Different Should Not Be the Only Reason

I am a huge advocate for different. Different gives you a competitive advantage. But I do not think different should be the sole reason to make a decision. Different is branding more so than a core value. Different does not sustain when other people copy you or if you fail. Different should support, qualify or celebrate a decision; it should not be the decision itself.

Clichés exist because they worked before and can work again in certain situations. You should not rule out an opportunity because it feels familiar. Sometimes familiar solutions to a problem can be focused, modernized and differentiated to a competitive place. I’m not saying different is bad. In fact, I encourage different 99% of the time. But you have not made a thorough decision if you support something only because it is different.

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The School of Different

Competition drives innovation. Duh. It sent us to the moon, after all. You can compete in one of two ways: 1) approach a problem from the same angle, trying to execute better than the next guy; or 2) approach the same problem differently. Both tactics have risks. By going head to head with another group wielding similar solutions, you risk falling behind in the race. By approaching a problem differently, there’s a chance your solution may not work at all. That said, there’s always a chance that two groups using similar solutions may fail to solve the problem as well. Two wrongs do not necessarily make a right.

Redundant solutions are a waste of resources, time, and marketplace space. What do you have to gain by trying to do the same thing better than the next guy? The chances that you will make a competitive impression are few and far between. Why not try something different altogether? Identify a problem or need, list the solutions available now, and brainstorm opportunities divergent from (or completely counter-intuitive to) other trends. Sure, you may fail to solve the problem. But you may also outperform the next guy with your unique approach. You’ll never know unless you try.

Remember what Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Embrace different.

Perhaps education could spend more time teaching students about what not to do. We should impart to students a fundamental understanding of what has been done already, and inspire them to approach things differently.

Through a culture of experimentation and differentiation, we will solve more problems faster and with more certainty.