I’m reading a very interesting book right now. Anyone who knows me also knows that a lot of my conversations start that way. Usually I’m referencing some obscure fact from a book about bee-keeping or something equally odd, but this one is a little more applicable to my current career. It’s called, “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd” by Youngme Moon and it’s about marketing. The title greatly appealed to me as I’m fascinated by things that are different. I’m only halfway through the book but its opening chapter had me thinking, what the flock ?
I’ve already learned terms and words I’ve never heard of and it’s been fascinating. Imagine being able to use the words “cognoscenti” or “phenomenological” during a conversation! The books’ vocabulary is a constant source of delight. The key point in the first chapter is about flock mentality: That flock mentality requires the, “necessary sensory apparatus to discern changes in a group” and the “predisposition to join the flock”. While the author is referencing product homogenization I interpreted it to also mean; are you able to stand on your own two feet and remain an individual or must you go with the crowd ? The other phrase that I found supports one who is not necessarily flock material is “sustainable differentiation” (another new favourite).
One example the author used about the effects of flock mentality was in regards to the metrics she provided to her students about their performance in class. What she found was that once she provided that feedback, the students, being the overachieving academics that they were, focused solely on the perceived deficits to the detriment of their strengths. This negatively affected the overall dynamic of the class because now the flock all flew the same way. No longer working with what made them unique and garnered their acceptance in to the program, they all became mediocre. The flock got homogenized and the quality of the class discussions suffered.
While the purpose of this book is to discuss marketing, I couldn’t help but take this new found knowledge and apply it to my job search. It’s a tough, employer based economy right now where there is a plethora of suitable candidates for every position much like the saturated cereal aisle at the local market. Whether you want to sling hamburgers or words, the line up is 10 deep for the job and candidates are about as discernible from each other as the 20 types of flake based morning sustenance we all have to choose from. It is this very situation that prompted me to wonder if being unique in this current climate isn’t something of a bonus. It’s not that I don’t have the necessary apparatus to discern changes in a group, it’s just that I don’t necessarily have the predisposition to join the flock. I’d probably make a better granola than a flake any day.
I completed an amazing FIT exercise recently that included asking me to canvas those that know me for what they see as my unique qualities and skills. I am fortunate indeed to have people in my life willing to be candid and honest with me. They accept my lack of flock mentality and see this is a huge strength for me. My sustainable differentiation comes in the form of unique problem solving skills, a genuine personality and the ability to look at things from a slightly different point of view. Is this a shameless plug ? Yep. Because in this economy, you need to augment your skills to differentiate yourself from those around. As Youngme Moon pointed out, there is no brand loyalty any more because everything is the same. The only way to get attention is to stand out from the crowd. As I don’t come with a coupon, I must find other ways to get employers attention.
I’m enjoying this book so much that I’m actually taking notes. You’d think after an intense year at school that this would be the last thing I’d want to do but so much of what is being said rings like an a-ha moment, I can’t help it. I’ve long believed that standing out from the crowd is not the dangerous thing it used to be. I don’t mean bragging or being pushy, but being true to your self and relying on that to not lose yourself in the flock. This holds true from cereal to detergent to your personal brand. Engaging in sustainable differentiation doesn’t have to just apply to the latest gadget, it can also be applied to celebrating the differences that set you apart and working hard to maintain your non-homogenized identity. After all, what the flock is wrong with being unique ?