Be Different! Camouflage is for the birds.

The wild of the African bush is one place on earth in which I feel eerily at peace and at home. Throughout my life I have taken every opportunity I can to spend a few days in the bush. It is one of the aspects of Africa I yearn for even 15 years after our immigration to the U.S. In the bush, your mind quickly empties of the worries and noisy thoughts that occupy it in the city. Out in the bush all that matters is that you don't miss a sighting of a rare or beautiful animal. All your senses are attuned to the sights and sounds of the wild. You know that a lion or leopard could be three feet from your car and not be visible. Nature's camouflage is exquisite and it is near perfect. Animals depend on their camouflage for their security, they blend into the background until their obscurity makes them nearly invisible. How opposite this is from life in the city where everyone seems to be shouting louder than the other, look at me, I am the best. In every advertisement, every resume, almost every social interaction people and companies compete for attention and strive to be heard above the commotion of competitive clatter. Everyone wants to be noticed for their differentiating qualities, their competitive advantage. This is because animals and people find their security in opposite ways. Animals find security in sameness, people find security in their differences. The idea of competitive advantage is a uniquely human quality and calls on people and organizations to dig deeply into themselves to identify, articulate and optimize their uniqueness for advantage. When we learn how to use our uniqueness to make a contribution to others that is different from that which any other person or company can, we add value and attract wealth. The more we give and the more unique and valuable what we give is, the more secure we are as people and as businesses. Imitation extinguishes differentiation, it ends competitive advantage and it hastens the demise of both individual and corporate soul. Understanding the importance of differentiation, it is strange to see companies and individuals imitating each other in their quest to excel. The very companies or people they imitate excel precisely because they do not imitate. If you want to imitate brilliant people or companies, imitate their originality, their authenticity and their inventiveness, don't imitate their product or their style. Back in August I wrote a blog (You Can't Be Like Apple; You Can Only Be Like You) on the futility of imitation. Recently there has been a slew of articles highlighting various companies and leaders who blatantly imitate in an effort to excel. Just yesterday, Candice Choi writes in Associated Press about Burger King's transparent copying of McDonalds. Leslie Kwoh and Rachel Emma Silverman, also yesterday, write in the Wall Street Journal about a tendency, since the publication of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, among managers to try to imitate Mr. Jobs. The bankruptcy of ideas, evidenced by imitation, will never be reversed by mimicking success, only by creating it. A stroll through virtually any large American retail shopping mall affirms the bankruptcy of ideas. The same stores in every mall, all selling similar goods, merchandised in similar ways. When last did you stop at a store window and say, Wow, this is so different, so interesting! This is why I enjoy seeking out speciality boutique stores where the proprietors are passionate about their businesses and instill something of their own souls into their stores and merchandise rather than mechanically copy the wares of others. The other day I had a cup of coffee in a Tucson coffee shop called Savaya Coffee Market. It was clear on first sight that this company had no ambition or even desire to imitate Starbucks or any other chain of coffee shops. They sell nothing but coffee and it takes a while before you get your coffee. This is not because the service is slow, but because each cup is professionally and lovingly made. The coffee tastes like none other I have ever tasted anywhere in the world. I enquired about their secret: Burc Maruflu, the owner, comes from generations of coffee makers from Turkey. He loves coffee and he loves people, and in his coffee market he brings his two passions together. No one can imitate the genuineness of that passion nor the centuries of his coffee culture. And Burc has no desire nor need to imitate anyone else. How is Savaya doing? It is growing. After starting out only a couple of years ago Burc Maruflu just opened two new branches in Tucson. His business is secure -- not because he copies Starbucks, but because he doesn't.                      

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