Be weird, but in a good way
A recurring theme I find in my conversations with project managers and other professional people I meet at events, seminars, workshops or just casually, is the topic of how to get a better job and most importantly, how to stand out in a crowded employment marketplace. Education and certifications coupled with the growth of online technologies has all be destroyed the traditional barriers to entry to obtain these designations and the competitive advantage these designations once enjoyed has diminished and in some instances, diminished considerably.
The bachelor’s degree really has become the “new” high school diploma with the master’s degree (especially the MBA in the business world) becoming the “new” bachelor’s degree. It is also not uncommon to see individuals with 5 or more industry certifications and even some individuals with 10 to 20! So what’s the antidote to this degree and certifications arms race? When all of us have the same work experiences, degrees and certifications how do you distinguish yourself from the crowd?
To sum it in one sentence, I think you need to “be weird, but in a good way”. As this Harvard Business Review article points out:
In the 1930s, Hedwig von Restorff, a German psychologist, made an important, though not very counterintuitive, discovery: things that somehow stand out are remembered more easily than typical things. Suppose we read the following list to a group and then asked them to recall it: apple, truck, necklace, tomato, glass, dog, rock, umbrella, butter, spoon, Lady Gaga, pillow, pencil, chocolate, desk, banana, bug, soup, milk, tie
One doesn’t need to be a German psychologist to see that “Lady Gaga” will be more easily remembered than, say, “butter.” In the context, “Lady Gaga” is atypical, and that’s why she’d be remembered more easily. That’s the von Restorff Effect in action.
Whether we feel her talents and abilities warrant the attention she receives (I’m too old these days to be into this stuff), she is without a doubt a globally recognized brand. Her extravagance, eccentricity and distinctive style have allowed her to stand out in an industry where it’s hard to stand out as all entertainers are pretty much driven to obtain this. It is their core competency to be weird and stand out.
In contrast, for regular professionals like us such extravagant weirdness will most likely land us a spot on the unemployment line, but it is also not out of our realm of our reality to desire to have this kind of “Lady Gaga” impact with prospective employers or clients for those of us who consult. But we need to ensure is that this impact is based on our competencies and perceived business value, rather than just the weirdness effect. That is not so say though, that the angle or perspective you convey to your employer or client to solve their most pressing problems is done in such a way so as to blow them away.
If you can continually provide fresh new perspectives, innovative solutions and most importantly, execute consistently and above and beyond when needed, then you can in turn convey this impact. But much like Lady Gaga, you need to make sure you are marketing and branding yourself in such a way that you are so good at what you do, that it is “weird, but in a good way” to those who need to notice!