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Opinion Editorials

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.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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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

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

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Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

4 ways to earn more respect in any group (personal OR professional)

(EDITORIAL) In this world of high velocity and high volume, finding ways to get people to see things your way and rally with you is difficult, but not impossible.

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We’re all being smothered by false standards. Hoards of voices tell men to be “more assertive” and “take control,” while letting women know that their ticket to getting things done is to “smile more” and “be approachable.”

As entrepreneurs, we are really looking for the answer to one simple question: How can I make it happen?

We want to know how to make the dream work, and how to get people to rally behind us to lead our projects to success.

We are looking for actionable, specific advice that we can take NOW – not lofty, vague ideas that hide under the guise of “psychology hacks” (what does “be more alpha” really mean anyway!?).

The thing is, topics like charisma and influence are often made much more challenging than necessary. At the end of the day, social interactions are governed by one simple rule:

A group, is a group, is a group.

People like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss are able to teach the concepts of influence and leadership to a mass audience because all groups are controlled by a few key fundamental principles. Gaining an understanding of these principles allows you to gain respect and influence in any group you would like, and use that respect and influence to organize and guide people toward your goals.

Whether you are looking to inspire more prospects to convert to customers, want to create more cohesion amongst your team in the pursuit of your vision, or simply want to network more effectively, there are overarching themes that are sure to add a strong boost in the effectiveness of your actions as an entrepreneur.

And beyond all else, this is the most important one of all:

Look for what people want, and give it to them.

People join groups because it provides them the ability to have experiences they may not otherwise get to have. That said, everyone in the group is looking to the group to provide them with something. People may join a friend group in order to have fun and talk to people about the things they want to talk about, while people may join a specific career path for financial gain.

Now this all seems rather obvious, but where people tend to make mistakes is that they forget that everyone in the group has a specific motivation for being there. If you do not appeal to someone’s reason for being in the group, they will not see you as a valuable contributor to the group, and may treat you poorly as consequence.

If someone in a your friend group wants to have fun, and they do not see you as someone who can provide them with fun experiences, they will be neutral towards you at best. If they find it fun to see your reaction to their disrespect, but don’t see any other way to have fun with you, they might even be openly hostile toward you.

Likewise, if a coworker sees you as someone who is going to make their job more difficult, and you are not in a position of power over them, they are going to see you an unnecessary source of pain, and may mistreat you as a result.

As an example, let’s say that in a project you are running, there is a web designer in your group, Anna, who takes every opportunity she can to undercut your authority and make you appear incompetent in front of the others. There isn’t any outside tension (such as a conflicting friendship or sexual desire), and seeing as this is your project and she doesn’t have any stake, there is no angle for her to practically assume control of the project, so you just can’t understand why she has decided to make you the target of her tirades. You just chalk it up to being a big ego.

“Are you sure THAT’s the message you want to go to market with? I mean, I’ll put whatever you want on the webpage, I guess.”

“Why do you think it’s so important that we have the supply chain ironed out when we haven’t done any market testing yet? Are you trying to make this fail?”

Of course, every time she openly questions your decisions, the others on the team start to buy into her campaign against you. Lately, others on your team even follow suit, and question your decisions even when she isn’t in the meeting. While leading this project has now become an incredible pain, as everyday you face a volley of questions and dubious team members, this is your BABY, and you know it has serious potential to be something big once you get it to market, so what are you to do?

At this point, I’m sure any reader with an “alpha” mentality is thinking to themselves: “Well, why would you even put up that? Just drop her and hire someone else.”

While I can see that logic, it’s a short-sighted response, and it doesn’t cover all the bases.

What about a situation where you don’t have any other options, because her skillset is in the exact niche you need and it would be hard to find an adequate replacement? What about the blowback from the rest of your team if they see that you fired someone for speaking out? If they have truly vital insights that may save you from going the wrong direction, they may feel that they now need to keep their mouth shut while you plow your way to failure. How do you know that the others would stop questioning you after you fired her? If they are already questioning you on their own now, they already have strong enough doubts in you that her presence is no longer necessary to stoke the fire.

If this designer and her need to question you at every turn is the thing that is holding you back from getting taken more seriously by the group, then there is a much easier way to go about it.

Don’t ask: Why does Anna think she knows everything better than I do?

You need to remove the focus from yourself.

Ask this instead: What does Anna have to gain by attacking me?

When you look at it this way, you can see that Anna’s motivation to question you does not stem from the actual doubt of your decision making ability, but rather from the attention she gets from the others in the group when she does. In fact, when you look a little closer, you may realize that if Anna isn’t questioning your actions, the others on your team don’t give her opinions on anything much consideration.

As a web designer, Anna is often at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to business ventures. But she is an entrepreneur too. She wants to do big things. She wants her voice to heard, and her thoughts to have weight. Questioning you is just the easiest way to be heard.

So how do you make her stop? You give her the voice and consideration that she wants. When there is a meeting about the status of the project, and the team is deciding on next steps and priorities, ask her for her opinion and make sure people listen to it. Ask her to share her thoughts on the different parts of the business in a 1-on-1 setting, and give her thoughts ample consideration before deciding whether they hold merit. Comment on her good work in front of the group and make sure she knows how much you value her input to team, and how vital she is to the project’s success.

Show her that you hear her.

Yes, if you believe that web designers DO belong at the bottom of the food chain, this is going to be hard to do. It’s going to be especially hard when she has directly attacked your authority (and ego) in front of the team time and time again. And yes, when you first start to do it, Anna will likely think you are being condescending and simply try to attack your ideas and authority even harder.

However, once she sees that you are able to give her what she wants, she won’t feel the need to question you anymore. In fact, since you are one of the only people in the group who are giving her the attention and respect she wants, she may even start to DEFEND you when other people try to jump on your case.

If you aren’t getting the respect you feel you deserve in a group, figure out what people want, and find a way to give it to them. When you do, they will see that you make a much better ally than you do an adversary, and will look to you to help them achieve their group goals, elevating you to a level of more respect and leadership in the process.

When it comes down to it, it’s street-level knowledge: you have to help others to help yourself.

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