How to be a Monument of Non-Conformity

I’m aware of the irony of publishing a list of instructions on how not to conform.

And I confess to the glaring paradox of a non-conformist like myself publishing a blog post that teaches people how to conform to a standard of non-conformity.

BUT TWAIN WAS RIGHT: Don’t assume you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.

AS WAS EINSTEIN: Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities.

AND SO WAS EMERSON: A man must consider what a rich realm he abdicates when he becomes a conformist.

Here’s how to be a monument to non-conformity:

1. Discover what drummed the magic out of you. Indoctrination starts early. Very early. Usually long before you’re old enough to realize there’s a shiny watch swinging above your head. The trick is to travel back in time and pinpoint the person, institution or dogma that first hypnotized you.

Then, to honestly admit how that conditioning affected your choices as you grew up. My friend Richard, a therapist and life coach, asks his clients: “Name the first person that told you that who you were wasn’t okay.” Oof. Not a smooth path to walk down. Crappy self-confrontation.

Still, this kind of exercise yields tremendous insight into your (subconscious) conformist beginnings. And without such reflection, you run the risk of compromising your truth. “Becoming vacant in the eyes as you conform,” as Chris Whitley sang in Din of Ecstasy. Are you willing to look in the mirror and ask yourself when you stopped thinking for yourself?

2. Avoid fitting in. “What could I do – in this moment – that would be the exact opposite of everyone else?” This is the guiding question of my decision-making process. Has been since I was a kid. But now that I’m thirty, I don’t even think about it anymore. It just happens.

The question is forever engraved upon my bones like a cosmic serial number. And that’s my argument: Simply standing out is only half the equation. You have to actively avoid fitting in, too. How are you converting yourself into a square peg?

3. Work outside mainstream thinking. Is fitting in such a high virtue? No way. Don’t refuse to become anything other than what to group tells you to be. Make a conscious choice not to be a ditto. An echo. A copy of a copy.

Ask yourself (and your organization) to complete the following sentence: “The way we challenge the status quo is ____________.”

Then, post your answers on your website. After all, the answers to that question are the building blocks of your monument of non-conformity. Have you publicly refused to occupy the middle?

4. Practice positive deviance. That means believe what you believe because you (actually) believe it – not because somebody told you to believe and you mindlessly followed.

That means free yourself from the constraints of heartless orthodoxy.
That means make yourself the exception to as many rules as possible.
That means approach everything with a healthy dose of curiosity and aggressive skepticism.

However: Don’t deviate just for the sake of deviating. Mindless contrarianism isn’t much better than mindless conformity. I urge you to bleed for what you want, but not for the sole purpose of staining the rug. Do you know when to break the rules?

5. Hack a new path. My friend Genuine Chris wrote a brilliant blog post related to today’s topic. Here’s an excerpt that made my stomach drop:

“The difference makers are the people who are indifferent to what the crowd does or thinks. They create the world and mold it regardless of resistance. They ignore the persistent tether of the mediocre and don’t brag about seventy hour weeks, but brag about how much of their mind, soul and spirit they engaged to solve a problem.”

Lesson learned: Don’t live with the results of other people’s thinking. Push beyond group norm constraints. Are you following an existing path of safety or going where there is no path and leaving a trail of blood?

6. Be unafraid to court controversy. Again, not because you want to make noise – but because you want to keep rein on your individual. To show the world that you refuse to stand mute. And to “throw off the shackles of non-conformity and shout a throaty no to anything non-wow,” as Tom Peters wrote.

My suggestion: Take contrarian positions on more issues. Hell, on all issues. Make yourself a model of courageous living and thinking by constantly asking yourself: What do I risk in presenting this message? Because if the answer is, “not much,” you lose. Your monument to non-conformity crumbles under the weight of gutlessness.

Remember: Going against the grain welcomes splinters. Have your tweezers ready. What risk are you going to have to learn to live with?

7. Big isn’t necessarily beautiful. The bigger you get, the fewer risks you take. There’s just too much pressure to be predictable. That’s why smaller organizations, freelancers and one-man shows – who choose not to conform – win.

