Success Is For People That Dare To Be Different

by Sam Diener on December 30, 2009

I grew up afraid of being different. I think we all did.

Think about this for a second… Do you need an example? Ok – fine. Think back and remember someone popular in your high school. Didn’t you want to be just like him? Want her clothes? His personality? Her boyfriend? You might have even tried to mimic them a little bit. Don’t feel guilty though – not unless you still look at that person’s Facebook profile every day and study it for hours. For some reason, a very vivid image comes to mind… Being different One day, I went to pick up my sister at the bus stop and EVERY GIRL (but her) got off the bus with the EXACT SAME Abercrombie bag.

Our children grow into adults that don’t know any better. But this comes with great reason. In our world, it is brutally uncomfortable to be different. Mass media, and the resulting social pressures, make it that way. For example, if a women is not a size 2, with a huge chest, then she is automatically seen as fat. Oh, and it’s really socially unacceptable if a guy is seen talking to anything BUT the aforementioned physical anomaly. There are a hundred million other social “rules” that you must follow. Most of us live our lives trying to rigidly conform to a nearly impossible standard and it’s no wonder everyone is so stressed out all of the time. It’s like there is a voice in everyone’s head screaming “If you aren’t going with the crowd, there is something wrong with you!” But while this “sheep mentality” scares the 99 out of 100 that are too faint of heart to challenge the status quo in life, it gives all of YOU (the 1 in a 100) the opportunity to BE different. Believe me, success, in whatever facet of life you look for, is achieved through being different. Of course – I have tons of examples…

  • The Corporate World: Do you honestly think that in this world of cut-throats, you are going to get ahead by working your ass off? No! Everyone does that. In fact, in most companies, usually the people who do less, but more creatively rise. Ever wonder why it seems like your boss does nothing? Oooh.. touchy touchy. In a perfect world, you could theoretically rise to the top of the corporate structure by putting your head down work hard, blend in and let your work do all the talking. But this world is NOT perfect, and hard work will just get you, more hard work…. and, if you’re lucky, possibly a 2-5% raise per year. Work smarter, not harder. And learn to play the game…. which just so happens to be… never mind I’m not going there.
  • Entrepreneurship: I actually am not going to sit at my nice little laptop over here and preach that you must find a completely different business idea to be successful. In fact, if that were the way we worked, most of us would never start businesses. What I am going to tell you, is that if you want to start a business, find something that is working and improve it or something that people need and get it to them.

    You all know who Netflix is right? It’s not like the video rental industry wasn’t over saturated when they came into town. No… in fact, it was overflowing. Blockbusters on every corner. But they came up with a simpler, and better way to do it. And you see the result.

  • Marketing: In getting ready to write this article, one of my research points was to find the most effective campaigns. Of course, I jumped immediately to finding some of the best Superbowl commercials of all time and I looked for similarities. I found that they were all successful for the SHOCK factor. All of the great ones either stunned you or made you laugh so hard that you wet your pants. But what is this shock factor? It’s the “I’m different than anything you have ever seen before element!” Commercials and marketing campaigns that challenge normalcy are extremely effective. So effective, that I am sure that most people watch the Superbowl just to see the new commercials.The best marketing campaigns all do something to make you remember them. What are some of the ones you remember? And why? (By the way, if you have some extra time, I have included some of my favorites at the end of the post.)
  • Building Friendships: Many people judge their success by the quality of the friendships they cultivate. Think for a second what you see in the best friendships you have now. Why do you see value? Is it because your best friends provide you with something that is different than what you get from every other acquaintance? Most people create phenomenal friendships and relationships with those that are unique. One of the keys to forming the best friendships is to learn and take pride in how you are different from everyone else. You will quickly find people are attracted to this confidence. Do you have a friend that you value for their differences?
  • Winning People Over: This is one of my favorites. I am always attempting to observe new aspects of human behavior. I find it interesting that most people become so absorbed in their boring daily routine, that it is Be Differentextremely easy to win someone over by simply “disrupting” routine in a positive way.

    For example: want a free upgrade on a car rental, ask the agent how they are doing today, and be willing to listen. Need a stronger drink at the bar? Try actually having a real conversation with the bartender. Want to get a meeting with an executive? Figure out how to create a spark for his assistant. I once got out of a 70 dollar parking ticket by asking the ticket examiner for a handshake. It was so outside of what she expected that I was able to easily make her “see my side.” I have gotten more free products and discounts than you could ever imagine at stores just by being friendly and asking for them. It might be uncomfortable, but next time you need to win someone over, strive to be, a little different.

