Uniqueness is overrated

We all like to think we’re special. We also like to believe that our projects, ideas and innovations are unique to us, as well. But despite what your mother might have told you, you’re just not all that original. Special maybe, but not so brilliant that you’ve thought of something that no one else ever has.

Let’s say for instance no one else has ever thought of the idea that’s come to your mind. Should you hurry up and put it into gear before someone else beats you? Uh, no. In the off-chance you are a genius, the fact is, your idea hasn’t been vetted well enough. It’s also handy to have other people you can learn from in the marketplace. After all, success loves company, because it grows the field for everybody, especially in the era of The Long Tail.

Competition is a good thing. Not only does it give you a target to aim for, it helps if you’ve been in the marketplace and have USED your competitors products or services. How else can find out what you (and others) dislike about them and want to change?

This is especially important in niche markets. In some micro niches, the market is small minuscule that most larger competitors wouldn’t waste their time competing, leaving a field full of hobbyists and would-be entrepreneurs building projects that start as a hobby before evolving into something more substantial. In the markets, you can more readily exploit things like intimate knowledge of the product or leverage large user communities that generate content to your advantage if you can create a killer solution.

Back to uniqueness, the fallacy is that there is some inherent value to “standing out in the crowd,” as if that alone will lead to success.

Uniqueness alone isn’t the differentiator here, it’s really about authenticity. What makes you stand out is being passionate about what you’re doing. In the end, it doesn’t matter how special you are. It’s what you do with those talents, which will define whether your uniqueness is an asset or simply a think that makes you just like everyone else.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

6 blogs to check out

In the midst of working on a post (ahead of the scheduled posts I’ve already written for the long week prior to launch, …blah.) I checked my Google Reader, read some and decided to share a few of the blogs I’m really enjoying these days:

The Debate Link
He covers everything from politics to sports and everything in between. Deep, incisive and balanced commentary abounds. Well informed guy and a great recent find for me.

Eat Me Daily
A group blog about food, media and culture.

Brand New
I like logos.

Karlyn Morissette
A higher ed blogger who is prolific, knowledgeable, thought provoking and interesting. I always learn something new when I read her blog.

The Edge of the American West
A group blog of mostly history professors from..you guessed it, out west.

Another group blog that runs the gamut on issues ranging from race to pop culture. And whatever else.

I don’t subscribe to a ton of feeds anymore, figuring that it just made more sense to keep feeding what I’m actually reading. But among the 40-50 or so that I’ve kept on tap, these are among the best.

A reader survey

I check my stats on feedburner because it’s good to know how many folks are following me. Sometimes, I expect to login and see a wholesale drop in my numbers. Not actually. But sometimes, I brace myself for it. I always wonder what drives people here and especially given the bump in traffic over the past 3-4 months, I’m really intrigued by what’s motivating people to come back for more.

I’m working on a few projects that have actually hampered my creativity, but it’ll continue to improve as the year goes on and I’m able to tell you what I’m working on. (And it should start lots of conversations…) But I put together an anonymous survey. It should take you…well, no time at all. So please fill it out and let me know. Chances are, it’ll make the blog better.

Click Here to take survey


11 Songs (1.9.09)

Web redesign almost done, writing book proposals and just taking the New Year at full speed and well…you get 11 songs this week. I’m particularly fond of this week’s set of songs, too. So be sure to listen up and enjoy.

MGMT – Time to Pretend
Devotckha – Transliterator
Enanitos Verdes – Tentacion
Wye Oak – I Don’t Feel Young
The Roots – Bread and Butter
The Long Lost – Woebegone
The Shins – Girl on the Wing
K’Naan – Somalia
Hollowblue – We Fall
Micachu – Golden Phone
Franz Ferdinand – What She Came For (Live)

2008 Final Omnivore College Football Computer Rankings

Well, it’s all over. The final Omnivore computer rankings for college football are done. It wasn’t going to be in doubt, because no matter what happened tonight, Utah had already secured the #1 spot. The bottom line in the rankings? Wins matter. Who you play matters too, of course. Utah took all comers this year, including a few opponents from BCS conferences, before tackling Alabama in the Sugar Bowl the other night.

For the first time the Omnivore National Championship (which is awarded to the #1 team from a non-major conference) is going to the team ranked #1 in the Omnivore standings.

