Being Different for a Reason
Individualism is an important part of our culture. We often value the unique qualities that make us different from everyone else. We are taught from a young age that we are special and deserve special attention. Most adults grow beyond the phase of exceptional recognition as they develop an acute awareness of others. We realize that it is not possible for everyone to be an exception but we hold to the idea the everyone is unique. Self differentiation is an important phase of life and it is possible to witness this process in individuals and groups. Entire movements have dedicated themselves to being different: recall the British punk rock movement of the 70s, Kris Kross wore their clothes backwards in the 90s, and Apple Computers espoused a Think Different campaign through the turn of the century. Each of these groups had something to say or something to sell. But being different is for difference sake is an immature expression of self. Some say look at me for the sole reason of garnering the attention of others, they define themselves outwardly, and calculate self worth from external deposits. This differentiation is founded on insecurity. Effective leaders must strive to be different, but they must be different for a reason.
The Grantland channel on Youtube recently highlighted a man named Kevin Kelly. He is a football coach in Arkansas who plays a style of football that rejects common conventions of the game. Under his leadership, the team always goes for it on fourth down and always attempts an onside kick. For those unfamiliar with the rules of American Football it is important to know that onside kicks are rarely successful and fourth down plays risk immediate turnovers. Both strategies have great rewards and great risks. You can watch the video and see how Kelly describes his style as "a philosophy and a strategy." Kelly's strategy is clear: fourth down conversions and onside kicks gain more points than they lose. The Little Rock coach admits that he has, "learned to become a contrarian thinker in a lot of aspects." His contradictions are not a call for attention but are a result of asking the question why. "Why do we punt?" Kelly recalls, because everyone else did. The status quo answers were not good enough for the coaching staff of the Bruins. When they began to examine the product of conventional football they realized that unconventional strategies produced greater results.
It was not the intent to go out and do something different. -Kevin Kelly
The philosophy is simple: a team should employ any method to score more points than the opponent. Reducing the game of football to points for and against revealed a new approach to calling plays. Kelly is different because his team wins as a result. He observes that, "there are those kinds of people who want to be different because they want to be different and there are those kinds of people who want to be different because they are looking for something to help them become more successful." You should different for a reason. Make choices that enable you to accomplish your goals and don't let conventional thinking limit your approach. Be clear about what you are trying to accomplish and pursue your goal with conviction.
Hard work, different work, only has value when it is attached to a meaningful result. What are you working for? What limitations have you accepted as a process of your work? Be different in order to achieve greater things and examine the conventions of your métier. Combine the unique qualities of your person with the specific qualities of your purpose. Be different for a reason.