They’re not prisoners of their own bigness.And they’re the sole shot-callers. Thank God. After all: Who says monuments have to stand five hundred feet tall? Small is an acceptable destination. As Seth Godin wrote in Small is the New Big:

“Changes in the way that things are made and talked about mean that big is no longer an advantage. Big used to matter – and then small happened. And small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them quickly. As such, small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.”

Remember: If size mattered, dinosaurs would still be alive. How can you be a monumental without being monstrous?

8. Shields up. When you do decide to stand out, prepare yourself for inevitable slings and arrows from the people around you. It comes with the territory of occupying the margins. You’ll find that many of them will become uncomfortable. Or feel threatened by your distinctiveness. They’d much rather you fit in – that way they could ignore you.

Unfortunately, because you’ve sculpted yourself into a monument of non-conformity, people are (now) confronted with just how boring they really are. Good. Maybe that will disturb them into action. Maybe Steven Pressfield was right: “When we see others living their authentic lives, it drives us crazy because we know we’re not living our own.” Are you prepared to be hated?

ULTIMATELY: Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.

That’s what John F. Kennedy said in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 25th, 1961 – and it still holds true today.

I challenge you to contest the conventional.
I challenge you to drum up a delightful disturbance.
I challenge you to make yourself into monument to non-conformity.

Your voice will be heard by the people who matter.

What do you do to go against the grain?

For the list called, “99 Questions Every Entrepreneur Should Ask,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

9 Ways to Turn Your Pipe Dream into a Dream Come True

To execute is to put to death.

THAT’S THE KILLER QUESTION: What do you need to murder in your life that’s preventing you from taking action?

That annoying neighbor whose home cooking smells like hot trash?

Regardless of your situation, everyone can benefit from a few execution lessons.

Here: Your first session is on the house.

1. Finished is the new perfect. Perfect is boring anyway. As Mary Poppins taught us, “Enough is as good as a feast.” That’s your first execution lesson: To declare it done, throw your arms up in the air and say, “The hay is in the barn.”

Kind of like that night senior year when you were cramming for your calculus exam – somewhere around midnight while all your friends were getting smashed at Skipper’s – and you reached the point of diminishing returns. “If I don’t know it now, I’ll never know it,” you said.

So you packed up, walked home and got a good night’s sleep. Then you went to class the next day and made those derivatives your bitch. Way to go.

Remember: You’re the only one waiting for you to get everything right. Eighty percent is enough. Trust your resources. Nobody is going to notice the final twenty anyway. Did you postpone (again!) because you’re sweating something irrelevant?

2. Declare a stern deadline of no more. The hardest part about being an author is cutting. Deleting chapters that are brilliant but unnecessary. After twelve books in eight years, I still feel physical pain in my stomach every time I do it.

But that’s the secret: I wouldn’t even have this many books published at the age of thirty if I trapped myself in the eternal loop of pointless editing like every other author. Instead, I give myself “no more deadlines.” For example, “After the date of June 1, I will not add or subtract anything from this book.”

That’s the only way to get it done. That’s the only way to ship.

And yes, I find one or two typos in every book I write. But, in the words of Larry Winget, bestselling author of more than thirty books, “My crap is better than your nothing.” Are you stalling a product that, by the time it’s perfect and ready, some other chump company will have already finished, sold and shipped their version of it?

3. Exorcise falsehoods. End the barrage of lies. Be honest with yourself about these three questions: Are you making something useful or just making something? Are you creating problems you don’t have yet just to feel in control? Are you wasting your money solving an imaginary problem beautifully?

If so, you may be foreclosing on your own good efforts. Truth is: Execution is priceless; but when you’re miles away from meaningful work, it’s about as valuable as a used MC Hammer album. Does what you’re doing – right now – matter?

4. Establish real-world momentum. In physics class, you learned that momentum (mass times velocity) means moving without deliberate acceleration. In short: Moving, but only by using what you already have. Alex J. Mann, who blogged a series of articles on execution had this to say:

“Momentum doesn’t hit when you first edge off the starting line. But it begins to creep in when you start moving against the wind towards the unknown horizon. This is why momentum is so vital to a solid execution strategy. It proves one thing: that you are capable of getting things done with very little.”

My suggestion is to constantly ask the ultimately movement value question: Now that I have this, what else does this make possible?

