Who is the best competitive swimmer in the world right now? Michael Phelps. You knew the answer, I’m sure. You might not even follow the Olympics, or any sport, but you still know who Michael Phelps is. We remember him and his record-breaking eight gold medals (and maybe we remember him for another, slightly less impressive reason).
But what about the swimmers who only won one gold medal? Or a silver? Or all the swimmers who qualified for the Olympics—something most people on the planet could never do. They’re all better at swimming than the rest of us, but we don’t know who they are. If the goal is to be remembered, to get noticed, to gain the world’s attention, better is not better. Different is better.
What if one of the Olympic swimmers did a cannonball into the pool instead of diving? He’d probably lose, but he would get noticed. And we’d remember him, too—likely forever, as he would be immortalized in every “memorable moments in Olympic history” video montage until the end of time.
All these incredible swimmers practice day after day, year after year, trying to become better. Countless hours are spent simply perfecting the dive into the pool or trying to shave off just 0.01 seconds. Yet with no practice at all, any swimmer could get into the annals of swimming history by cannonballing into the pool, or better yet, doing the classic third grade can-opener jump.
The truth is, it is hard to be better. Even if you are a little faster, a little more polished, a little more professional, you’re clearly better, but it will likely go unnoticed. It’s the extremes that get noticed. To be way better takes tremendous effort and expenditures that you may not be ready to take on.
But there is another, much easier way. Instead of being way better, try just being different. If your industry is stuffy, be the casual guy. If your industry is casual, be the unwavering professional. The goal is to stand out from the status quo. If you want to be memorable, different beats better, by a long shot.
There are millions of ways to be different. It’s really not that difficult to come up with ideas that are as easy to do as a cannonball. The key is to make sure whatever you do is authentic to you, and that you back it up with the goods. And since you’ve been trying to be better anyway, I suspect you’re up to that challenge.