It’s Surprisingly Easy to Stand Out

peter-gibbonsIn one of my favorite comedies, Office Space, the protagonist Peter Gibbons laments to a pair of consultants that the only real motivation at his job is to “work just hard enough not to get fired.” He walks them through a typical workday, which includes coming in late, staring at his desk for a few hours, and generally doing very little actual work. This rare bit of honesty impresses the consultants, and instead of firing Peter, they send him on the fast track to upper management.

One day, Peter was an anonymous office drone. The next day, he got promoted. Why? Because he was one of the few people at his company who stood out. All it took was a little honesty.

Most people are content to do the bare minimum at their jobs. Most people want to make just enough money to get by. And most people will never achieve much of anything, because they simply don’t care to.

In a world where the majority are OK with being anonymous, sitting still, and never growing, it’s actually very easy to stand out.

So why be like most people, when doing just a little bit extra makes you stand out so much?

You Need to Know What You Don’t Know

A somewhat famous saying states “You don’t know what you don’t know.” In other words, there are factors out there working against you, which you aren’t even aware of. Plus, you aren’t even aware that you are unaware of them.

I say you’d better learn exactly what these as-yet-unknown things are, so you can either steer around them.

Otherwise, you’ll be just one of many unremarkable people offering useless advice, opinions, products, or services.

12 Ways to Fail in Business

Sometimes, knowing what not to do is your biggest asset. I’ve failed in business before, and I’m sure I’ll fail again, but I’ll be damned if I make the same mistake twice.

Here are my fool-proof ways to guarantee you’ll fail in your business ventures. Avoid them at all costs!

1. Cast too wide a net.
You must find a relatively small niche and dominate it. You cannot be all things to all people, so don’t even try.

2. Build a monument to yourself.
It’s not about what you want, it’s what your customers want. Never forget it.

3. Refuse to change/pivot.
My most successful business went through a few different iterations before we settled on the right path (which was the simplest idea of all, by the way). Always be flexible to what the market is telling you.

4. Rest on your laurels.
Once you get a taste of success, it’s easy to take your foot off the gas. Don’t. Push harder. The time is now. Someone else out there is hungrier than you, and wants to take what’s yours.

5. Go it alone.
Almost every great business person has at least one great partner. Two heads really are better than one. You can’t do it all, so don’t even try. Partner up.

6. Partner with the wrong people.
Speaking of partnerships, it’s essential to find the right fit. You’re going to spend a lot of time with your partners, so make sure you a) like them, and b) they’re smart, dependable, and resourceful.

7. Neglect sales and marketing.
Many entrepreneurs get so caught up in their great idea that they forget about how they’re going to sell the damn thing. Figure out your market niche and how you’ll sell to it, and plan on dedicating a large portion of your time (at least half of it in the early stages) to generating sales, both through marketing and direct sales.

8. Don’t test anything.
Remember in Glengarry Glen Ross when Alec Baldwin’s character said “Always be closing?” Well, I say “Always be testing.” Try new things, think of new products, new promotions, new pricing structures, new markets, add-on services. Never be afraid to try anything, because everything is worth testing.

9. Forget customer service.
Most people would rather not take the time to answer the phone and respond to emails all day. Believe me, I know — I did almost 100% of the customer service for my last business for four years, and I hated it. Still, the effort paid for itself many times over, as our customers appreciated the effort immensely.

10. Seek perfection.
Many products or services face big delays, or never even see the light of day at all, simply because the founders had some perfect idealized unreachable goal in mind.

So think big, but start small. Get your barebones product or service to market, and see if there’s interest. If people want it, then work on improving it. The iPhone wasn’t perfect when Apple launched it, and it still isn’t. It never will be. Yet they sell 200 million of them a year. As my friend would say, “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.”

11. Give up.
Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. I can’t even tell you how many setbacks I’ve had over the years. Many were my own doing, others I couldn’t control. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die sometimes. I made zero money for years. But I never gave up.

You must keep going. Are you in doubt? Good. Just don’t give up. Start over from scratch if need be, but never give up.

12. Sit on your idea forever.
The worst mistake you can make is never actually starting. Most people never achieve much of anything because they spend more time daydreaming than doing. Be a doer. Get started.

Dealing with Doubt

dealing-with-doubtExternal doubts are relatively easy to deal with. Most of the time, criticism is helpful, and when it isn’t, we ignore it.

Internal doubt, on the other hand, is a different animal. It’s really hard to ignore yourself.

So, your best bet is to embrace your doubts.

Doubt is good.

Doubt means you’re thinking.