  • Investing: The common mantra of investing is to do the opposite of what everyone else in the market is doing. If the economy is in a slump, the move is to buy. You don’t get rich doing what every other person is doing. You have to take the risk of being different, but then the rewards are much higher.

    Here’s an example. Amidst the auto crisis (GM, Ford, and Chrysler), all of their stocks were in the toilet. However, I decided to buy some stock in Ford based on their international sales figures. I bought 50 shares at 2 dollars a share. Everyone I trust advised against it, but I did it anyway. And I made 500 dollars.

  • Dating: Are you truly proud of your differences? Or are you worried that you are not good looking enough, or wealthy enough? Stop it. Guys, I have a ton of girlfriends… and you know what they are all saying? “Why are all guys the same!?” Embrace what is different about you and be confident about it. A note to the single ladies: I have it on good authority that most guys are simply looking for a woman that is unique and confident in herself. I could write for hours on how to meet the ladies… maybe I will some time. Any requests?

Conclusions:Don’t go out and try to follow all of the examples I have given you. I want you to go out and develop a keen awareness of your surroundings. Observe what others around you are doing, and try to do the opposite (within reason.) Dare to be different.

By the way, the following are not necessarily representative of my opinion or those of the staff of the Sam Diener Blog.

And of course

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  • http://www.freemanlegacyllc.com Ms. Freeman

    I am impressed every day (well maybe not everyday) with how Netflix dominated the video world. It is different ideas and thinking outside the box that get business ahead of the pack.

    :)

  • http://www.freemanlegacyllc.com Ms. Freeman

    I am impressed every day (well maybe not everyday) with how Netflix dominated the video world. It is different ideas and thinking outside the box that get business ahead of the pack.

    :)

  • Nicholas Ricchiuto

    Hello Sam, I read the article you posted and found it to be very interesting. I am a technical recruiter and I am looking to expand my business. My challenge is getting decision makers to allow my company to recruit for their companies. I've been trying to think outside the box but haven't come up with any brilliant ideas just yet. Any thoughts?

  • reidpeterson

    Good stuff! Really like the thought, examples, and effort you put into this post. Very inspirational!

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/carinamccabe Carina McCabe

    Thanks Sam. Excellent comment about the discomfort surrounding being different, and the need to grow out of it.

    It's critically important to feel confident about your differences in your career search, not diminished by them. Pinpoint your differences, figure out what good those differences make in the position for which you're applying (this may change with each application). Then throw your chin up, shoulders back, and proudly state how wonderfully (and beneficially) different you are!

    For me, a variety of industries in my background is a two-edged sword in a time when everyone wants industry experience. Too many industries is sometimes viewed as lacking depth or understanding in any of them. A positive I've found in it is that each industry has taught me new ways of looking at and approaching problems. The transfer of what's learned can be incredibly fruitful, and “how we've always done it” in one industry has the potential to be “outside the box” thinking in another.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/sallymunn Sally Munn

    Daring to be different requires a pound of confidence, a quart of courage to 'expose' yourself, and –ideally — a dollop of cache to pull it off effectively.

    We've all been living in a society that's still entrenched in many standard paradigms of how things are “supposed” to be done, or how someone is “supposed” to behave. It's time to shake up the standard paradigms that have been in place beyond the time when they served us well.

    There's a whole generation of young people who are not embracing the traditional ways of behaving and doing things…and they will be the ones who will help spur economic expansion and the evolution of society…NOT the ones who are trying to look like and behave just like everyone else so they can 'fit in.'

    I find it refreshing each and every time I see someone who dares to be different…as long as it's for a good reason and it's legal. ;-)

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/carinamccabe Carina McCabe

    Thanks Sam. Excellent comment about the discomfort surrounding being different, and the need to grow out of it.

    It's critically important to feel confident about your differences in your career search, not diminished by them. Pinpoint your differences, figure out what good those differences make in the position for which you're applying (this may change with each application). Then throw your chin up, shoulders back, and proudly state how wonderfully (and beneficially) different you are!

