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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

The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements

(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?

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Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.

If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.

I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.

Why do we fail?

I think we fail because of three things.

You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.

Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.

Do your goals lead to happiness?

Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.

What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.

Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?

If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.

When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.

When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.

I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.

Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?

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Opinion Editorials

What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.

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Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.

Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.

It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.

I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

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

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

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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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