In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. Gabrielle Chanel
Were you either picked on as a child or did you see other people get picked on for being different from the crowd? I clearly remember a game called ‘The odd one out’ where everyone would stand around in a circle and you’d wait for the instigator of the game to come up with a reason to reject you for being different.
And, of course, it sent a clear message; ‘Do everything you can to fit in.’
Which is fine for some careers. But when you start your own business or you’re a creative, fitting in is a death nail in the coffin of your career. It’s vitally important that you stand out. That you’re memorable in some way.
You don’t have to be wildly different like Lady Gaga, but you do need to reach for those nuances and subtleties that make you, you.
My daughter is my teacher in this regard. She’s always finding little ways to express herself with her clothes. She went to school one day with one black shoe on with a white sock, while on the other foot she wore a white shoe with the back sock, because she wanted to be a piano. Sometimes her experiments really work, sometimes they don’t. But because she’s a kid, she’s not put off by that. It’s all just play and she keeps testing new ideas.
Recently I asked her, ‘Of all the women we’ve read about, who do you think of as being completely unique?’
(The benefit of being seven years old in 2019 is that she’s grown up her whole life learning about inspiring women in books and on podcasts designed specifically to encourage girls to imagine a big future for themselves. As a consequence, she has an entire back catalogue of women’s stories in her head ready to be drawn upon at a moment’s notice.)
‘Coco Channel, Mum,’ she responded. ‘She made all those simple hats and plain dresses when everyone was wearing fancy hats and tight fitted clothes. Lots of people thought her ideas were too different when she put on her first show but she was right; her clothes were better than what they had then.’
‘You’re right, she was perfect just as she was, as are you,’ I responded.
So this week, we’re taking our inspiration from Coco around being a woman who is visible in both business and life. The lessons I draw from her include:
- think about what your ideal customer actually wants, as opposed to what people are telling them they want (particularly if your industry is dominated by men and the customer base is all women)
- don’t be afraid to give that to them even if it initially seems ‘too different or unusual’
- be prepared to be your best brand ambassador – walk your talk and let yourself be seen being unashamedly you
- dare to assume your customers deserve the very best of life and that ‘the best’ arises from your willingness to really see them and understand their needs (one of the most revolutionary thoughts Coco had at the time was that women deserved to be as comfortable in their clothes as men were)
- refine your products down to their most essential components
- have the courage to develop and follow through on a blue ocean strategy it’s the one thing that will guarantee people are talking about you a century after you’ve done your best work
- assume you’re a visionary and that it’s your job to manifest (make real) that vision
- be patient and persistent in bringing forth your vision and in time, you’ll convert all the naysayers into raving fans
- come to peace with the fact that not everyone is going to like you and keep going anyway. Completely revolutionising an industry has a much more positive impact in the world than being liked by everyone you meet
- when people sneer at you or your work, remember that it’s a reflection of their own fears and small mindedness, not of any inadequacies on your part
- find the people who are excited by your vision and focus on supporting them first and foremost. Grow from there
- allow them to sell your ideas/products/clothes/services to their friends and their friends and so on
- make sure people can see and understand your vision clearly, irrespective of what they think of it. (Clothes is obviously ideal for this because people are wearing them, but there are many ways to make your vision clear to others, particularly through the imagery and copy on your website, the way you engage on your social media channels, the emails you send out, and the interviews you give.)