April 18, 2021
Differentiation is Survival and the Universe Wants You to be Typical

We’re all familiar with the concept of value creation. Not sure how many of us think about it primarily in the context of our careers or how we show up as Leaders. How do we determine whether we’re actually creating more than we consume?

"Differentiation is Survival and the Universe Wants You to be Typical"

Borrowing these quotes from Jeff Bezos final letter to shareholders, here. As Leaders and lifelong learners, it’s worth reflecting on some of the themes outlined here, starting with this title quote. Does differentiation often equate with survival? Are there instances where it’s advantageous, even profitable to be typical?  Think about what makes you distinct. What’s your unique selling proposition to an organization? As Business Leaders, we often think about how we can distinguish ourselves on the job and help our teams excel at delivering value to our customers, stakeholders, partners.

“In what ways does the world pull at you in an attempt to make you normal? How much work does it take to maintain your distinctiveness? To keep alive the thing or things that make you special?”

As we reflect on these questions we start to realize the truths in these statements. The world does pull at us to conform to certain norms. As leaders we often seek some level of normalcy in our organizations and predictability in how our employees behave. It’s easier to lead or manage individuals who behave in a typical/normal fashion. Much harder to lead an organization which is constantly changing/evolving, or individuals who behave in a different or distinctive fashion. As I reflect on what makes leaders distinct, I’m reminded of certain key traits – Self Awareness, Effective Communication, Humility, Integrity, Respect for others, Learning Agility, Empathy & Influence. This is by no means an exhaustive list of great leadership attributes.

Probably the most important trait for these questions is self-awareness. The ability to identify our unique strengths or superpowers, shortcomings and blind spots, is key to distinguishing ourselves as leaders. However, maintaining that distinction “keeping alive the things which make you special” – requires conscious, purposeful effort, every day.

“We all know that distinctiveness is valuable. We are all taught to “be yourself.” What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical – in a thousand ways, it pulls at you. Don’t let it happen.”

I think most leaders would agree that distinctiveness or originality is often valuable, in part because it’s rare. I often ask colleagues and clients to consistently “bring the best version of yourself” to the challenges and opportunities we face, everyday. This quote reminds me that doing so is challenging and can be uncomfortable. It requires conscious intent – much easier to slack off once in a while or allow mediocrity to slip in.  I italicize the word embrace as it reminds me of something Blake Griffin heard from his College Coach “You have to fall in love with the Process of becoming Great”. (video clip below).

As leaders, we should value distinctiveness and originality in our teams & organizations. We must also acknowledge that maintaining that distinctiveness does take energy & intent, to establish and maintain.


“Create More Than You Consume. If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. Any business that doesn’t create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn’t long for this world. It’s on the way out.”

I’ve been fortunate to spend time in academia, teaching a Marketing Strategy class. One of the concepts we focus on is the Marketing Process. It’s objective is to create value for customers and build customer relationships. In so doing, we capture value from customers in return. I’ll slightly modify the quote with another…. “Create more than you Capture”.

We’re all familiar with the concept of value creation. Not sure how many of us think about it primarily in the context of our own lives, our careers or how we show up as leaders. We all want to be acknowledged and well compensated for the value we create, everyday – salaries, stock options, bonuses, promotions, awards, gifts – so many ways to capture value. How do we as individuals determine whether we’re actually creating more than we consume? Every person’s situation is a little unique and there’s probably some level of subjectivity in how much unique value one person creates. For me, the important point here is the mindset with which we approach our goals, interactions, and engagements with others.

Closing this post, I'm reflecting again on its title. Clearly, differentiation can result in distinctiveness and originality, and that creates value. A key to establishing that distinct value is awareness. To maintain it, we must embrace and nurture our differentiation. Often that’s our key source of unique value creation over the course of our careers.

Letter to Amazon Shareholders: 2020 Letter to Shareholders (aboutamazon.com)

Rotimi Olumide

Thought leader, speaker, multifaceted business leader with a successful track record that combines consumer & product marketing, strategic business planning, creative design and product management experience.

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