have? Another $ 13 in the bag or a fifth of scotch? The traveling professionals opted for the alcohol. And for a few months this year, Southwest Airlines was the largest distributor of liquor in the great state of Texas.
Why did it work? Because they have changed the game and have decided to be different instead of better. As we reach our limits, we open up a world of possibilities that we might otherwise miss. The things that we believe to hold us back may be the perfect framework for our art that sets us apart from everyone else.
They only compete with themselves
After all, the third faith that prevents us from doing our best work is that success has nothing to do with anyone other than us. We often measure our success by our perception of what other people are doing. We compare and contrast; We measure and calibrate based on what others do. In this age of 24-hour news cycles and endless social media updates, this game of watching the "other guy" can be continued forever.
It seems that we know practically "everything" that happens with our friends, our family and our employees. Of course we all know that these are curated feeds that show only the highlights that our colleagues expect of us … or do they? It seems that there is a very real part of us that does not know this, who wonders if anyone else has all the answers, that the answer somehow still exists somewhere outside of us.
And there's nothing wrong with knowing what's going on in our world and even in our industry or neighborhood. However, when we focus, when we concentrate on the work of others to the detriment of our own work, we lose two races: those against this person and those against ourselves. And the truth is that in life we really do not compete with anyone. No one has to live your life as you do. And no one can live your life as you do. So, why measure yourself by what someone else is doing? You do not have your circumstances, your situation. You do not know what it's like to be in your shoes.
My son Aiden likes to create his own board games, and when I play with him and start winning, he says to me, "Daddy, I forgot to tell you about a rule." And of course the rule has something to do with it that gives him an advantage and lets him win. I have not talked to him about the ethics of playing, but I have to admit, I'm a bit proud. I mean, why not? After all, it's his game. Why not design the rules to work in your favor? Who would create a game in which they lose again and again? Well, the truth is that you and I are doing this all the time, when we turn away from our work and focus on what other people are doing, and find subtle ways to make ourselves sad and sad when we are not measured by an impossible standard is constantly changing.
So we stick with the decision to either play someone else's game or finally get involved in playing our own and owning the process. We can decide what winning and losing looks like. We'll see when we've finished the race and are doing well and when to continue. Sure, there are bills to pay and mouths to feed. There are deadlines to be met and even commitments. But we have more control than we realize. We can set the conditions; We decide what success looks like.
Why not play a game that you can win?
And the game you win is the one in which you set the rules of what success looks like, and hopefully you do it in a way that works in your favor. In my opinion, the goal should not be to beat everyone else. This will only scare because there will always be someone who comes along and is a little bit better at some point. In the words of Jerry Garcia, "Do not be the best, be the only one."
This means you have to stay on track in case of doubt. Run your own race. Do your thing and drop the chips where they like.
Hug the portfolio life
All this leads to what I call portfolio life by designing a set of works that integrates all the people you are and what you do into a package called "you" be proud. To do this, you need to:
- Let go of what other people think (they do not really care about you, as much as it makes you believe).
- Control your craziness by leaning to your limits and making them a part of your job that you talk about and accept rather than avoid.
- Stay on your trail. When things get difficult and you feel distracted, focus on your first category – the one and not the best.
What would it look like if you started today? What would that make possible for you?
Share in the comments.
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