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How to be cooler than your competitors

Want to be cooler than your competitors? Times have changed and there is only one real way to be cool…

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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.

But no.

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.

The takeaway

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.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Greg Fischer

    October 17, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    You’re cool.

    And interesting take on the most recent history of ‘cool’ can be examined in the hilarious movie “21 Jump Street” featuring Jonah Hill.

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Opinion Editorials

‘OK, Boomer’ can get you fired, but millennial jokes can’t?

(EDITORIAL) The law says age-based clapbacks are illegal when aimed at some groups but not others. Pfft. Okay, Boomer.

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Boomer sad

A brand new meme is out and about, and it’s looking like it’ll have the staying power of ‘Fleek’ and ‘Yeet!’

Yessiree, ‘Okay, Boomer’ as related to exiting a go-nowhere conversation with out-of-pocket elders has legitimate sticky potential, but not everyone is as elated as I am. Yes, the Boomer generation themselves (and the pick-me’s in my age group who must have a CRAZY good Werther’s Original hookup), are pushing back against the latest mult-iuse hashtag, which was to be expected.

The same people happy to lump anyone born after 1975 in with kids born in 2005 as lazy, tech-obsessed, and entitled, were awfully quick to yell ‘SLUR’ at the latest turn of phrase, and I was happy to laugh at it.

But it turns out federal law is on their side when it comes to the workplace.

Because “Boomer” applies to folks now in their mid 50’s and up, workplace discrimination laws based on age can allow anyone feeling slighted by being referred to as such to retaliate with serious consequences.

However for “You millenials…” no such protections exist. Age-based discrimination laws protect people over 40, not the other way around. That means all the ‘Whatever, kid’s a fresh 23 year old graduate hire’ can expect from an office of folks in their 40s doesn’t carry any legal weight at the federal level.

And what’s really got my eyes rolling is the fact that the law here is so easy to skirt!

You’ve heard the sentiment behind #okayboomer before.

It’s the same one in: ‘Alright, sweetheart’ or ‘Okay hun’ or ‘Bless your heart.’

You could get across the same point by subbing in literally anything.

‘Okay, Boomer’ is now “Okay, Cheryl” or “Okay, khakis” or “Okay, Dad.”

You can’t do that with the n word, the g word (either of them), the c word (any of them) and so on through the alphabet of horrible things you’re absolutely not to call people—despite the aunt you no longer speak to saying there’s a 1:1 comparison to be made.

Look, I’m not blind to age based discrimination. It absolutely can be a problem on your team. Just because there aren’t a bunch of 30-somethings bullying a 65 year old in your immediate sphere doesn’t mean it isn’t happening somewhere, or that you can afford to discount it if that somewhere is right under your nose.

But dangit, if it’s between pulling out a powerpoint to showcase how ‘pounding the pavement’ isn’t how you find digital jobs in large cities, dumping stacks of books showing how inflation, wages, and rents didn’t all rise at the same rate, or defending not wanting or needing the latest Dr. Oz detox… don’t blame anyone for pulling a “classic lazy snowflake” move, dropping two words, and seeing their way out of being dumped on.

Short solution here is – don’t hire jerks, and it won’t be an issue. Longer term solution is… just wait until we’re your age.

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Opinion Editorials

Uber CEO regrets saying that murder is part of business

(EDITORIAL) Uber CEO calls murder a mistake. Should society support a business that seems to think death is just part of the cost of doing business?

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On February 21, 2016, I woke up early to notifications about a shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An Uber driver shot multiple individuals. Although I live in Oklahoma, the Facebook algorithms correctly deduced that this incident would be of interest to me. I have family and friends in Michigan, some in the Battle Creek area, just miles east of Kalamazoo. Later that morning, I learned that one of my friends had been killed in the incident.

Uber was criticized for the incident. Lawmakers across the country called for tougher background checks on Uber drivers. It was a PR nightmare for the company. Ultimately, it was the driver who was charged. Earlier this year, the driver pled guilty to all counts against him and was sentenced to life in prison. Uber continued operating, although then-Governor Rick Snyder did sign legislation that increased regulations for the ride-sharing industry.

I say this out of disclosure. This Uber tragedy affected me in a way that may cloud my opinion. I believe that Uber should be regulated more than it is. But recent events have made me question why society supports Uber and what I believe is a toxic culture.

How does Uber keep managing their corporate profile?

Uber seems to weather their PR crises fairly well. They’ve been criticized for inadequate background checks. Sexual harassment allegations at corporate headquarters shook up the management team. Uber has suffered data breaches. In 2018, the organization settled with the FTC for $148 million. Still, the company enjoys a market share of transportation services.

In 2018, Dara Khosrowshahi, former CEO of Expedia took over at Uber as its new CEO, replacing the CEO and founder Travis Kalanick. It was reported that Kalanick “led the company astray” from its moral center. Khosrowshahi said at the time, “In the end, the CEO of the company has to take responsibility.”

Just days ago, during an interview, Khosrowshahi said that “the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a ‘mistake.’” It was a political murder. Khosrowshahi compared the assassination to a self-driving accident with an Uber vehicle that killed a pedestrian. It didn’t take long for Khosrowshahi to issue a retraction, saying that he “said something in the moment (he doesn’t) believe.”

Is Uber’s culture toxic?

Khosrowshahi says that his comment shouldn’t mark him as a person. He thinks that what he said was a “learning moment.” When a CEO misspeaks in an interview that isn’t just local, but international, maybe we should pay attention. According to him, murder isn’t a big deal. I wonder if he would say that if it was his father who died, or his friend who was killed by a driver.

When my friend died in the Kalamazoo shooting, I had to seriously think about how I viewed Uber. My friend wasn’t even using Uber at the time. She was getting into her own car at a local restaurant with some friends of hers. I recognize that Uber wasn’t responsible for the driver going on a shooting spree, but I have to wonder if it was Uber’s culture that led to a lack of response at the time.

Uber’s new CEO seems removed from how its services affect individuals and communities as its previous CEO did. When a company thinks that murder is a “mistake,” maybe it’s time to rethink about supporting a service that doesn’t seem to think about people, its employees, its drivers and its riders.

It may be more convenient than a cab, but it’s time to look at Uber’s real impact on society. I hear Uber saying that innocent deaths are just the cost of business. Is that the basis for a billion-dollar corporation?

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Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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funny females promoted less often

Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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