Being Different Beats Being Better

be different

I always thought that the best wins at anything. That might be true for sports. But not for life and business.

If you’re trying to build a profitable business or stable career, you might be approaching it all wrong. At least, I was. And I think that the common belief about success is also totally wrong.

I get it when it comes to sports. There’s only one place at the top. And to get to the top, you have to be the best. I only applaud that. In fact, I’m inspired by athletes like LeBron James, Christiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams, and others.

But business is different. Instead of being the best, you must strive for becoming the first. Al Ries and Jack Trout put it best in their classic marketing book, The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing:

“Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better.”

Who cares about a marginally better product or service? That’s the problem with most businesses and even people. We compete with each other for the same market. That’s the basic idea behind the Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

The authors argue that most companies find themselves in markets with too much competition, called red oceans. They write:

“Blue ocean strategy challenges companies to break out of the red ocean of bloody competition by creating uncontested market space that makes the competition irrelevant. Instead of dividing up existing—and often shrinking—demand and benchmarking competitors, blue ocean strategy is about growing demand and breaking away from the competition.”

“But how do you break away from the competition?”

Be different.

I look at entrepreneurship like the music industry. Every artist that is at the top of the charts is different from everyone else. There’s only one Drake, Rihanna, Lady Gaga. These artists didn’t try to become better versions of Jay-Z, Madonna, Beyonce, or whoever came before them. No, they created their own genre.

Drake is the first rapper that sings and who gets away with it. Rihanna broke out with a song called “Pon de Replay” which is a combination between pop and reggae, a new sound. Lady Gaga, well, she doesn’t need an introduction. She’s Lady Gaga and you can’t compare her with anything.

You see, it’s not about being better, it’s about being different. And when you’re different, you’re often the first in a new category.

Tim Ferriss was the first lifestyle entrepreneur. He popularized the idea in his book, The Four Hour Work Week. Did he invent the idea? Who cares? He’s known for it.

Al Ries and Jack Trout say:

“When you launch a new product, the first question to ask yourself is not “How is this new product better than the competition?” but “First what?” In other words, what category is this new product first in?”

You can apply this to your career as well. Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, is the first cartoonist that writes about life advice and business. He’s different. And he’s the first.

Don’t ask yourself, “What am I better at?”

Ask, “How am I different?”

The easiest way to be different is to combine skills that are new in a certain area. I also learned that idea from Scott Adams in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. (I love that title, btw.)

Adams says that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. He writes:

“Notice I didn’t say anything about the level of proficiency you need to achieve for each skill. I didn’t mention anything about excellence or being world-class. The idea is that you can raise your market value by being merely good—not extraordinary—at more than one skill.”

Adam’s strategy is practical, and more importantly: Realistic.

Anyone can become different in their field become becoming better at one or more of the following skills (check out Scott Adam’s book for a more comprehensive list):

  • WritingWe’re all writers. And by writing well you can stand out from the crowd.
  • Public Speaking – Getting comfortable with speaking in front of a group makes you a better leader.
  • Selling – We all have something to sell: Our art, products, services, and even ourselves.

Can you think of a surgeon that can also write and speak well? Atul Gawande, the author The Checklist Manifesto comes to mind.

“Think Different.”

I know, it’s been used to death, but the old Apple commercial hits the nail on the head. Once you get the concept, you start noticing the patterns everywhere. Think different is not some marketing slogan.

It’s at the core of success. Every business or person that succeeds is because they did SOMETHING different.

The question now is: What are YOU going to do differently?

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