    For me, a variety of industries in my background is a two-edged sword in a time when everyone wants industry experience. Too many industries is sometimes viewed as lacking depth or understanding in any of them. A positive I've found in it is that each industry has taught me new ways of looking at and approaching problems. The transfer of what's learned can be incredibly fruitful, and “how we've always done it” in one industry has the potential to be “outside the box” thinking in another.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/sallymunn Sally Munn

    Daring to be different requires a pound of confidence, a quart of courage to 'expose' yourself, and –ideally — a dollop of cache to pull it off effectively.

    We've all been living in a society that's still entrenched in many standard paradigms of how things are “supposed” to be done, or how someone is “supposed” to behave. It's time to shake up the standard paradigms that have been in place beyond the time when they served us well.

    There's a whole generation of young people who are not embracing the traditional ways of behaving and doing things…and they will be the ones who will help spur economic expansion and the evolution of society…NOT the ones who are trying to look like and behave just like everyone else so they can 'fit in.'

    I find it refreshing each and every time I see someone who dares to be different…as long as it's for a good reason and it's legal. ;-)

  • http://www.bigblubox.net/ Karen Stanley

    Great article! I work in recycling so I am thinking of recruiting Terry Tate to spend some time in some of the businesses we work with! Thanks for posting this! Continue encouraging being different! The world would be a really boring place without it!

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  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Nicholas – well that depends…. How long have you been recruiting?

  • http://www.annetteaaronevents.com/ Annette Aaron

    In the Sunday Times there was a feature article about how a young successful entrepreneur will only hire you based on “how weird you are” Sorry I don't presently have the link.

    Dare to be different depends on what industry or profession you are in.
    Personally I like seeing my (female doctor) in 3 inch heals and my accountant wears a very noticable antiique Mikey Mouse watch.

  • Kathleen McGinnis

    I also enjoyed reading the NYT article that Annette referenced. Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/business/10co

    The article focuses on this CEO's standard interview question: “How weird are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

    As many of the comments here have noted, and as the Zappos.com CEO himself admits in the article, there is a tipping point where “weird” becomes “too weird.” I found myself wondering how I would respond if asked this question, and what answer I would want to hear from a potential employee if I asked the same question. It underlines how important it is to know your company's culture and to maintain a strong sense of self, as well.

  • http://www.iheartswitch.com/ Alison Lewis

    I like the positive attitude here, as a different thinker myself, I am still holding on for success, but after seeing some of the funny commercials in that post I feel ready to get back up and try again!

  • http://www.theidentitycode.com/ Larry Ackerman

    There is great wisdom in the notion that being different brings success. It does, as long as that difference is aligned with what people – customers, for instance – need and want. That's the short marketing reality. The larger reality is that, as a human being, there really is no other way to succeed in life, if you don't express the unique characteristics that make you “different” – that make you who you are as an individual.

    Having the courage to discover the unique capacities that define our innate identities isn't easy, but it's worth it. Why? Because what makes us unique reveals our potential to create something of value in the world. And that potential is what fuels our performance, personally as well as professionally.

    In short, how can you succeed, if you don't know who you are? Same holds for companies, by the way.

  • Charlotte

    Hi Sam,
    Loved your 'How To Be Successful — by Being Different' article…I have found it difficult and scary to be who I really am my entire life, especially when I don't follow status quo (which is almost always). I seem to be the “Out of the Box Thinker” in almost everything I do…to finally just accept and then proceed with that in mind has since become my most valuable asset!!

    I have also found much to my delight that people secretly admire that 'differentness'…and wish they too could be different but are too afraid to buck what they have been told is the “right” way to be. I am grateful for that comment because it always gives me courage to proceed being different” when I start to get the “I can't do this”…its too crazy!
    (FYI…Great Website and articles)

  • Charlotte

    Hi Sam,
    Loved your 'How To Be Successful — by Being Different' article…I have found it difficult and scary to be who I really am my entire life, especially when I don't follow status quo (which is almost always). I seem to be the “Out of the Box Thinker” in almost everything I do…to finally just accept and then proceed with that in mind has since become my most valuable asset!!

    I have also found much to my delight that people secretly admire that 'differentness'…and wish they too could be different but are too afraid to buck what they have been told is the “right” way to be. I am grateful for that comment because it always gives me courage to proceed being different” when I start to get the “I can't do this”…its too crazy!
    (FYI…Great Website and articles)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kkalvan Kathy Kalvan

    That was probably the most thought provoking article I have read in a while. I have always “dared to be different” and have had great success with doing so. I completely agree with your observations and the challenge that people should find the beat of their own drum. Thank you for sharing all of this.