Smart people are full of doubt, because they realize how little they actually know. They spend a lot of time exploring their doubts. They beat up ideas and processes and products and services until very little doubt remains. Then they doubt some more.

If you aren’t doubting, you’re probably not creating much value.

Those who do, doubt.

Does Your Work Matter?

Vivienne wakes up every morning groaning at her alarm, and counts the minutes until her work day is over.
Vivienne wakes up every morning groaning at her alarm, and counts the minutes until her work day is over.

Most people work simply to make money. For them, it’s a means to an end.

Indeed, work is a modern imperative. (While I know some people who have survived without earning any money over the past few years, they are few and far between. They’re also lonely and depressed.)

Most people don’t really care about what they do for work. They applied to a bunch of jobs, and eventually got one. Or maybe a family member thrust a job upon them. Still others bought or started an unremarkable business because they thought it’d be a good or easy way to make money.

Sooner or later, these people realize they’re unfulfilled. Their work doesn’t matter to them, which means it won’t matter to anyone else, either.

Odds are, their work doesn’t involve helping people, or making a difference. They aren’t working on new and exciting things. They’re stuck doing the same crap every day. Nothing ever changes.

Most people are just going through the motions each day at work. There’s no creativity, no spark. No collaboration. No advancement. No hope.

Remember, if it doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to others.

Each day, tell yourself you’re going to make a difference, and odds are, you will. Help a coworker out. Go the extra mile to fix something. Suggest a new project to your boss. Start a side project. Learn a new skill. When your work matters to you, it will matter to others, and you’ll no longer be working just to earn a paycheck. You’ll be earning happiness, fulfillment, and respect.

Your Biggest Risk: Doing Nothing

You'll never know how high you can go without taking risks.
You’ll never know how high you can go without taking risks.

Teddy Roosevelt once opined, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Most people would probably agree with this sage advice, but few are willing to act upon it. That’s because they’re paralyzed with fear of taking risks. What’s more, they don’t even understand risk to begin with.

Let’s say you’re thinking of leaving your traditional 9-to-5 job to start your own business. Sounds risky, right? You’re giving up a “guaranteed” income to venture into the unknown. Your new business could fail. You could lose money. And perhaps worst of all, you open yourself up to criticism.

On the other hand, no one ever faces criticism for staying the course of traditional employment. It seems the safest path, after all. It’s the least risky way to earn a living and provide for your family — or so we’ve been led to believe.

In reality, you’re simply ignoring the inherent risks of working for someone else. Remember, you could get laid off, fired, replaced, or demoted at any time, for almost any reason. The company you work for could go even out of business. Thus, you have almost no control over your employment situation. Isn’t that really just a whole lot of risk disguised as security?

Of course, you don’t have to take the drastic step of leaving your job to take a risk. It can be as simple as sharing a new idea with your boss. Even better, you could start a new project on the side without even asking. Even simpler, you could choose to document an important work process that only you know how to do. All of these things are clearly better than doing nothing, and carry some small amount of risk.

It’s natural to fear risk, but be sure your fears are directed towards the biggest risk: doing nothing.

Always Keep Several Irons on the Fire

Think like a blacksmith if you want to maximize your potential.
Think like a blacksmith if you want to maximize your potential.

If your goal is to constantly improve your life — be it your career, relationships, investing, or anything else — you need to keep many irons on the fire.

Back when blacksmiths were important, the best blacksmiths could work on several pieces of metal at the same time. This resulted in big productivity gains, more money for the blacksmith, and more happy customers that could put their shiny new tools to good use.

Nowadays, we use the term to describe the act of considering many opportunities at once. Note that this doesn’t mean we should pursue several things at once. Our time is precious, so we should only follow through on the very best opportunities.

Some Real World Examples

  • If you’re looking for a new job like my friend Shauna is, you should be considering several prospective employers. Tailor your resumè specifically for each company you apply to, and make sure it’s a place you actually want to work before you put time into applying.
  • If you’re a small business owner, you should be constantly on the lookout for new ways to grow your business. Think about better marketing angles, new niches you can serve, or even potential buyouts or partnerships with competitors.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, you should always be looking for underserved niches that you can create businesses around. Opportunity abounds both in disrupting old industries and being the face of an entirely new industry.
  • If you’re an investor, keep scanning the landscape for new stocks or other assets you can invest in. Consider the current investment cycle, what’s working now, what no longer works, and what might work in five or ten years.

When we keep several irons on the fire, we significantly increase our chances of landing a dream job, hitting a big new growth cycle in our business, pinpointing the next hot stock that’s set to surge in value. In contrast, no irons on the fire means zero chance of improving our position.