It’s a difficult question but every young professional asks it; everyone is looking for the silver bullet.
I thought it was impossible to define precisely THE single factor for career success, however after reflecting over my 33-plus year journey from a management trainee to the president’s suite, I DO think there is one action individuals can take that will make the difference between having an average career and a remarkable one.
This one action worked for me and there is no reason why it wouldn’t work for others.
My “secret” was to always look for a way to be different from others in some way.
Constantly searching for a different edge became my modus operandi very early in my career when I observed that most people approached the challenges offered by their position in the same manner.
Discovering how to be different became a discipline that was as involuntary as my heartbeat.
It was a very tough approach to acquire because the organizational world (and personal life for that matter) seems to encourage “sameness” behavior.
Administrative Policies and procedures define on-the-job compliance expectations, job descriptions dictate limits of responsibility, subject matter “experts” try to formularize work and the education system rewards students for following educational standards and “coloring inside the lines”.
To follow a “be different” path required tenacity, perseverance and a high tolerance for pain to resist these strong conformance pressures and break away from these expected norms.
Baby steps – what I quickly learned is to focus on achieving small differences which, when aggregated over time add up to be BIG and compelling in the minds of people looking at you and witnessing what you do and controlling your personal brand.
To always keep the be the different end game in front of me, I relied on questions to myself to inform the behavior I exhibited in producing the deliverables asked of me. Remember: if you’re not ALWAYS thinking of how to separate yourself from others, it won’t happen because it’s not a natural mode of behavior – being like others are.
The questions that we’re ALWAYS in front of me – and they were written down so I wouldn’t forget them – were:
1) “How can I put a TWIST to this?”
Do more than what was asked. Do it in a different form. Spice it up. Do it and add value.
2) “What can I do to put my FINGERPRINTS on the result I delivered?”
Do it in a way that it was recognizable as you; a natural extension of your personal brand.
3) How can I leave a lasting IMPRESSION with people witnessing my actions?
You want your “audience” to react emotionally when they see your results and how you delivered them.
4) “What can I do to SURPRISE the recipients of my work; to give them what they don’t expect?”
Know your audience and give them what they would not normally expect.
5) “What can I do to go AGAINST the flow created by others?”
Observe how the common herd would do it and swim upstream against the current.
6) “How would others do it?”
Ask this ONLY to provide input on how to do it UNLIKE anyone else. In the be a different journey, benchmarking others
tells you what you DON’T want to do, not what to copy.
Apply the be different philosophy to a résumé, a project, an interview, a job description, a marketing or business plan or the experiences you give your children and grandchildren.
And watch the magic.