September 7, 2010

Like Apple, Smash '1984' Conformity With Your Free Hammer

In George Orwell's 1984, conformity was prized and enforced. Blending into your environment is a great survival skill for animals. Organizations encourage us to camouflage ourselves too.

Now conformity limits our success. Do you recall this classic 1984-themed commercial from Apple in 1984?

Your Hammer

You've got a powerful antidote to conformity: your personality. It's free.

Your personality sets you apart, which makes you memorable and repels some. You want to polarize your market. It took me a while to realize this after I started helping advisors in the field. I thought I had to be liked by all. That's why I tried playing golf and keeping current with news, sports and entertainment. This was a chore because I wasn't me. I gave up golf and switched to a low noise life. That allowed focus, a key to success.

Seek popular appeal and you're a slave to a fickle master. You soon realize you can't be everything to everyone. You can't force interpersonal chemistry. Even if you sell salt, buyers range from the price-conscious "salt is salt" group to the gourmets who seek exotic, flavoured salt in pricey small bottles. How can you satisfy them all? Why even try?


A "Normal" person is the sort of person that might be designed by a committee. You know, "Each person puts in a pretty color and it comes out gray."  — Alan Sherman
Blandness is horrible outcome these days. You make yourself homogeneous and interchangeable if you move away from the sharp edges of a continuum. That's dangerous, not safe. Potential clients have more trouble telling you apart from your competitors and referring you to others. Who seeks out a commodity or pays a premium for one?


You exude your personality in all you are and all you do. Does what you convey maximize your revenue?

You'll probably get some business irrespective of what you do. For instance, if you're the only ice cream concession at the beach on a scorching day. What if your clients could buy direct or from your competitors? Would you still be sought out? That's a better measure of your appeal.


As in 1984, organizations prefer employees who are easily replaceable, faceless cogs like the IBM workers in Apple's commercial. Organizations have rules and electronic tools to monitor compliance.

You make yourself faceless when you downplay your personality. Here are some simple ways to stand out
  • your tagline: allowed anywhere verbally but perhaps discouraged in writing (e.g., I was sometimes introduced as "an actuary with a personality" or "an advisor's advisor")
  • your photo: need not look generic (a professional photographer helps)
  • your commercial or "elevator speech": if containing memorable, nongeneric elements
  • your voicemail greeting: especially if changed regularly
  • your signoff in presentations and phone calls
  • your email signature: perhaps a changing PS or quote or link
  • the way you talk, sound and what you say
  • how you write, especially when sending short informal messages from your smartphone
Like a muscle, the positive power of your personality decays from neglect. Rebuilding takes more work than maintaining.


Apple has a strong personality which some like and others dislike. Either way, you're polarized. If you're a fan, are you as price sensitive? Are you more likely to buy more products and services from Apple? Are you more likely to recommend Apple?

In 1984, the Apple commercial targeted IBM. Which company had more personality? IBM faded and announced their exit from the PC landscape in 2004. In the 20th anniversary version shown above (did you spot the addition of the iPod?), Apple targeted Microsoft. Which company has more personality? Today the target might be Google.

Personality prevailed in 1984, 2004 and now. Why not use yours more?


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