    Top 25

1 Utah 73.47
2 USC 64.27
3 Florida 62.42
4 Oklahoma 62.36
5 Texas 61.64
6 Alabama 57.38
7 Georgia 56.15
8 Boise State 54.62
9 Oregon State 54.52
10 Oregon 54
11 Pittsburgh 53.69
12 Cincinnati 53.47
13 Penn State 53.09
14 Texas Tech 52.7
15 Ohio State 52.03
16 TCU 50.75
17 Michigan State 48.95
18 Virginia Tech 48.66
19 Missouri 48.5
20 Mississippi 48.09
21 Ball State 48.05
22 Oklahoma State 47.4
23 California 46.86
24 Florida State 46.5
25 Georgia Tech 46.33

Here are the rest of the rankings

Some people need goals, though

According to Seth Godin:

Not having a goal lets you make a ruckus, or have more fun, or spend time doing what matters right now, which is, after all, the moment in which you are living.

That sounds delightful. Delightfully wrong, that is.

You can say something like that when you’ve made a ton of money convincing folks to buy your books or swilling VCs on your companies, but for ordinary people, this remains a foreign concept. To some the Four-Hour Work Week is a destination worth pursuing. It’s just not on the radar of most people, because their lives aren’t wired that way.

Our goals are based on our wants and our experiences. It’s all about where we’ve come from, what we value and what we’ve deemed important as a result of those experiences. It’s no surprise that millionaire athletes often go bankrupt trying to support their entire families, because they feel a strong obligation to “give back.”

Someone who grew up in a family where entrepreneurship and reaching “for the stars” is a valued and understood thing, are more likely to be supported in such endeavors than the kid who reaches a similar place without the same support system in place for one reason or another.

In this case, passion and drive have nothing to do with it. We lie to kids and tell them their dreams and goals matter. That they can truly do whatever they want, if they just work hard enough. When they get into their 20s, they realize that it’s just not true. Their place at the table was set long before they arrived to claim it. Sometimes they arrive to realize a place hasn’t been set for them and they have two options — pull up an empty seat and create a table setting and act like they belong or go away to a smaller table where they feel more welcomed and comfortable.

There is no wrong way to live life. Only the way you want to. Maybe that’s what he’s saying, but I’m not convinced of it. The people who need to hear this message are too busy working third shift to listen to it. I recall working years ago with a guy who used to work 80 hours a week. He’d work 55 hours at one place and the rest at another job where he could sleep. (He said that was the only reason he did it.) He had no kids, no wife and no house. He made about $40,000 a year between the two.

He’d never considered investing before beyond his 401 (k) and talked a lot about how the tax implications of what he was doing were far from good.

This old coworker didn’t have any goals. He wasn’t considering his happiness. Instead, he was working because that’s what our society values. We tell people to work hard and someday, we might let them relax and play golf a bit before they die.

Too many people these are dispensing advice who have no idea how regular people live their lives from day to day. I suppose they’d say their audiences are different or these folks could find this wisdom if they wanted to. But their lives don’t align in that direction, because they have different goals.

They might not see them as goals, they might just see their choices as “living their lives” and “taking things in stride.”

No matter though.

Some folks need goals to wake up and feel like they’re going anywhere. Goals, unlike stone tablets, can be changed at any time. I’m all in favor of being nimble, because adaptability can save you a lot of wasted time. But we don’t live in a society — at least in the US — where knowing when to quit is valued, meaning the social pressure to understand your place and to do things because they make you happy, simply doesn’t register for a lot of folks.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson. He is the author of Workplace 2.0: Managing and Motivating Millennials.

Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

From 13 to 30

I was not the typical teenager. It didn’t really occur to me at the time, because I was too busy trying to be a grown up, that it didn’t occur to me the strangeness of what I was doing.

Some 13 year olds play baseball. I started a baseball league when I was 13. I found a sponsor for my team’s uniforms (he apparently knew one of my uncles…) and while we struggled to get enough players to do more than a game or two that year, it was the closest thing to sandlot ball that I imagine any of us ever played before or after that summer.

I’m not sure why I decided to do it, but like most things in my life, I stepped up because no one else said anything or because I felt like it was necessary and maybe someone would want to do it too.

My mother loves telling the story about my first set of business cards. You see, the shopping mall had a machine that would print business cards for five bucks. To me, this was the most awesome invention ever. I created cards for a company that was named after my favorite sketch on my favorite show at the time. After I started working, I gave her one of my cards (because mothers like those sorts of things) and she was excited several months later, when she managed to find one of my old cards in an old purse.

What’s the point of this blast from the past?

Well, I’ve just been thinking a lot about how I spent so much time as a kid, thinking about how much I wanted to do when I was all grown up. I suspect I’m not unique at all for this. But what I was talking to someone about earlier today, was the notion that I spent all of that feeling like it would be great to be “in control” of my life, only to discover as I got older, that — like all things — it’s a bit more complicated than that once you get a bit older.

I joke with my student workers sometimes that “growing up is completely overrated and they should ignore anyone who lies to them and tell them otherwise.” They know I’m joking, but really, I’m not.

