Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Makes You "Different"?

My teenage years were in the 1980's. The era of odd synthetic fashion and tight pants, extreme hair styles, hair bands, punk, new-wave, breakdancing and early hip-hop music, MTV, VCR and the cassette tape, neon and uninhibited materialism, Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the end to the Berlin Wall.

I was actually in high school in the late 1980's when new wave and hair bands had a strangle hold on American culture. I grew up in a rural city in the West. My town was filled with tight pants, waffle-stompers (also called Keg Boots), tight t-shirts and feathered mullets (guys) or REALLY REALLY REALLY big feathery hair (girls).

Big trucks with even bigger lifts reigned and a European car was unheard of. Local radio stations gave you the choice of hair bands, hair bands, more hair bands, or country western. In my neck of the woods, big ballads ruled the airwaves and new wave was looked down upon with radical distaste and unstopped disdain.

My pack of friends (shout out to those of you who read this), from three different schools, were...well...different. We were punks, skaters, preppies, mods, and wavers in a sea of butt-rockers and hair. It was easy to point us out and easy to identify us. We were the pre-generation of, and evolved into, the Grunge movement of the 1990's that was so well accepted with its long hair and flannel.

We listened to bands like U2, The Police, Depeche Mode, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Audio Dynamite, The Cure, The Ramones, Social Distortion, The Violent Femmes, Jane's Addiction, and saw Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam before they ever played stadiums but could only be found on the local music circuit. We identified with bands that are very mainstream today, but were misunderstood in the 1980's.

This identification that my friends and I had with something "different" often lead to consistent trouble for us. I distinctly remember a moment in high school when my younger brother was surrounded by a group of butt rockers (about 15 of them), dog piled, and duct taped upside down to a pole in the middle of the school.

At the time, the group felt justified in this action, because he was different than them. His career path has been in law enforcement. I'm sure this experience was a turning point. It's interesting how most of our life experiences and differences lead us down pretty specific paths.

We were chased, egged, tripped, spit on, threatened, and asked to leave public places. In spite of this, we were a proud group, proud of ourselves and proud for standing out in a crowd.

Maybe I'm an optimist at heart, but I believe that things, and people, change for the better (most times). History shows that things that are "different" are often frowned upon at first, but often produce long-term acceptance or a positive impact on culture.

It's an interesting evolutionary cycle as you watch "different" become mainstream, acceptable, and eventually embraced...much like the music transition from punk, new-wave, and the hair bands of the 1980's, to the 1990's grunge movement.

When is "different" ok? When is "different" encouraged? When is "different" necessary for your survival?

For your business to have value it must provide something that is better, cheaper, faster, more technical, simpler, easier, innovative...something...different. What makes you or your organization different...really different? I liked a recent blog post by the company ActusMR titled " Stand Out ".

It focused on the reasons that you want to stand out for sales purposes, but there's more to it than just sales...right? Businesses exist to make sell...we all know that. It's the underlying approach to our economy. But they also do something more.

They become a part of the culture, the social landscape. They become part of who we are. They support families, support individuals, alter the view, change communities, change countries, and in some instances change the world. Different...can change a lot of things.

Here are some simple tips to identify how your business is really different.

* Survey or simply ask your employees, your team, your department, what makes your group different. Do you believe what they say?

* Survey or simply ask your customers, your clients, your patients what makes your company different. This is risky business, maybe they won't know. Hopefully they do. In either case you'll learn something.

* Conduct a litmus test. Do the differences your staff identify align with the differences your clients identify? How do these two things align with the goals of your organization, your mission statement? If they don't align, work at bringing these two views together.

* When you speak to potential clients, are the characteristics you talk about unique to you, or are they industry rhetoric? If you talk about quality, what do you do differently than your competitors to ensure that quality exists? Rhetoric isn't the actual difference; it is an outcome. The different steps you take to achieve the outcome are the real difference.

It's important that you know how you are different. Now that you know how you are different, be prepared to talk about your differences and, more importantly, be prepared to show why they are a benefit to your customers, your clients, your patients, or your employees.

Your organizations success and survival, either now or in the future, will depend on your ability to characterize why you or your products and services are different and why "different" matters.

By : Vaughn_Mordecai

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