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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

Mantras to help you cope with COVID-19 anxieties

(EDITORIAL) COVID-19 has cause a lot of wierd changes to everyday life, and with unexpected changes can come serious anxiety. Here’s a couple ways to deal with it.

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COVID-19 anxiety

COVID-19 is stressful. Yeah, okay, that’s stating (and probably understating) the obvious, but it’s worth talking about the anxiety that this new normal has brought with it. Whether you have anxiety disorder or you’re just generally anxious because of all the sudden changes that COVID-19 has brought with it, it’s worth talking about ways you can cope, beyond the usual advice of “exercise, eat healthy, get sleep.”

I mean, yes. Try to do that too. But we’ve got some mental techniques that might help. Mantras, if you will, that could be helpful when coping with the stress of this situation seems to be too tough.

“I made it through something before.”

It can be really easy to get swept up in the powerless feeling that comes along with something this big and out of our control. As an individual, you might not be able to turn the tides of the virus or the affects it’s having on daily life, but you do have control over yourself. And human beings are tough. Even if we don’t feel like it.

One way to remind yourself of this power is to remember a time you overcame another obstacle. Whether it’s something big, like unemployment or the death of a loved one, or a smaller challenge, like getting a bad grade or losing something you treasured, visualize not just the problem, but how you got through it. Remember the strength and patience you had in overcoming the challenge.

Then take another deep breath and let yourself feel comforted by the knowledge that you’ve done hard things before. You can do them again.

“I couldn’t have planned for this.”

If you’re like me, it can be easy to get stressed out about unplanned occurrences. I prefer to plan in advance for things – especially big changes – and as someone who moved to a brand new city right before this pandemic blew up, well, all my plans went out the window. Sure, you might not be trying to make it in an entirely new environment during this upheaval, but chances are, some of your plans have gotten waylaid as well.

Which is why it’s important to remind yourself that you couldn’t really have planned for this. Think about it, a year ago, would this ever have entered into your five year plan? Absolutely not! You planned for a pandemic-free future, which was perfectly reasonable. If your anxiety is stemming from the feeling that you “could have, should have” done something differently, take a deep breath and remind yourself it’s not your fault.

Then take another deep breath, and let yourself feel comforted by the knowledge that something of this scale changing your plans does not reflect your skill or value as an individual.

“This, too, will pass.”

It can be really hard to visualize this thing being over. I mean, have you heard the joke that March seemed to last a whole year? In all seriousness, though, with so much changing so quickly and no definite answer of when shut-downs will end, it can feel overwhelming, but as cliche as it might sound, this trouble will end too. So it’s worth taking a deep breath in the face of this uncertainty to remember that it will be over one day.

Then take another deep breath and let yourself feel comforted by the knowledge that while it’s challenging now, in the moment, it won’t always be this way.

Anxiety often leaves us trapped in our uncertainty and fear. If these phrases don’t work to ease your worry, it’s worth keeping an eye out for something that will. Because we can all benefit from taking a moment to take some deep breaths and remind ourselves that even though it’s a scary time right now, we’re going to make it through.

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Opinion Editorials

How Gen X is nailing the COVID-19 social distancing order

(EDITORIAL) Of course, someone found a way to bring up generational stereotyping during COVID-19 and claim who is best, but are they onto something?

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Demographics and categorizing people helps us to process groups. A huge part of demographics and how we market ourselves in a job search, for example, is sharing our level of experiences and skill sets related to our profession – thus alluding to our age. Millennials (b. 1981-1996) received a lot of generational shame for being elitist and growing up in a time where they all received participation trophies – therefore being judged for not always winning a fair competition.

Gen X (roughly b. 1961-1981) has often commented that they feel like the forgotten generation which so much attention being play to the Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) who seemed to be born in to a great time of prosperity for “The American Dream” and then the Millennials who overtook Gen X and some of their jobs while they weren’t enough Gen Xers to fill them.

In this article “It Took a Global Pandemic, But Generation X is Finally Getting Love”, it is discussed how great Gen X is at this social distancing thing and maybe this will be helpful to anyone who feels like they are losing their mind. This is by no means an intent to shame any generation nor claim no one else knows how to handle it but this article does a great job about why Gen X might be primed to be handling the global pandemic well with the times they were raised in.

Right now, it’s a waiting game for many people who’s professions and lives have changed in what seemed like overnight. The patience required. The uncertainty of it all. The global pandemic forced (without any forgiveness), a swift move to new ways of life. The busy-ness of our days came to a crashing halt when we were no longer allowed to be out and about in places with large groups and possibly sent home to work remotely.

Many non-essential businesses were forced to close which meant people could not only not work at the office, but also had to cease their extra-curricular activities like working out at the gym, shopping, eating brunch with friends or taking their kids to their sporting events, a playground and/or coordinating a play date or sleepover. The directive from our local and federal government was for “social distancing” before the shelter in place orders came.

Gen X may agree that there were some pretty great things about their childhood – the types of things you do with your time because you don’t have a smartphone or tablet addiction and the fact that there was no way for your work to get a hold of you 24/7. Gen X did have TV and video games and sure, Mom and Dad didn’t really want you spending all of your time behind a screen but it also seemed that there wasn’t as much of a guilt trip if you did spend some of your “summer vacation” from school playing Nintendo or Sega with your neighborhood friends.

It seems like the article alludes to the idea that COVID might be helping people to get back to some of those basics before smartphones became as important to us as one of our limbs.

Gen X has had no problem adapting to technology and in their careers, they have had to adapt to many new ways of doing things (remember when caller ID came out and it was no longer a surprise who was calling?! Whaaaat?! And you can’t prank call anyone any more with your teenage friends at a sleepover! Gasp! You also wouldn’t dare TP an ex-boyfriend’s house right now).

Regardless of the need to learn new hard skills and technologies, everyone has been forced to adjust their soft skills like how technology and still being a human can play well together (since it is really nice to be able to FaceTime with loved ones far away). It seems those slightly unquantifiable adaptable and flexible skills are even more required now. It also seems that as you grow in your career, Emotional Intelligence might be your best skill in these uncertain times.

And not that we are recommending eating like crap or too many unhealthy items, Gen X has been known to be content surviving on Pop Tarts, Spaghetti O’s, Ding-dongs and macaroni and cheese which are all pretty shelf stable items right now. Whatever way is possible for you, it might be a good time to find the balance again in work, technology, home, rest, relaxation and education if at all possible.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms. 
 
Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.
 
The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.
 
And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.
 
We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.
 
That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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