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?
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise