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Is it time to be different?

By August 29, 2023September 3rd, 2023No Comments

Fresh-faced Michael, 1991

Is it time to be different?

My dad was a bit of an archivist – that man loved to file – and so while helping my mum move out of her home, we worked our way through some significant piles of paper.

Not much of it was worth keeping (1974 house extension plans anyone?), but some of it was fun to stumble over once again.

The photo above is from The Bulletin – once Australia’s equivalent to Time magazine – and an article about the short-listed candidates trying to win the Rhodes Scholarship that year.

Here’s how I’m introduced in the article:

But the prize for spontaneity and difference goes to Stanier … No suit for Stanier. He wore earrings. His hair was tousled, his socks were spotted, his tie a pink-and-purple sunburst; he removed his jacket for the interview. “I tried to portray I’m slightly different.”

In the article, I come across as overly enthusiastic and naive. (Mostly because I was overly enthusiastic and naive.)  But the decision to stand out was one I’d very deliberately chosen.

I knew that I was up against people with better academic records than me, better sporting achievements than me, and better stories about their social contribution than me. I knew that on paper, I was never going to win this scholarship.

So my plan was to show that I was good enough … and also different from the rest. It was the “outside chance of winning, very good chance of coming dead last” strategy.

In the years that have followed, books like Seth Godin’s Purple Cow and Mauborgne and Kim’s Blue Ocean Strategy make the case for finding brand and business success by playing to your differences and finding a way of separating yourself from the herd.

But in 1991, I was just making it up. And, lucky for me, it worked.

(Caveat: It doesn’t always work.)

What’s your “different”?

My friend Dr Jason Fox is a master at fully embracing the not-expected. The bland way of describing him is as an author and a keynote speaker on strategy and complexity. So, one of thousands.

Here’s his totally delightful website. Just count the ways he breaks the rules. He’s either going to come first or a distant last in any competition to be chosen as a speaker.

(He’s also faculty for our Year of Living  Brilliantly … which we’re re-jigging now and will be bringing back in 2024. Waiting list here.)

Just as a thought experiment for you (so no need to actually act on this) …

What’s expected of people in general in the world in which you move?

What’s expected of you in particular?

What are seven things – some small, some big – that would disrupt those expectations?

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.