Don’t Be Ordinary

As one friend of mine goes back to work after a year or two of being officially unemployed, I offered some words of wisdom, “Don’t Be Ordinary”.    You can take this to mean many things, because it is a general statement about our condition in life.   You can just do things “the company” way and churn out what is expected of you, or… you can show that you have ideas, that you can communicate and this means you have more to offer and are wanted by the organization.  We need to show our value more and more, and communicating that value is critical.  And there are people who like to be ordinary.  That’s fine. I don’t.  But that’s me.  But my reference to Don’t Be Ordinary refers to how others view us. My specific advise to an employee going back to work means don’t be the person you were (if it was an issue) when you last worked.  Be a different person, one who is not looked upon as average.

How to be different?

First off there are a tons of ways to be different and less ordinary in our work.  There are many ways to start changing.  One is to learn to be a better presenter.  The info is out there to learn.  I personally love Diane Duarte and have read her book Slide:ology and a new one Resonate.  And there is You Got To Believed To Be Heard by Decker.  My answer is, if you were laid off from a job  and told you were not very important or added much to the organization, then change that.  Learn to be a great presenter, and each time you are given a chance to communicate, be extraordinary.   You can improve your slides, your speaking habits, your dress, your weight, your hygiene, your whatever.  We can improve and yes, the little details matter when it comes to being different.

College Rules

I always felt that the whole underlying purpose  of college and high school education was to teach us to succeed at following the rules. I quite frankly struggled at this concept.  I was constantly looking for ways to be different, and was not interested in competing to be best, but rather competing to be different.  Instead of following the rules exactly, I would always try to find ways around the rules.  In fact, I took as many classes where you got your education in the field.  In both high school and college I was an intern or worked in the field in politics.  I worked on a bunch of political campaigns in high school and eventually worked for Bill Bradley as an intern for college credits.  I wrote papers for 6 credits, to not be in class, in both my undergrad and graduate school.  I even took a 9 credit summer class where we watched movies all day long and wrote criticisms.   To me that was a lot better than studying.

When Different Is Not A Good Thing

My friend Scott, who is no longer with us, was a case of person who was different, but not always in a good way.  He could not focus at work, he had trouble completing tasks.  He was generally a problem.  I know, he worked for me.  If you can get up and give an amazing presentations and solve problems and be viewed as a person who thinks differently terrific.  But there is a fine line.  There are people who are non-conformists, and can not follow any rules.  These people should know who they are and where the boundaries exist for them.  It is almost like they consistently make bad decisions and don’t know when to stop at a red line and don’t know when to start moving when the green light changes.  That person, yes they are different, but not extraordinary.  But that person can easily transform from odd and different to extraordinary, by doing the things in life they are good at.  Not everybody is good at a day job…  We need to understand our limitations.

Conclusion On How To Be Extraordinary

While working 9 to 5 in an office makes us money (if we have to do it), we are not living in a totalitarian society where we have to do things by the book.   And yes, I’ve been at over 20 years of jobs where we had to do what we are told and do it by the book, so I know that some things you can’t change in life…  But there is no reason why we can’t improve ourselves, read up on giving better presentations, speak better, communicate better.  You are often pigeon-holed by organizations as you work your way up the ladder.  This can be good or bad.  My early career I was known as the Garbage Man, because you could throw any task at me and I would get it done.  I had to.  That was my mantra back then.  But as time went on I learned more about communicating, I realized that you need to differentiate yourself to succeed.  And quite often this is not easy to do, since my technical jobs required little or no need to be different, in fact, I just had to meet the rules all the time.  But as I have been breaking out of my technology back-ground and into marketing, branding, speaking, selling, managing, create product, raising capital, I have concluded that I need to be a better communicator.  Presentations skills is the first place to start.

Web Branding vs. “Don’t Make Me Think”

About 10 years ago I picked up a copy of Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It is by far the simplest bible-like book of user interface design. The principle of this short read is simply creating web page layouts that meet common ways people are used to using the web, and you will make your site is more usable and successful. And according to Krug, deviations from these norms, make people think. Making people think, means they sometimes get confused, sometimes they leave the site and often they don’t make the decisions you want them to make. Basically you make people think and that is a bad thing.

Don’t Make Me Think Example

A good example in the book is the word “Search” vs. “Quick Search” on a search form on a website. The slight difference of the wording “Quick Search” actually makes people think for a second, like is this search really quicker, where is the real search? According to Krug, if you are making people think, the sites usability is lessened and therefor things like conversion rates drop and quality of the site is lower.

Word Famous & Now We Are Starting To Think

I was sitting in on a brand building call by David Tyreman, founder of World Famous Company, and a guru extraordinaire on brand building, this week and he was covering the concept of making sure customers are in their comfort zone, whether as they arrive on your site, your business, in between, or right before buying or during the transaction. This is part of the larger concept of improving and creating your world famous brand.

Brand Comfort Zone

This comfort zone covers both physical and virtual spaces. By physical, a good example for our speed dating business, is when people are getting ready for a speed dating event, are they comfortable, happy, at ease and in the proper zone right before an event. Trust me people are nervously standing around, especially looking at people walking in the door, wondering if they are going to be in the event. For a virtual website, have you created an environment on the website that eases the visitors comfort level and therefor improved their comfort zone? An interesting example is Apple.com. They follow few standards. Often on the Apple.com website, I have to search around and find what to click on and discover stuff. But that is what Apple is all about. It is a tug of war between being Apple (branding) and Making People Not think. Well, this is what I am noticing is a diversion from Don’t Make Me Think, in fact, it’s the time you want people to think, because you are using your brand to improve their comfort zone.

VictoriasSecret.com’s Pink Bag

Back in 2001 or so, I was working at abcdistributing.com, specifically on their website analytics and their cart. abcdistributing.com, which I occasionally talk about in my blog, is the unsung hero of catalog companies that only women who love catalogs know about. They used to get thousands of orders a day online, so small improvements in their site design made a big difference. I was looking around back then and noticed that Victoria’s Secret was the first website to really introduce a different kind of a cart. Theirs was “Add To Bag”. Cart’s were just simply “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now” buttons back then, so when I saw this nicely branded little bag, i was impressed. It was really my first introduction to how online branding can be extended to comfort zones online. I just did not know it back then. I tried to think of a way to extend this to abc distributing, a business that did not believe in branding, and all I was able to think of was this box they shipped out had this little fish icon on it. Everybody remembered them that way. That was their brand at the time, and therefor I pushed to switch their “Add To Cart” to “Add To Box” with a little box icon… Of course they did not go for it, but it stuck in my mind. Finally, thank you David, for explaining to us what this is about!

Be Uniquely The Same

So, in the end what I think this means is not everything online fits a cookie cutter way of doing things. Don’t Make Me Think obviously is a great example to start with in building user interface designs. It says don’t put something in a place on a site like a search box on the bottom left, or a menu bar in the middle of a page (not at the top), or the company logo in the middle of the page or change wording like About to “Who we are”. But there are exceptions, many exceptions, but exceptions that have to do with branding, where you want people to think! Another good example of a client of mine recently, who switched the word “Services” to the word “Benefits”. Or a site that uses “Start Your Journey” vs. “Buy Now”. So, it appears, good branding, especially improving the customer comfort zone, trumps Don’t Make Me Think. Sorry Steve Krug, sometimes you gotta think!