5. Ship now, fix later, perfect never and bleed always. That’s the execution process for my creative practice. What’s yours? While you’re thinking about that, let’s turn to Derek Sivers of CD Baby for executional insight:

“Make it. Even if you don’t have the massive programming skill available, make a super lo-fi or no-fi version. Just get started with a couple friends and volunteers. It’s so much more impressive to hear someone say, ‘There’s this thing that I’ve started doing that a lot of people seem to like.’”

What can you do in the first half of the day to demonstrate focus and unstoppable action?

6. Find a way to start small. If it’s gathering dust, it’s bleeding money. Try this: Even if you can’t go the whole hog immediately, execute a small component of your idea early. Use social media platforms as testing ground. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that nobody even notices the minor flaws you’re losing sleep over. And know that the smaller and earlier you do it, the quicker and easier it is to hide your mistakes.

Besides, what’s worse: Hitting bumps in the road that project you forward, or go along sailing smoothly without realizing you’re actually standing still or worse, going backward?

Remember: Screwing up quietly beats sitting around loudly. As I learned in The Cult of Done Manifesto, “Failure counts as done, and so do mistakes.” Just admit it: You’re never really ready. Start small and win big. Will you let action eclipse excuse?

7. You don’t need more ideas. As a writer, public speaker and consultant, this is a huge problem for me. Especially since my idea inventory is slowly approaching 75,000 strong. I know. I’m like a chocoholic, but for creativity. Sometimes I get so entrenched in the joy of collecting and organizing ideas that I forget to do anything with them.

Whoops. Too bad I didn’t learn the secret until a few years ago. It simple: While ideas set the wheel in motion, execution is where the rubber meets the road. Your challenge is to regularly ask the question: When is it time to stop creating and start judging?

8. Action isn’t an afterthought. Engineer action into every idea you have. Otherwise they’re going to remain nouns in a marketplace where customers only buy verbs.

Incidentally, did you know the word “execution” has the same Latin derivative as the word “sequel”? Interesting. Maybe that’s what it means to execute – to make a sequel. After all, each experience contains the value of helping us decide what to do next. How are you entering into each endeavor with an attitude of action?

9. Jealousy is a waste of time. If someone else executes faster than you, it’s not because you’re incompetent or complacent – it’s because they have more resources at their disposal. Relax. Stop projecting. Stop resenting. Instead, focus on what’s standing in the way of accomplishing similar results.

For example: Creating busywork to avoid the important isn’t execution – that’s procrastination. Are you guilt of that? What about this: Remaining dangerously committed to not losing money is the enemy of execution. How are you in that department?

Remember: Be very careful about the expectations you set for yourself. Are you using your abilities constructively, or is your drive and ambition directed to unproductive and purely self-seeking channels?

REMEMBER: Your ability is only as good as its execution.

Ideas aren’t meant to stay ideas.

Don’t leave them that way.

Will your idea stay a pipe dream or become a dream come true?

For the list called, “49 Ways to become an Idea Powerhouse,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

How to Create Something Worth Being Criticized

If you’re not polarizing, you’re not monetizing.

If you’re making people react, you’re not making a difference.

If everybody loves what you’re doing, you’re doing something wrong.

THAT’S YOUR CHALLENGE: Create something worth being criticized.

Otherwise you’re boring.
Just another slice of average cut from the mediocre multitude.

Otherwise you’re ignored.
Just another non-entity in the infinite grey mass of blah blah blah.

Otherwise you’re forgotten.
Just another flash-in-the-pan, all-shtick-no-substance, one-trick-pony.

AND THE TRUTH IS: Criticism isn’t something you draw – it’s something you earn.

If you want to create something worth being criticized, consider these ideas:

1. Change your reactions to criticism. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield suggests that we recognize criticism (especially the envy-driven variety) for what it really is: Supreme compliment.

“The critic hates most what he wishes he would have done himself he had the guts.”

Lesson learned: Next time someone attacks you, smile. Even if you do so internally. Know that you’ve done your job and that it’s probably got nothing to do with you. In fact, consider keeping Criticism Log. Document daily victories of being hated – even in minor moments – as reminders that you haven’t lost your edge. What’s your definition of (and relationship with) criticism?

