I’ve always been a fan of those colorful “business culture” turns of phrase you hear so often in conference halls and agency pitches. You know, the ones that seek to reduce complex social, fiscal and strategic concepts to snappy, often vulgar vagaries.
As designers become entrepreneurs become businessmen, they’re more likely hear and use these handy devices with some regularity. Even so, I get the feeling that their heyday may have ended before mine began. A turn of phrase so descriptive and vaguely sexual as “opening the kimono” seems to have a long tail. Ooh, there’s another one!
As yet another tiny part of my plan to leave an indelible and vaguely offensively shaped mark on the world, I have decide to author my own business culture metaphor. I fully expect it to be uttered with at least the frequency and double the shit-eating-grinniness of such luminaries as “one throat to choke”, or “paving the goat path”.
I give you: “Putting on the fedora.”
But let me explain. This idea was inspired in equal parts by my work in technology product design and my life in and around Los Angeles (where fedoras have had a second heyday of their own as of late). The idea is based on two givens:
1) Justin Timberlake inarguably rocks the fedora. I don’t like it any more than you do, but he does. (Further: No one else does). (Even furthermore: An appreciation for the Timberlake/fedora combo is not an admission of any particular sexual proclivity).
2) You probably wouldn’t want to be stood side-by-side with JT and have a jury of your peers compare the two of you.
If we accept the above as being relatively accurate, we can then safely extrapolate that it’s a good idea to not walk around pretending to be — or be like — Justin Timberlake, lest you suffer the cold, cruel truth of a direct comparison. So don’t put on a fedora, because you will not rock it.
And now to apply this concept to the trade: If you don’t want to be compared directly to Twitter, don’t make status your main game. Similarly, making business networking a significant part of your offering will likely cause comparisons to LinkedIn, which may be daunting to say the least.
This isn’t another article suggesting that you find a niche. Everyone knows that a blue ocean is the best place to find something new and exciting. This article is about not riding someone else’s niche — unless you’re truly prepared to compete.
I think what I may be suggesting is this: do it backwards. Have a steady footing based on more typical functionality before developing/promoting a niche sub-feature in a highly competitive area. You may lose your chance to make an initial impression as a trail-blazer, but you also reduce the risk of that initial impression falling short of “trail-blazer” and landing squarely on “me-too”. Maybe.