Evolution occurs when a mutation benefits the organism, propagates to the next generation and ultimately alters the species. Likewise, civilization advances when unique individuals that think and act differently shatter the status quo and change how we do things.
The mechanism is the same. That’s how we evolve. That’s how our society evolves. It’s also how business evolves. Just as mutations alter our DNA and powerful leaders change our culture, exceptional individuals come up with breakthrough ideas that dramatically alter the competitive landscape.
Looking back, we can certainly identify true entrepreneurs and innovators that killed the competition, disrupted markets, and changed the way we live. But when their great work was still just work-in-progress, these remarkable individuals were more or less indistinguishable from you and me, except for two things.
First, they tend to be extremely passionate about their work. Whatever problem they’re driven to solve, they tend to latch on like a pit bull and they won’t let go until the work is done. Never mind the odds, the risks, or the hurdles that stand in their way.
Second, they think and act differently. They have no interest in how things are done, except to question why it has to be that way. They don’t follow the crowd; they carve their own path. And they pay no attention to common dogma. They could care less what anyone else thinks or does.
That’s what sets real entrepreneurs and innovators apart.
Nowadays everyone talks and tweets about entrepreneurship and changing the world. The irony is that few actually do it, and for two simple reasons: they’re not that driven and they don’t think or act differently.
More than ever before, the mass of men and women behave as a collective marching to the deafening drumbeat of popular culture. And instead of being driven to fulfill their potential – they’re own unique destiny – they follow the crowd like mindless drones.
That would all be well and good, except our entire culture is being indoctrinated into this collective groupthink. When you look at some of the most popular concepts, sound-bites, and activities of the day, it’s hard to believe we haven’t all been taken over by aliens and become pod people:
The wisdom of crowds. Wisdom doesn’t come from crowds or collectives. Neither do breakthrough ideas, inventions and innovations. They come from exceptional individuals and small teams run by exceptional individuals. The only thing that comes from crowds is herd behavior and mob mentality.
Web 2.0: Social media and user-generated content. Granted, some sites do serve a purpose, but the amount of time people are wasting chasing the same and limited number of eyeballs, page views, followers, and ad dollars while deluding themselves into believing it’s in some way beneficial is ludicrous.
Me 2.0: Personal branding. Instead of going out and getting a job, learning how business works, and gaining experience in the real world, a growing segment of the population thinks they can make a living just sitting home in their pajamas, building their personal brand, blogging, tweeting and networking.
Leadership fluff. When did leadership become a thing? You’ve got to wonder how millions of people can think that reading terabytes of mindless motivational inspirational feel-good fluff that’s flooding the Internet will magically transform them into the next Richard Branson or Elon Musk. It won’t.
The personal productivity and self-improvement obsession. The notion that learning the personal habits, qualities, and behaviors of rich people will somehow make people more successful is nonsense. Learning marketable skills, gaining experience, taking risks, and working hard makes people successful. Not finding out the 10 things billionaires do before breakfast. And there’s no such thing as a four-hour workweek. Period.
Don’t even get me started on our collective obsessions with gadgets, apps, games, fad foods, miracle diets, reality TV, dopey socialites, messaging, happiness, coupons, fashion, fantasy sports, and of course, World Cup soccer. No wonder everyone’s so desperate to find ways to manage their time. There’s not enough time in the day for all this garbage.
Look, I don’t know how to say this any differently, so I’m just going to give it to you straight: If you want to have a successful and fulfilling career, then find out what you’re really good at or what you love doing – hopefully something marketable – and strive to do it better than anyone else. That’s all there is to it.
Also, if everyone is doing it, don’t. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don’t follow the crowd; I’m telling you, there’s no wisdom there. Instead, learn to think differently. Question the status quo. Be your own person. Carve your own path. And instead of reading, blogging and tweeting, try doing. That’s what actually works.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, former senior executive, columnist and author of the upcoming book, “Real Leaders Don’t Follow." Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting where he advises executives and business leaders on strategic matters. Contact Tobak.