Most people are completely unprepared — in a post-boomer world where folks don’t seem to want to move off the stage — to really take control of their lives. We hear about helicopter parents, people moving back home into their 30s and have to wonder, “Has life really gotten harder to manage or are we just coddling ourselves into submission?”

Maybe it’s a bit of both.

I left home at 19. I didn’t go straight to college. After suffering through four years of high school, I was so bored that it would’ve been a poor choice at the time. Not because I wasn’t smart enough or because I didn’t enjoy learning, but simply because I had some things to work out. So with college not on the radar and my parents not satisfied with me working just one job at the time, I’d had enough and felt like I had to go.

I can’t explain the feeling, though I recall it vividly. I just felt like I couldn’t think straight. So I used the internet in the pre-google era to find some way to get away from home for the summer. I had no money, no contacts outside of my immediate area and barely anyone thought it was a good idea for me to go anywhere. But I discovered summer camps, found a job about two weeks later and two weeks after signing the contract, I headed out west to Wisconsin and I’ve lived away from New Jersey ever since.

I didn’t really have a plan at the time. It was as simple as “where can I work, sleep and get paid doing something I know how to do?” I was hired at the camp to teach tennis, but they decided once I got there (after finding out I could write) to have me teach journalism and publish the camp newspaper instead.

Between that and the pressures of life and family that surround you, it can be really easy to drown yourself in a sea of worry and doubt. But again, I have to ask myself “if you’re going to bother living, why not just do it the way you want to?” It might require a plan and a heck of a lot of sacrifice. Yet, isn’t it worth it in the end? I was about 25 when I realized this, though.

If it’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my 20s, is that time flies and what seems miserable and hard to deal with today, might tomorrow be something you look upon fondly and with memories of how it shaped your character for the road ahead. I’ve also realized that if you’re not careful, you can get swept up into things that are much bigger than you and find yourself sitting in bed late at night wondering “where did my life go?”

While there is still lots to learn, the biggest contrast from those teen years to now, is realizing how much your choices really do matter.

Once you realize how much control you have over what you can do, it’s a matter of making the right choices to set yourself upon the path in which you want to go. It’s a hard realization sometimes and it can be difficult to find people who are in the same situation you’re in — especially once you leave college. But it doesn’t mean you ought to quit or sell your vision short, simply because you don’t know where the light switch in the room is to help you find your way.

The challenges that life presents are an opportunity to know yourself better and to test yourself within the confines of a game whose rules you did not set. Succeed in the face of whatever obstacles you’re presented will give you the strength of conviction to go forward and to be where you want to be.

The younger version of you would look with wonder at what you’re doing now, to see how far you’ve come and yet, how far you have to go. I’m always astounded by how little fear I had as a teenager. I would organize, plot and plan major events for peers from around the country. I never asked whether I belonged and had no real idea that I was doing was strange or any different than it ought to be.

Working in a university environment will sometimes make you feel old, when you contrast yourself against the students of whom you come into contact with. I don’t really feel old, though. I feel fortunate to realize that you have to reach a point in life, where you stop apologizing for wanting the most out of life. There isn’t anything wrong with knowing what you want. There is something wrong with choosing not to pursue it, only to reflect on the past and wish you had. Opportunities don’t last forever, but new ones are always appearing.

Rather than thinking about the barriers in your path, you have to think like a teenager. Think about what you want right now and how you’ll survive long enough to get it and make it so.

Reading, Writing and Big Ideas is a blog by Ron Bronson about starting a business, higher education, web strategy and life in the millennial workplace. Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email.

McSocial Media: Is storefront social media the next big thing?

Mark Heyward’s post about storefront social media franchises made me wonder, could this actually work?

Is the future of Social Media within a storefront cafe that offers coffee, conversation and a helpful dose of web strategy? Could you go to Dunkin Donuts and offer a large coffee light and sweet, along with a blog and some Twitter help?

Are we going to have Kinkos for social media and web applications? Is that even feasible?

Is this a proper vision or are you, like me, skeptical of whether this would ever have widespread appeal? I think we’re still in the early phase of these things and I don’t think the Henry Ford of social media has arrived on the scene yet. I think things are still too niche and too silo riddled for anyone to consider using them en masse.

Portability is an issue and people in the future are going to tire of creating new profiles with the same information across multiple sites. Things won’t get better until people decide they are willing to pay for web services. Advertising as we know is going the way of the dinosaur, because people are moving away from tolerating free services in exchange for stuff. Ask satellite radio adopters or the scores of people who simply will not watch television without their DVR.

McSocial Media might be around the corner like a Starbucks, but it won’t stay there unless someone can find a way to make social media and networking applications something more than just cool, but actually useful to scores of ordinary people.

Or would that defeat the purpose and diminish their coolness?