  • susanrisdal

    Our firm had to think outside of the box in order to hire IT support personnel that actually know what they're doing. Our testing includes asking candidates to fulfill certain simple tasks and then taking the mouse away, and testing on willingness to help others. College degree is usually a deficit, since most of the grads who have applied are not self-educating. We pay bonuses based on speed of resolution. The result is happy clients with expanding businesses.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Susan – this is a very good point. I agree that sometimes the most useful persons/candidates are those that are willing to self-educate. Feather in my cap as I would much rather educate myself then take the pay exorbitant amounts of money for a graduate degree.

    Sam

  • susanrisdal

    Sam, it's not just the degree. It's the product of that degree. Schools create workers to work in the corporate environment. If you are a small business owner you need someone's personality, and you need it on the interview. Someone with a “what do I get out of it” attitude is simply not going to make it in an entrepreneurial environment –they MUST have a strong willingness to help.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Susan – you just said it right there… “schools create workers.” In some schools, this exactly what happens. Do you feel this is what happens with MBAs as well?

    Sam

  • susanrisdal

    I think that there must be some schools, somewhere, that offer information for use rather than information for memorization. Our experience has been that the MBA's we've dealt with in the tech field have been so rigid that their own creativity was drowned. That's a very good thing in the field of large enterprise, where everything is already there and functioning. But in our company, we need seat-of-the-pants custom solutions that make our clients businesses expand. Can't get that from someone who is not out there, continuously researching, playing with new toys.

    Also, MBA seems (I could be wrong here) to imbue the holder with a strong “I AM”, which doesn't seem to leave much room for “you are and need…”. LOL! I don't know if I'm correctly communicating this phenomena. Have been doing back-to-back interviews with sales people for the last week, and even though I know what I'm looking for, it's very difficult to communicate and very hard to find.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noeticfront Alex Villegas

    Hey, Sam. Great article. It was good to find this today, especially after having a discussion with one of my clients about the importance of being different. Standing out is more important now than ever. This is in part because of the way social media is transforming brands but also because of a bad economy. It's like the saying – “innovate or die”. Very relevant to today's business.

    My only critique – the examples you showed! While they are good examples of ads … the model of the TV commercial is a part of an antiquated advertising paradigm! Marketing innovation requires, in today's world, to leave behind old models of communication and to pay greater attention to the impact of the VALUES being disseminated.

    Good post, though, and great observation about the high-school years!

  • Michael Halvorson

    Being different is a bit obscure, different than what, or who. By the shear nature of things we are all different. I think its more important to be able to see the client or customer or the person with the money and need differently. Everyone looks at the client in the way that they want them to be seen. Like, I need this sale, or I want them to do this or that. (said in your head of course) But all clients are different and they like to be seen as different, I like to find that difference in a client and promote that aspect of who they are and what they want to do. If you bring too much difference to the table, the client gets concerned, from my humble experience. So find out what makes them different and celebrate that, enhance that and then simply offer way you can support that difference through your services, your product etc.

    Change is also another word for difference and while someone mentioned Apple Computer Co., True they wanted to be known as different, but the history of that company has not been all roses and money. The difference they have shown has gotten them into many problems. Its good today, and I am not giving up my mac or iphone anytime soon, but now they are at Apple trying to find ways that their products can enhance our differences. Just my .05 cents.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Alex – interesting point, I guess I wonder, what do you mean by paying attention to the impact of the values being disseminated?

    Sam

  • Michael Halvorson

    Being different is a bit obscure, different than what, or who. By the shear nature of things we are all different. I think its more important to be able to see the client or customer or the person with the money and need differently. Everyone looks at the client in the way that they want them to be seen. Like, I need this sale, or I want them to do this or that. (said in your head of course) But all clients are different and they like to be seen as different, I like to find that difference in a client and promote that aspect of who they are and what they want to do. If you bring too much difference to the table, the client gets concerned, from my humble experience. So find out what makes them different and celebrate that, enhance that and then simply offer way you can support that difference through your services, your product etc.

    Change is also another word for difference and while someone mentioned Apple Computer Co., True they wanted to be known as different, but the history of that company has not been all roses and money. The difference they have shown has gotten them into many problems. Its good today, and I am not giving up my mac or iphone anytime soon, but now they are at Apple trying to find ways that their products can enhance our differences. Just my .05 cents.

  • http://www.samdiener.com Sam Diener

    Alex – interesting point, I guess I wonder, what do you mean by paying attention to the impact of the values being disseminated?

