Who'd You Like Me To Be?

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There are two ways to go through life…

You can either fully be yourself and then give people the choice, whether or not they wanna be around you.

A “this is me… if you like it cool, if not that’s cool too” approach.*1

Or, you can figure out how people would like you to act and behave and portray that.

A “Who do you want me to be and do you like me now that I portray that” approach.

I see two problems with that:

  1. It turns people off. It comes across as needy, weak and permission seeking.

  2. The chances of you getting it wrong are very high because most people don’t even know what they want, so you’ll probably assume something and portray what YOU think they want.

Even in the best-case scenario, where it doesn’t turn people off and you happened to got it right, you’ll only have succeeded at blending right in.

It’s essentially professionalism.

What are the norms and values? How does everyone talk, and dress and behave? How can I strive to be exactly that?

But the problem is that (besides discounting your own uniqueness) you start to converge towards a homogenous pool with the reward being ‘’top-averageness’’.

It reminds one of a 1930's attitude we had towards women, where the objective was to be unseen. A perfect wallflower.

Now, I’m not one (at all) for all this current social justice nonsense, the extremely low sensitivity, and complete lack of any ownership whatsoever, but we can all agree that excluding brilliant and generous contributions from half of the population is probably a bad idea.

I mean, how can you stand out if everyone’s goal is to be the same?

At Youngling & Feynman, we’ve talked a lot about how it’s better to have a small group of raving fans vs. a large group of people who tolerate your existence.*2

Read the essay Ten or The Third Chair for more.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t improve. It means that you should improve yourself based on your own view of yourself.

I believe this is true in business as well.

And I think this is part of what made Steve Jobs so great.

There are multiple instances where he talked about his philosophy for creating products.

It was basically, you try things and then present them to the marketplace.

Then they’ll tell you what they think by voting with their wallets.

But it starts with you making something and presenting it to them.

We talked about that (and I included an interview with Steve) in Most Market Research Is Horse Shit.

In this clip from The 1997 WWDC, an audience member critiques Steve Jobs and in his response, he lays out this philosophy.

I also think that that’s where Scully (CEO after Jobs was kicked out) messed up.

And that’s what 99.99% of companies do today.

I don’t think I’m being facetious when I postulate that only 1 in 10.000 companies have a CEO who’s willing to stand for something, make a call and do something that might fail big (but can also win big).

So don’t go to clients saying what do you want, we can do it all.

Don’t ask them: how can we be more authentic? (Which is by definition inauthentic.)

Just say: this is what we offer and this is who we are.

Do you want what we offer and do you align with our values?

Don’t convert people. Reject Non-Believers.

Notes

*1 This doesn’t mean do things that are grossly inappropriate. There are still such things as social norms and depending on how tight or loose a culture is, the amount of pushback will fluctuate accordingly. But it also means not be afraid to upset anyone. I see many people, so petrified of upsetting anyone that they already hear their critique inside their mind and, as a consequence, never dare to take any risk at all. I believe that if you try to be yourself and your heart is in the right place, you’ll make mistakes but they’re all forgivable. The worst strategy is to reach 90 and be filled with regret because you never did what you really wanted out of fear of what a few people might say.

*2 I was watching comedian Bill Burr yesterday ( you guys know I love comedians for the similarity between creating comedy and creating things in business which we discuss in Marketing Is Comedy, Not Engineering) and he said the same thing. ‘’I don’t need everyone to like me. I just need enough people to come watch me and fill up a stadium so I can keep doing what I’m doing.’’ That attitude of taking a stand is what we should do in business too. Having the balls to make a call. Because the comedian desperate to please everyone will please no one. Groups are almost always mutually exclusive.

RJ Youngling