Being Different Pays!


Every day I ask myself how can I be different and how can the service I offer be different? It’s a question that keeps me awake many nights because being different is important to me and provides a huge advantage.

I believe very much in Suzy Kassem’s quote that says, “being different and thinking differently makes a person unforgettable. History does not remember the forgettable. It honours the unique minority the majority cannot forget.” She also said: “To be successful, one has to be one of the three bees – the queen bee, the hardest working bee, or the bee that does not fit in.”

At each given point in time, I have been one of the three bees and I’ve never really fitted into any crowd or set of people in my life. Not that I haven’t tried, but it’s not just me. I cannot think or be like everybody and it’s always made me different, if sometimes on the fringes, which I do not mind. I have found that being not one of the pack gives you unique perspectives on how to do everything – career, business, appearance, etc.

Being different is also where disruption, innovation and creativity emerge. Imagine a world where everybody thought the same and we all allowed those who tell us “this is the way we have always done it” or “this is the way it must be” win. I have always questioned status quo and it is good to question status quo – but do it in a respectful manner. Many people find it uncomfortable when you do not accept why something is the way it was or the way they say it must be.

I remember the first time my CEO said we should perform a particular task in a certain way, which was the norm at the time in the organization. I got up and asked him “why”. I saw the confusion on his face and then the affront he felt that a junior staff (I was quite junior) at the time was asking the question “why”. After he adjusted, because he realized that they had always encouraged us to think out of the box, which was what I was doing, he then asked me to expatiate. After listening to my reasoning my suggestion was adopted.

The ability to ask “why” and to proffer solutions to my “why”, has been beneficial to my growth personally and career wise. I have been able to accomplish some audacious goals that others balked at because they limited themselves in their thinking.

Every great idea took root because the person who conceived the idea decided to be different. This is how disruption germinates. Many people think disruption is only about technology; it is not just about technology. Technology is an enabler. The idea was the disruption not technology which is the tool that made it happen.
Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business School professor, a disruption and innovation expert, argued that, “a disruptive product or service either addresses a market that previously could not be served (a new market disruption) or offers a simpler, cheaper or more convenient alternative to an offering that already exists (a low disruption). Such disruption innovations, have the power to upturn the market. Disruptive businesses in essence offer a product or service that challenges established patterns of behavior. Offering a much reduced price is a clear way of attempting low-end disruption, forcing incumbents to move upmarket. Providing a convenient and readily available service is another.

Uber is a great example of a low end disrupter. Airbnb and Netflix are also low end disrupters. In Nigeria, GTB with *737# and Remita have disrupted e-payment. GTBank with retailers and Remita in the public sector with TSA.
In your business there are various ways you can differentiate yourself and products. These are:

• Product or service differentiation, the most visible because of the physical nature of your product or service but short- lived. It is extremely easy to duplicate almost any product or service innovation. In other climes especially the developed world, there are sophisticated intellectual property rights ethic and legal system that provides copyright and patent protection. This is not the norm in Nigeria. In Nigeria, as soon as an organization differentiates especially in the banking industry, others rush to copy this innovation. Despite the short-lived nature of success in differentiation, I am yet to see any bank achieve the success rate of Access Bank’s uniformity in customer service nor the same level of e-payment innovation in technology that GTBank provided to its customers in recent times.

• Distribution differentiation can also be an effective means. Distribution can be in the realms of logistics, coverage or availability, immediate access to expertise, greater ease of ordering and higher levels of customer or technical support.

• Relationship differentiation often overlooked, but to me one of the most important. I tell people every day, that especially in professional services that what differentiates one big firm from another at the end of a tendering process most times is the depth of relationship of the winning organization from its competitors, because many people believe they provide the same service. This same theory applies to other sectors and segments. It is how well you have connected with your customers on an emotional scale that determines how loyal they will remain with you and continue to seek your custom.

• Image/Reputation differentiation. Some businesses have decided that their image and reputation is strategic to their growth. They control this differentiation with symbols used to communicate, advertising, media, events and the physical location where they interact with their customers. GTBank readily comes to mind. One of the reason customers are endeared to them is the architectural designs of their branches. Each one is aesthetically pleasing and well thought out. The Lagos Business School as well for its reputation, standard, ethics and physical environment.

• Price differentiation. According to Marketresearch, “Companies that differentiate successfully within this parameter, recognize that every customer has a different price they will be willing to pay for a product or service.
Segmentation allows a business to come close to maximizing potential revenue by offering each segment a differentiated product at a different price”.

After all the variables are considered, to ensure lasting differentiation, we must ensure that we can tick off the following attributes in our quest for differentiation or disruption: valuable, important, distinctive, emotional, communicates, affordable and profitable. All successful disruptive innovation met each of these criteria before succeeding.

So, going forward, ask yourself the question, am I doing my business or my work like everyone else or am I thinking differently and proffering solutions that will disrupt my business or my work positively.

Blending into the background is the worst thing ever!