    Sam

  • Michael Halvorson

    I thought a bit more about being different. I think the phrase being different, is better said as ” I WANT MORE SALES” being different does not equate to more sales, it equates to being different. However if all the trash cans are flat on the bottom and people have long driveways and its a pain in the arse to drag the trash cans to the street for pickup, there will be someone who thinks differently and they create a way to put wheels on the trashcan so its easy to drag to the street, and easy to drag back after the rubbish has been picked up.
    Look at the way things are done, and decide first if it is as good as it can be, then if changing it will be worth the time and effort, and then think differently about how the process can be changed to the benefit of the people who are people you want to affect with the change.

    Change comes slowly but it does not need to come slowly, in my opinion there are things that need changing that are massive problems, health care, fuel consumption etc. But the infrastructure of change in those areas are massive. So giving lip service to an idea that might change these industries is probably a long term deal. Unless you figure out how to use water for gas, then you can change everything overnight that difference is monumental.

    The idea of the garbage can with wheels was one my son kept telling me about, he was like 10 years old and he drew trashcans with wheels, I saw his drawings, they were cute. I did NOT pay attention to the difference he was talking about, something about the forest and the trees I think applies to my stupidity. A few years later, at Kmart, there was a trash can with wheels, I bought it, and solved my problem of dragging the trash can. My kid had seen it for years, I did not see the difference.

    We become complacent with our sight and our ability to see, really see the small things. Small things can have big changes and they can be a part of a great new way to do things. How about the TV remote, needs change, and needs to be different. How many things do you look at every day and accept what it is and dont think about change, but then you go about your day, working on the things you do, and you look to see how you can be different, and increase sales with that difference. You might be trying to roll a 20 ton rock up hill. Look at the things that could be different and then go about making the change to the little things. there is a company in Minnesota, 3M, they do this all the time, they make some big things, and they make lots of little things that offer change. Sticky notes…..different, change, winner.

    Being different is not the solution, thinking and seeing different is. Open your eyes to the possibility of difference. Percy Ross the inventor of the…wait for it….drum roll, plastic bag, he thought differently, on a small thing that became, the big thing. What have you seen in the last few years where your brain said, hey that could be better, that does not work, why do we do this or that in that way, I have a different idea.

    The human brain is an amazing thing, you dont need to think differently you need to see the different ways to make changes, to improve.
    You want to make more sales, visit your clients, look at what they do, they are really in the middle of the forest, suggest some ideas to the right person, for no charge, for no fees, if it works, you just hit the gold mine, if it does not, at least you offered something DIFFERENT than any of your competition.

    Babble off mode.
    Mike

  • Michael Halvorson

    Another thought, Sir Issac Newton, how many people watched an apple fall from a tree before they asked, why did that happen. Everyday I try and take a pic with my digital camera of something, and then look at the pic and see if I am missing something. Time is the enemy we have to go and do and move and blink and drive and, we see lots of things, but capture things with a camera and you have stopped the moment. Look at it, most of the time, its a waste, sorry, but I have had a few moments of clarity from this process and have changed some things that needed to be different. Not monumental, just simple little changes. I took pictures of my wife in the garden a few times, she is bent over breaking her back, its totally not fun, so I made a stool with wheels, big fat wheels, she can move left and right, not hurt her back or her garden and it made it better. I got that from a picture that I took and looked at. Sometimes pictures hold the secret but you have to look. I played a computer game where there are some items hidden in the picture and there is a list on the side and you have to find the items, well you dont need the game but the game is there, take a pic with your phone, or camera and look at it, 5 minutes, is all it takes, look. I used to have by my desk a little picture that just said THINK, now I have one that says, SEE.

    Mike

  • Linda Gustafsson Neal

    Your article reminded me of the importance of personal positioning. I think personal positioning and differentiation needs to be based on personality and values to be truly strong and lasting over time. You cannot simply be different whilst at the same time not being true to yourself. I loved the article and I've subscribed to your future postings.

  • http://www.customeyes-research.co.uk/ Angus Grady

    Being different and knowing it is what makes the difference. I loved reading this and it has given me a boost.I am trying to be different in a market that has no real corporate “personalities”

  • http://www.customeyes-research.co.uk/ Angus Grady

    Being different and knowing it is what makes the difference. I loved reading this and it has given me a boost.I am trying to be different in a market that has no real corporate “personalities”

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