The S.O. Factor:
How to Make Your Business Stand Out

By Jay Forte

Everything has become a commodity; we find more inexpensive versions of the same things. Companies quickly catch up with what others have done - and even a good idea quickly becomes “commodicized.” How do you keep your edge? How do you get remembered? How do you develop your SO…the Stand Out factor?

Even though we know that new, different and distinct is what gets people’s attention, most of our services and products look like what people expect or what have already been done. We are stuck in a pattern doing what we’ve always done. Bland. Boring. Blah!

The issue is actually deeper and more personal. Most of us don’t like to Stand Out or to be different. We started off as unique and independent - seeing things in our unique patterns of synaptic responses. And then we were corralled into school. We were taught the grass is green, the sky is blue and the sun is yellow. What if in your mind, the sun is not yellow but some other color? Our first thought is “that is not right.” The universe has an order and the sun has always been yellow. We perpetuate the conventional approach by requiring what should be instead of encouraging what could be.

In today’s thinking or service economy, our value is in our thinking. Passionate performance happens when we have freedom to imagine, create and innovate. Business and life successes are in the “could be,” not in the “what is.” The result is that much of the workplace, and the workforce as well, is now bland, doing yesterday’s approach even though today is different. Customers and employees become bored and the effect is employees changing jobs hoping to find more excitement and the ability to significantly contribute. Customers and employees look for organizations that commit to the largest experiences and impact in what they do because it’s a lot more fun. And if the organization could be ordinary or extraordinary, why not work and shop in a place that is extraordinary?

In Stand Out thinking, being different is key. The goal is to know what others do and insist on doing something better. We don’t try to fit in; we separate ourselves because in a crowded marketplace fitting in is failing. As Tom Peters states, “In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.” If the point of being in business is to develop a loyal customer base - those customers who return and bring their friends, it is not going to happen by doing what others do. Regardless of the case, it is about getting noticed and being remembered. Standing out is about creating something original, exciting and dynamic.

Stand Out thinking starts with the permission to let yourself invent. This happens in an open and accepting environment. It happens when your workplace is diverse in both background and experience and when all employees are required to openly invent, think and participate in decision-making, and say what is on their minds. This is way to invite the new, the different and the great.

As we were herded into similar thinking, much of our ability to Stand Out was challenged, diminished or eliminated. Over time we became great at doing what others did. We learned to be okay with blending and fitting in. The good news is that we can relearn how to Stand Out.

Focus on these two areas to get back in touch with your Stand Out abilities:

1) Learn to reconnect with your creative side. Over 90% of 5 year olds are creative, but only 5% of 13 year olds (and older) are creative. We have trained ourselves out of being creative. Train yourself back into creative thinking by learning how to revisit a problem, issue or opportunity in the following ways:

  • Frame it differently. Make it a product, a hobby, an inanimate object, a cartoon, a food, a superhero, etc.

  • See it from another perspective: man, woman, child, minority, friend, enemy, teacher, employee, customer, affluent, poor, honest, greedy, etc.

  • Morph the problem by changing it to the best, worst, an object, a person, a policy, a fruit, a car, a game, etc.

  • Link it to an unrelated item to see the correlations; identify how it is similar, how it is different. This forces the brain to see connections it would normally ignore.

  • Use pictures to visualize the problem, issue or opportunity. How does the visual encourage different thinking?

  • View the problem as a color - what does it make you think of, how does the color offer a new perspective?

  • Brainstorm using the phrases, “What if?” “How about?” or “Just consider…”

  • Use word association to generate ideas.

  • Write a headline, poem, obituary, news report or book title that relates to a business issue, event or other need. This forces a new perspective on the situation.

2) Build a culture of creative thinkers in your organization by the following:

  • Allow employees to invent and take calculated risks. Reward excellent failures; punish mediocre successes. Encourage greater thinking. If you are not failing every now and then, chances are you are not doing anything innovative. Visibly applaud creative efforts that focus on value, profits and customer service. Applaud employee reach and innovation..

  • Break a few rules. Identify the rules that do not add value for a customer, business or process. Challenge pattern thinking by constantly questioning everything. Be sure it is the best way to do something, respond or make a difference. If not, suggest a change. Stand out as an employee who focuses more on value than rules.

  • Invent a Creativity Zone - an area of the workplace that is committed to Stand Out and extraordinary thinking.

  • Invent the “Creativiteam” - a team assembled to generate ideas to solve an issue, invent something new, create an event, etc.

  • Require an idea a day from each employee. Create a new theme each week to direct employee thinking. Insure that the only requirement is that the idea must not look like what is already done.

  • Create an idea journal and add to it each day.

Organizations that openly encourage all employees to think, dream and invent, create the possibility of standing out. And standing out is the only way to compete in this information blurred and “over-commodicized” economy. Service that stands out encourages customer loyalty. Workplaces that stand out encourage employee loyalty. At a time where there seems to be so little loyalty by either party, a bold commitment to being remembered is a critical advantage.

So, remember the bad B’s: bland, boring and blending as a way of going bust. To succeed, Stand Out. Think unique, valuable, exceptional and exclusive. Think success by focusing on what makes you different and distinct. Then help your employees show up to get it done, step up to do it right and Stand Out to be remembered.

Read other articles and learn more about Jay Forte.

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