What Makes Your Approach Different, and Who Cares Anyway?


What makes your approach different from anyone else’s?

This question, which I came across in a recent interview with designer Arik Levy, stood out as possibly one of the most telling things we web workers can ask ourselves.

In our online work, many of us experience dwindling face-to-face contact with our colleagues and have to persuade and inspire co-workers, employers and clients we’ve never laid eyes on, let alone actually met.

If we put all the rhetoric of elevator pitches, unique selling propositions, authenticity, standing out from the crowd, personal branding, and getting feet in doors together, mix it up and boil it down, this is what it comes to: What makes your approach different from anyone else’s?

What’s Your Answer?

My initial reaction, when I asked myself the question, was to scoff. Why would my approach be so different from anyone else’s? It seemed presumptuous to think that, less than fifteen years into my “career”, I’d have developed a unique approach to what I do.

But this question isn’t about ego, it’s about experience. Look at Levy’s answer:

“I designed stages for 15 years … In the theater, people can be born or disappear. They can be in a fire or a storm. But we accept this is all happening in the same space. The theater is a location where you free the viewer from the world, where they accept what’s coming. I try to create theater in the same way, in objects. If I design something that looks like a cat, you can imagine it walking even though it can’t walk. If I can create something that taps your memories of other things, it can be something more than itself.”

The thing that makes your approach different from anyone else’s is your unique interpretation of your work and personal history, and your colleagues, challenges, and education. It’s your unique perception that precipitates possibilities for you that others can’t see.

What Does it Mean?

The way Levy answers this question is much more than an elevator pitch, a statement of brand, a USP, a philosophy, a mission statement, or a modus operandi. It’s all these things, as well as an insight into this person’s purpose.

His answer ties together his history, his personal interpretation of that past, and the product of that interpretive process. To be able to put words around something so personal, so integral that it’s subconscious for most of us, can be extremely helpful.

It can give us guidelines for perceiving opportunities within our working lives — a solid sense of what will work for us, and what we can make work, and why.

It can also help us communicate ourselves, and our ideas, more clearly to others. For those of us communicating ideas using email, blogs, instant message, status updates, multi-party chat, and web or phone conferences, having an objective understanding of the way we operate — of what makes our approach different — can be useful in solving issues of understanding, building rapport and camaraderie, and working closely from a distance.

Finally, having this professional/personal self-knowledge can encourage us to put ourselves aside as we work with others. Instead of spending time trying to work out why something a colleague or client does unnerves us or makes life difficult, instead we can focus on the colleague or client, using our instincts and self-knowledge to devise solutions that work for them as well as ourselves. “Understanding my needs” is, after all, the thing most of us think we want from the professionals we work with, whether they’re contractors, freelancers, or permanent team members.

So, what makes your approach different from anyone else’s?

Image by stock.xchng user geoX.

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Kayla Mallery

I have been trying to figure out what made me unique as a designer for a while now and this piece really helped me pinpoint my own reasons. The pitch line, does not work. Knowing these things is what makes us as a ‘brand’ stand out and standing out is what will make us the choice over someone else. If we cannot answer questions like these then how can we create our brand and sell that brand? These are the kind of questions we should ask when we are creating our image. Thanks for the incite I was missing!

Bill Oates

As a designer for more than thirty years, my work was feeling stale, and my heart was in it less and less. I started designing products. One megahit* distracted me from what I do, and I’ve spent the last few years trying to repeat it. Each of these product concept failures has a story, so early this year I started a video-blog about them, and about other creatives’ imaginations, passions, sidelines, called Wild Dream Book (http://wilddreambook.com/).

What different about me? I guess it’s the honesty to offer up my lemons, hoping for lemonade. Creating the stories also might be the most fun I’ve had in years- sure needed that, whether this approach has value… or not.

*The Scoreboard, a digital clock with date, time and temperature, sold in every NFL, NCAA, and MLB configuration. Was the the best-selling NFL-licensed product ever as of 2007.

dave clarke

good stuff, georgina. i sort of try to hook two elements to my approach. 1. be a normal human being. web communications, while awesome, also create barriers and filters. if you break those and can be viewed as a normal human being, you’ll go far. 2. make people feel both smart and happy and they’ll go to greater lengths to help you.

Jeff Yablon

Wow. SHOULD HAVE been brilliant, inspiring, and useful. Fell short on all three points.

Here’s why: the supposition is that we NEED to be different and it needs to matter, or we can’t sell in the business environment that exists today. And yes, your experiences make you who you are and that’s what matters; it’s what MAKES you different.

And: we’re still constrained by the need to operate in elevator-pitch mode . . . in fact, more so than ever.

In other words, now you have to make people see how different (read: brilliant) you are, and you have no time to do it!

So the issue is . . . under those constraints, knowing that both you and your prospect need to know why you’re different and not having the time to prove it you . . .

Find a new way to communicate. Or let someone who understands those issues teach it to you. (Yes, that was a pitch).

Jeff Yablon
President & CEO
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Vincent Leleux

Brilliant and very inspiring. we all have a unique approach to everything as we are unique. Let’s be proud of that.

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