2. Assess the risk. There is an inverse relationship between your willingness to risk and the likelihood of criticism. For example, one of the questions I ask myself every morning as I sit down to work is, “What do I risk is presenting this material?”

If the answer is “not much” or “nothing,” I either rework it – or don’t publish it at all. It’s simply not daring enough. Too much ink, not enough blood. And whether you’re a writer or not, the challenge is the same: Create a filter for your own work that reinforces the importance of risk. You might ask, “Who will this idea piss off?” or “How much hatemail will this garner?”

Otherwise you’re just wasting your time. Otherwise you’re just winking in the dark. How do you assess the risk of what you release to the world?

3. Disturb people. The word “disturb” comes from the Latin emotere – the same derivative as the word “emotion.” That’s all you’re doing when you’re being a disturbance: Evoking emotion. Interrupting the quiet. Unsettling the peace. Upsetting the mental landscape. Could be positive or negative or neutral. Doesn’t matter.

The point is: You can’t go down in history if you’re not willing to shake things up in the present. Therefore: Learn to be constructively challenging – but without being ignorantly defiant. Learn to be delightfully disturbing – but without being painfully annoying.

After all, grinding the gears just because you love the sound doesn’t help anyone. And doing something just for the sake of being criticized isn’t worth being criticized for. Are your monkey wrenches well intentioned?

4. Wage an ongoing war against mediocrity. People who maintain a constant posture of challenging the process don’t just get noticed – they get nailed to crosses. Which, if you have thick enough skin – and perhaps some snacks to hold you over until the cavalry comes (no pun intended) – isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Take Bill Maher, for example. In the aftermath of 9/11, he refuted president Bush’s message that the terrorists were cowards: “We have been the real cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away,” explained Maher on Political Incorrect, “And staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, isn’t cowardly.”

Not surprisingly, Maher’s comments became a major controversy. Advertisers withdrew their support. Affiliates stopped airing the show temporarily. Even White House press secretary Ari Fleischer denounced Maher, according to the show’s Wikipedia page.

Sure enough, Politically Incorrect was cancelled six months later. Shortly thereafter, Maher moved to HBO to start shooting Real Time, which has recently been resigned for its ninth and tenth seasons. According to Nancy Geller, senior vice president, HBO Entertainment, “Bill Maher is one of the most sought-after opinion makers on TV, and I’m delighted that this fearless and provocative observer will return to HBO next year.”

Oh, and did I mentioned that since getting kicked off the air in 2002, Maher produced, wrote and directed the seventh most successful documentary of all time? Yep. Lesson learned: Violently refuse to become a follower of the common ways of the mediocre masses. Are you letting the world bring your average down, or are you dedicated to bringing its average up?

5. Negativity sucks – but silence sucks money out of your bank account. Oscar Wilde as right: “The only thing worse than being talked about – is not being talked about.” For example, I’d rather have my readers say that my books are drivel-filled hamster terds – than say nothing at all. And I’d rather my audience members tell me I was the worst speaker on the planet than sit there for an hour sexting their boyfriends.

Disagreement and doubt is a form of engagement. It means people heard you, and that’s what matters. Like Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz once said in a Rolling Stone Interview, “Happiness would be nice. Sadness would suck. But insignificance is the worth thing of all.” Next time your work gets beamed, consider it a victory. Better to be impugned than to be ignored. Are you earning criticism or hearing crickets?

6. Honesty scares people. Creating art is a simple process: Slice open a vein and bleed your truth all over the page. Note well: I used the words “vein, blood and truth.” That’s the difference-maker: Criticism is earned by people who are willing to dance along, happily cross and stretch miles beyond the line.

My suggestion: Go there. “Take a chance – tell the truth,” as George Carlin reminded us. Take your readers, audience members and viewers somewhere they didn’t want to go – or never thought they’d go – but then make them so grateful they’re there that they never want to leave. How are you branding your honesty?

REMEMBER: Anything worth doing is worth being attacked for.

Ultimately, creating something worth being criticized is a risky, demanding and unglamorous process.

But that’s what difference makers do.

Sure as hell beats being ignored.

When was the last time you received hate mail?

For the list called, “49 Ways to become an Idea Powerhouse,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Coach, Entrepreneur

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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