It is a striking irony that in a bio-diverse planet such as ours we thrive on the competitive herd mentality of trying "to fit in". We like to play it safe. We like to trod the path that have been traveled ten thousand times. We have forsaken the imaginative spirit of David Livingstone to be "the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary". The best we can do is "new and improved" of the same old stuff. For example, the daily staple jeans: we have a choice of high rise, low rise, classic rise, boot cut, straight cut, wide leg, skinny flair and more of the same. In vain, we do not think about fabricating jeans that will interact with the atmospheric conditions to provide optimum wearing experience. The technology is there yet the imagination and the capital to take it to this level is sure lacking!
In this terrain of sameness, Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon strikes out as an evangelist of "Difference". Her message is elementary. Yet it is the key to survival in the post-modern era of Globalization 4.0. "In category after category," she writes, "companies have gotten so locked into a particular cadence of competition that they appear to have lost sight of their mandate–which is to create meaningful grooves of separation from one another. Consequently, the harder they compete, the less differentiated they become ...Products are no longer competing against each other; they are collapsing into each other in the minds of anyone who consumes them."
In her new book "Different" she talks about successful companies and leaders don't just try to out compete their rivals at the margin. Instead, they aspire to redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking. Companies should be in the business of what Professor Moon calls "idea brands," products and services that challenges the very concept to its' core. Cirque du Soleil is an idea brand, a circus that re-engineered the concept of mechanical, acrobatic performance into orchestrated rhythm of art and story telling. So is Harley-Davidson, which invented the idea of high-nosed, mid-aged, white-collar, weekend "biker outlaw." So is Skyine's Arrive. It re-defines the idea of trade show portability by packing a whole 10'x10' display unit into one carrying case. And so is Dove soap, whose Campaign for Real Beauty challenged the preconceived notion of fashion and style.
If you want to be the idea behind the "idea brands" ask yourself: If your company went out of business tomorrow, would anybody really miss it? –as the advertising legend Roy Spence would say. Or one might say, are your bags of goods and services so distinctive that it has become seamless to the consumer experience. Very few companies can vouch for it. This is why so many companies feel like they're on the verge of going out of business.
Here is the key question to ask: If you are doing things the same old way, selling same old stuff, what would prompt you to do any different? The cardinal point to remember: