How to be cool
People have been obsessed with being some version of cool since the dawn of time. Skinny cave men wanted to be cool like the brawny cave men so they could get more women, Egyptian women smeared goop on their faces to be cool like Cleopatra, American kids ditched school and wore leather to be cool like James Dean. Fast forward to today and the obsession continues, but the social media megaphone has exacerbated the desire to be cool and given the endless need for our brains to witness social proof and to prove our own merit, much of this centers around the ability to be cool.
The definition of cool, has of course changed, and the cool kids today aren’t necessarily young, but per social media, the glorification of the thick-rimmed glasses, facial hair, and comic book nerdery has made way for a new era. Many people misunderstand this era and think that because these geeks/nerds/whatever are business owners, entrepreneurs, or thought leaders, it must be their coolness that is attracting people. It must be their three wolf moon t-shirt, their parted hair, their orange-rimmed glasses, their manpurse, or in the case of cool women, it must be their super hero shirts, their don’t-care-hair, their sweet Converse kicks.
If you want to be cool, no number of action hero figures on your desk or tweets about hipster restaurants will turn you into a cool business leader, nor will your brand be transformed, because you’ve missed the point of what’s cool today. You didn’t notice the transformation of culture into the age of authenticity. Sure, some people fake it, but the nerd culture is attractive today because digital media has offered a platform where we can all find like minds, which means letting our inner nerd out.
How can you be cool without faking it?
So bearing that in mind, how can you be cooler than your competitors without having to fake it? It sounds cliche, but you must be yourself and let your brand be what your brand is. If you show up to your law firm tomorrow in a hoodie and fake mustache or your insurance office starts tweeting Dr. Who quotes, no business will result from this, particularly if you’re accustomed and comfortable with wearing a suit and tweeting about business news.
There are ways you can be cool without faking it:
1. Be genuine. Again, this is so cliche at this point, but completely relevant. With every interaction, allow your brand to let its hair down and be itself. If you discover that several of your team members are going to a comic book meetup every month and you have been a secret fan all of your life, go to the next one, hell, offer to sponsor the food. If your company has never made the time to be as philanthropic as the founders truly are, begin tweeting about local fundraisers from time to time, and give employees one day off a month to volunteer as a group and get into the community. There is no way to lose.
Example: when you’re on a Southwest Airlines flight, many flight attendants will make jokes over the intercom, they might take the time to chit chat with you, they always make eye contact and smile, and you can tell that employees are given the latitude to be themselves. Their team members are genuine, thus representing the genuineness of the brand.
2. Be original. Don’t emulate your favorite public speaker slash geek, find ways to be original in your marketing, your tone, your practices. Throw your competitors’ ideas out the window and come up with your own, perhaps even find inspiration in an industry that is nothing like yours. Some original brands
Example: you may not consider Starbucks original because they didn’t invent coffee or baristas, but they’re cool because they’re willing to experiment – they’re trying wine bars and tea houses, they’ve had a retail division for decades, they have a consistent process in every store to give you the same experience no matter where you are, and they never rush you out of the building even though you’re only there to use the free wi-fi. Their CEO regularly makes his personal stances public and they give millions of dollars to charity every year. They don’t look like your average coffee shop, they run a tight ship based on original processes, invention, and experimentation.
3. Focus on ethos. What you may not realize is that today’s cool kids are not praised for their odd outfits, they’re inspirational because they’re focused on the ethos of their company. They tell you on stage or at networking events about why they’re in business, how they got there, what makes their brand different, but mostly, they focus on the bigger picture. When you meet someone new, do you talk about your revenue projections or sell the features of your product or service (“Hi, I’m Bob, founder of Bob Socks, we sold $8M in product last year and we offer the best shorty socks on the planet”)? Or, do you focus on your ethos, your reason for being (“Hi, I’m Bob, founder of Bob Socks, and I started my company because my father had diabetes and compression socks were ugly as hell, so we set out to change that to save him and others embarrassment”)?
Example: Zappos is a well known (and frankly, overused) example of an ethos-centric brand which promises to deliver happiness. They are simply an online shoe store. But they’ve managed to inspire the Western world through their CEO’s constant speaking to other businesses about happiness, even funding research on and a book on the topic, and an online community about it. Founder Tony Hsieh said, “I had decided to stop chasing the money, and start chasing the passion.” You won’t find him telling you about shoe brand superiority, no, he focuses on making the customer experience exciting from beginning to end.
You can’t put on an outfit to become cool. You can’t tweet about reality tv shows to become cool. You can’t make your staff dress down to become cool. You can’t become cool.
You either are or you aren’t, and either one is okay, because in today’s world, authenticity is king and people are attracting like minds. Does everyone find these tennis shoe wearing CEOs appealing? Nope. And those that don’t will typically attract each other. The same goes with consumers.
So, to kill a cliche – be yourself. There’s no other way to be cool or to be cooler than your competitors. Not everyone will be attracted to you or your brand, and no amount of hair grease will change that since like minds attract. Let your hair down a little bit, be human, and focus on your ethos.