A few years ago, our company put on a conference called Authority Rainmaker, which was headlined by some pretty hefty names in the internet marketing space: Chris Brogan, Daniel Pink, and Henry Rollins. (Yes, the Henry Rollins—lead singer of seminal punk pioneers, Black Flag.)
One of our other keynote speakers was a woman named Sally Hogshead—a world-class branding expert who has discovered a new way to measure how people perceive our communication. She believes the greatest value we can add is to become more of ourselves.
I had planned on skipping her session so that I could, um, work, which really meant checking email and doing anything else unrelated to her talk.
As a matter of happenstance, I chose to do this in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, where she just so happened to be speaking. (Because I was too lazy to find another place to do my, um, work.)
She was the first speaker of the morning, which would have been totally normal up until the point where she grabbed someone from the audience and managed to do shots of Jägermeister onstage.
As she was setting the tone of what was about to happen, she said:
“Jägermeister is not selling itself on the basis of taste, or convenience, or reliability. It’s selling itself on the basis of a toxic experience.”
Then she went on to say:
“You don’t drink Jägermeister on a Tuesday afternoon, that’s what Chardonnay is for. You drink Jägermeister when something has gone terribly wrong, or a bachelor party, or it’s 2:00 in the morning and someone goes ‘Hey guys, let’s do a shot of Jägermeister.’”
And then came the unthinkable: a Jägermeister virgin was chosen by Sally from the audience, with whom she proceeded to do a shot—first thing in the morning. An unforgettable (and toxic) experience, no doubt.
This shenanigan definitely got my attention. So I closed my laptop, and took an unexpected course in brand building. Let’s just say that she schooled me by presenting one of the most impactful messages I have ever heard:
“If Jägermeister tried to be right for more people, it would not be as valuable and extraordinary for exactly the specialty that it owns.”
. . .
In a brilliant article, Different is BETTER than better, Sally debunks the myth that we need to work harder to be better:
“Your competitive advantage is NOT the way in which you are incrementally better than the competition. Better keeps you chained to the same old way of working as your competition.”
She goes on with some words of encouragement:
“The good news is, you can compete. You can be the best in a competitive environment—if you use your natural personality advantages to attract the attention you need to succeed.”
And then she lands the left hook:
“Different is better than better. Being the best isn’t enough, if nobody notices or cares. Stop trying to be THE best. Start being YOUR best.”
So honest question: Are you feeling the least bit convicted? Yeah, me too.
We live in a world where it’s so easy to emulate our role models—the creative heroes who we wish to become and whose success we wish to experience.
But one thing I have learned over the years of being a creative entrepreneur is that I cannot do it all. In fact, only just recently, have I started to accept this truth, but more importantly, I am at peace with it.
I don’t want to do it all, because I know I can’t do it all well.
And I’m ok with that, because to be honest, there is a huge sense of relief that comes alongside that atonement. This opens the door to identifying my strengths and my passion, and intentionally living within that.
In her book, Packing Light (aff.), my good friend Allison Fallon wrote ten words I’ll never forget—words that have impacted me like no other:
“Where your passion meets their need, that is your calling.”
I design. But I cannot design all things well. What I mean, is that certain types of design feel foreign to me, and I feel uncomfortable trying to do them. I guess this knowledge comes from years of spinning wheels and banging my head against the desk. Ah, the life of a creative.
Over the past few years, I have come to realize that I love minimalist design. If I can step onto a soapbox for a moment, I feel as though I do this well.
It’s my wheelhouse. My comfort zone. Or as Ally puts it, my passion.
I want to live there, because I don’t want to live anywhere else. I want to focus on the skills I am good at, and stay away from ones I am not.
When I realized that I did not want to be doing #allthethings for #allthepeople, I was able to hone in on being just a minimalist designer—which differentiates me from being a web (or graphic) designer. (It also means I can rank on page 2 of Google, because “niche” term.)
The bottom line, and circling back to the point Sally was making, is that when I try to do something I can’t do well and when I try to be someone I’m not, I lose the value and extraordinary talent I bring to my work. And to you.
It’s important to know that different doesn’t mean weird—looking at you Portland, Boulder, and Austin. It just means that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with narrowing down and specializing in something.
There’s a lot to be said with shedding the “jack of all trades” role, and becoming a master of one. It’s exhilarating. It’s fulfilling.
It’s also quite possible that the adage, “Less is more,” is spot on here.
So do me a favor and don’t feel like you need to be doing #allthethings for #allthepeople. As a creative, you simply have just one responsibility:
Be intoxicating. Be different. Be you.