How to stand out in the dreaded sea of ‘the same’

One of the podcasts I love listening to is NPR’s How I Built This. Every week, they interview a famous entrepreneur who has bootstrapped their business and asks them how they did it. From Kate Spade to Richard Branson to L.A. Reid, their stories are fascinating.

But I don’t just listen to these for business insights.

I listen to understand how these people THINK. 

One of my favorite chefs, Ferran Adria, tells up-and-coming Michelin star-esque chefs that they will learn nothing from copying, and everything from understanding the thinking that led to an amazing dish.

Which is why I stopped to listen even closer when I heard Tony Hsieh’s interview (the CEO of Zappos) on How I Built This.

What stood out to me about Tony’s story is that he could give two shits about shoes. Pretty interesting, considering that a lot of advice tells you to start a business you’re passionate about.

The thing is, the passion WAS there, just in a way you weren’t expecting.

As Tony describes it on his interview, what he was actually passionate about was customer service. And not only that, building a company to be THE best in customer service.

Not in selling shoes. 

And he identified that decision as a key strategy Zappos uses to help them make decisions, and do things that their competitors wouldn’t dream of doing. Free shipping being one of them.

I couldn’t help but see similarities in my  own business. Where I make it a point to build strong relationships before I ever choose someone to be a client–even if it takes months. Where I refuse to take on additional people just because they want to work with me–even if it means more money and sure, I could hire another coach to take them on.

But I don’t do that. It would dilute the quality of service I’d be able to provide to people who have worked with me for months and years. It’s how I want to do things.

How do YOU want to do things? 

Especially when you feel like other people have the same skills as you, or you wonder on a day-to-day basis if you have anything new or interesting to offer people. Why should they listen to you, right?

“Standing out” isn’t about wearing a feather boa and weird-shaped sunglasses.

…Or maybe it is

It is about making a couple of SILENT decisions, and using those as guidelines for how you’ll do things differently.

So if you’ve just become a manager or are moving into an even more senior role, what have you noticed people doing at those levels? How could you do it better, or differently, to get a more desired result?

As an example, one of the first things I did when I worked at an ad agency was become close to the CEO. That alone shaped my entire experience there. I got brought onto new and interesting projects, and when I asked to transition into a different role, it was easy for him to give me the go-ahead. Because I was close with him, I knew what was important to the company, so it was easy for me to align what I wanted with what he wanted.

The thinking behind that decision was: What are other people failing or unwilling to do, that would make a significant difference?

Or, let’s say you’re doing some consulting or coaching on the side in addition to your job. What have you noticed about people who seem to work with great clients, or work on interesting projects?

Something I noticed early on was that they didn’t pitch their services right away. When I was a rookie, it was very easy for me to go in swinging, speak with conviction, and try to sell them on the spot. That may work at a lower-end, but not when you 10x or 100x your fees.

So I learned the importance of taking the time to build the right relationship, no  matter how much time it took or what it meant I had to sacrifice. And the thinking behind it is: What do I need to do in order to get ‘great’…not just ‘really good’ results?

It’s tough to think about!

It reminds me of one of my favorite books, Essentialism, where the author talks about how he made decisions to accept people into a program he was teaching.

His criteria? If the applicant was ‘REALLY GOOD’…he said NO. He chose ‘great’ before he laid eyes on the applications.

Because what does ‘GREAT’ look like anyway, when you compare it to ‘really good’?

It isn’t always obvious. But making the decision to focus on ‘great’ can change everything.

What’s an example of ‘GREAT’ in action that you’ve seen? How can you apply it? Leave a comment below and tell me. I’d love to hear.


2 Responses to “How to stand out in the dreaded sea of ‘the same’

  • Anastacia
    9 months ago

    Today I had a great coffee. The other coffee shop has a play room – but this one has much better coffee and good service and my kid was asleep so I was less impacted by the out with bubs issue. They seem to believe in quality – not the cheapest or most efficient – and are almost food connaiseurs at this place. The staff are older not just cheap wage youth.

    I emailed 3 online service providers recently about an issue – ways to proceed and their services and if they can help. They all responded heartfeltly, within a few days even recommending free resources and others. Conversely, 3 other professional service providers have kept me waiting by booking concert tickets at the start of our appointment, not gotten back to me so I had to chase them, or not been clear…

    • Anastacia, that’s so interesting, especially that you noticed the staff seemed like food connoisseurs and were much older. Those small details give you a lot of clues into how the people who run that place are thinking in a different way.

      Anything you notice that you can apply in your own work or life?

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