Recently I was surprised to see Diane von Furstenberg on television. The woman who made fashion history in the early 1970s is still at it.
Diane once said that her mother told her, “Everyone does the many of the same things. We eat, sleep, dress, furnish our homes. The difference is the way in which we do these things.”
Apparently it was a message her daughter never forgot. Neither have I. Nevertheless, many people seem to think they can only enter the entrepreneurial world if they come up with a new invention or novel idea that no one has ever had before.
The truth is that even ideas that seem most innovative are often just a modern twist on an old idea. Humans have been communicating with one another for centuries, for example, but along the way we figured out how to do it faster and across greater distances. Texting and e-mailing have replaced the jungle drums.
People who stand out are frequently those who have committed themselves to finding a better way of doing things. Bill Strickland and Rafe Esquith didn’t invent education, but each of them took on the daunting task of teaching students from rough neighborhoods with the belief that, “We can do this in a better way.”
Then one day it hit me. Nobody else has had my life…
As a result, those fortunate enough to have been influenced by these two men have gone on to create extraordinary lives for themselves. (You can read their remarkable stories in Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire and Strickland’s Make the Impossible Possible.)
Then there’s Sir Richard Branson, the brilliant founder of Virgin Everything. His empire has been created by a passion for taking existing institutions and making them better.
Virgin didn’t invent the music, airline or banking industries; they just did things in their own way.
So what does it take to do things your way?
Start by shifting your point of view ever so slightly and incorporate the following into your thinking and behaving.
Value your personal experience.
When I was first toying with the idea of becoming a professional speaker, I nearly stopped myself before I ever got started. What do I have to say that isn’t already being said?
Then one day it hit me. Nobody else has had my life, I realized, and I suddenly saw that what had seemed to me to be a crooked path had actually been leading me to something quite grand. Every twist and turn was necessary.
Nobody else has had your exact life, either. What can you make of that?
Be passionate about finding a better way.
Look at what’s being done and keep asking yourself what’s missing.
When Rafe Esquith realized that most classrooms are run on fear, he was determined that his would replace that with trust. From the first day of school to the last, Esquith works to make certain that his classroom is dominated by trust.
Despite the fact that we’re all born curious, it’s amazingly easy to
dampen it. Assume a position of unbending certainty, hold on to that position for dear life, refuse to be influenced by other points of view and your curiosity will go into hiding.
When curiosity is starved we become blasé which then turns into arrogance. Curiosity, on the other hand, keeps us stretching, exploring and discovering.
Never stop experimenting.
If you grew up in an environment where it wasn’t safe to make mistakes, you may be operating from a position of timidity. That’s not going to work anymore.
Be bold. Fail fast. Try things out. Assess. Tweak. Always be engaged in making things better—even when they’re already terrific.
Experiments are far more interesting than predictable outcomes. Even when an experiment disappoints, it can offer clues that lead to finding a better way.
Flaunt your differences. You don’t have to publicly criticize your competition: simply demonstrate a different way of doing things.
Richard Branson said, “We made a virtue of our airline’s small size and modest start. Virgin Atlantic’s size was an asset. We were nimble and could innovate quickly.”
Ask better questions.
The quality of the question determines the quality of the answer. I didn’t realize this until I read The One Minute Millionaire which points out, “As you ask yourself and others better questions, your results will vastly improve.”
One of the best questions to repeatedly ask, even about the most ordinary things, is, “How can I make this better?” Sometimes, of course, the answer may be, “Accept things as they are,” but more often than not, new ideas, new answers, will pop up. Then it’s up to you to act, to do it your way.
Barbara J. Winter’s idea of doing it her way was to look for alternatives to working for someone else. Not only has she been making a living without a job for decades, she’s helped thousands of others do the same.