Hugh MacLeod’s great daily newsletter (which you should subscribe to here) had this cartoon today:
Don’t try to stand out from the crowd, avoid crowds altogether.
In the commentary, he acknowledges that this might not align with the fantastic work that Mark Earls has been doing over the past few years. The basic point that Earls is working very hard to get across is that we are not independent actors – when we choose things we are inevitably influenced by others. He has discussed this in two terrific books, which I highly recommend – Herd and I’ll Have What She’s Having (co-authored by Alex Bentley and Michael J. O’Brien). Here is what he said in a recent post discussing the new book:
…we all spend most of our lives in a world of other people (Freud famously quipped that we can never escape the Other) and much of what we do we do in imitation of other people or at least following the example of others (and not as the result of independent decisions, whatever we tell ourselves, our spouses, our therapists and any passing market researcher).
[There is a] much bigger insight into human nature that the science highlights: we are a fundamentally social creature, one evolved largely for a world of others like ourselves (and not for isolated, independent lives); we live almost all of our lives in the company of others (in the modern idiom, that we are always embedded in social networks of our peers. Most of what we do, we do in the company and under the shadow of other people – under the influence of others, if you like.
These two viewpoints lead to an issue that MacLeod frames like this:
But there’s a paradox: it’s hard to be any use to the crowd, until you’ve learned how to stand alone.
These guys are two of the best thinkers about business around right now. So while this is indeed a paradox, I’m not sure that it’s either/or, but rather it may be a both/and situation.
You do have to be apart from the crowd to be successful, but at the same time you have to understand how you’re connected to it. How? There are two ways. One is to be connected to a smaller part of the crowd – as Seth Godin says, a tribe. So maybe you end up with a little cluster of blue squiggles down in the corner.
Alternately, maybe you think of it in network terms – the way to keep in touch with the crowd is through a series of weak ties. You could redraft MacLeod’s drawing to look like this:
It’s less catchy, but maybe we should say:
Don’t try to stand out from the crowd, avoid crowds altogether – just make sure you have some links back.