It all begins with a purple cow. At least it did for marketer Seth Godin, when he started thinking about what it takes for individuals, along with their brands and products, to be ‘remarkable’.
His argument is that being remarkable is vital in a world in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to be heard – in which we’re drowning in noise, information and messages.
His cow analogy is as follows: due to the fact that we are all accustomed to seeing them, cows are largely unremarkable. One cow does not stand out from the rest and in fact, the majority of people would regard cows as being boring; nothing much to talk about. However, if you were to see a purple cow – now that would be interesting. It would be remarkable.
Godin originally explained this idea in a TED talk in 1993. His point was that for people to pay attention you need to surprise them. Of course, since 1993, there have been a huge number of changes to the world we live in. But his message has never been truer and although Godin applied this idea to marketing, it can be applied much further, not least to people and businesses.
So what does it take to be remarkable? Remarkable people are passionate, original, daring and refuse to follow the crowd. They push boundaries and lead passionate teams.
For anyone working with an entrepreneur, these traits will sound very familiar.
In fact, I would say that most successful business leaders I have met, through The Supper Club and its wider network, owe their success, at some stage, to being remarkable.
Take John Stapleton, a Supper Club member and co-founder of The New Covent Garden Soup Co. His first business was remarkable, and hugely successful, because no-one had ever put fresh soup in the chilled section of the supermarket in a carton. It was simple, but it surprised people – it was remarkable.
To take a different example consider the success of Arianna Huffington, who is remarkable because she has disrupted the publishing industry, created a Pulitzer-prize winning news outlet and global business – again her original idea, to provide open, liberal news commentary on the web was not just simple, but it was remarkable.
Of course, what was once remarkable becomes the standard very quickly.
Of course, what was once remarkable becomes the standard very quickly. There was once a time that simply being a woman in business was remarkable, now, thankfully, a woman like Huffington is remarkable because of what she has created, not her gender.
This also means that as fashions change, people get bored and so a constant hunger to find the new and interesting is a fundamental requirement to succeed. This is another trait that seems to come naturally to entrepreneurs who are, first and foremost, innovators.
James Dyson, one of the UK’s most impressive inventors invests huge amounts of money into research and development. His ceaseless ambition to push boundaries, to solve problems and create new products means his business is consistently remarkable.
Yet the reality is, as our world has become more fast-paced, innovation is looming around every corner. Barriers to entry in the business world have been demolished thanks to technology and now everyone has a chance to live out their remarkable idea. So it is becoming more and more difficult to stand out.
Take Nick D’Aliosio [right] , the creator of Summly, which was bought by Yahoo for $30m. He created a very useful and popular app that aggregated news in bite-size portions.
At one time, that would have been remarkable, now it is simply clever. He then sold it for a large sum of money, which is impressive but again, no longer surprising. However, the fact he did so before the age of 17 was undoubtedly remarkable.
So our attention is not only spread thinner, but our awareness of remarkable business people has expanded and so our judgement of what is remarkable has also evolved. Now, we are all expected to be remarkable – as individuals and in business. As Seth Godin would say, “Worth noticing. Exceptional. Interesting.”
That is a lot of pressure for people on the sidelines. But consider this – that being remarkable doesn’t need to mean disrupting a market or, ‘changing the world’. Someone recently told me a story in which, after a client dinner, he went out of his way to drive the client home even though it was 40 minutes out of his way. The client thought this was remarkable and has remembered this in all his dealings with my friend.
Being remarkable can simply mean doing the thing that 99 per cent of other people wouldn’t do. This seems to come naturally to entrepreneurs but it is also much more achievable for everyone else. It might be approaching a job application in a different way, or suggesting a new way of running a meeting.
These situations may not sound remarkable but the more mundane something is, the bigger the opportunity you have to turn it into something surprising – your very own purple cow.