"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinions"
- Jack Kerouac
I have to admit I first heard this quote by accident checking out this ad:
Which is a brilliant piece of advertising (hat tip to Honda), it's hilarious and sneaks this single, sobering, thought provoking line in there.
For the uninitiated the group at the top is The New York Dolls, a band many would say laid a good chunk of the groundwork that would become punk rock. The Dolls predate the Ramones (I checked, formed in '71 3 years before The Ramones) and I'll admit I wasn't around but I'm going to wager that no one was doing it like the Dolls in '71. the 70's were a pretty crazy time but not many bands were bringing the swagger and emotion that the Dolls had, let alone in makeup and heels.
It may not shock you to think these guys were pretty out there for their day, especially if you consider the charts were lead by the likes of Rod Stewart, The Osmonds and John Denver. But that's really the point isn't it.
How terrible would it have been if the Dolls looked to these "successful" artist for examples and said "wow, these guys made it, we need to do that". No knock on Rod and his peers but if the New York Dolls decided to follow those guys and not do their own thing there's a good chance punk rock might not have been what it is today.
We love to see examples of success and we naturally then try to figure out how we can emulate that success, this is probably most true in business. Millions of books and thousands of seminars are sold on the hope that we can copy someone else's success and I'll almost guarantee that no one will ever reach the same hights as the guy or girl that originally wrote the book.
But I'm not saying there's nothing to learn from this stuff, you can get great ideas and be inspired by others but to believe that you can walk the same path to success that they did is a total fallacy. Why? Because they're not you, they're them. They did what came naturally to them and they made it work, and I challenge you to do the same. Sure, you can attempt to copy the feats of others and maybe end up pretty good, but probably never great. You're not going to change the world following in the footsteps of others because those folks already changed the world that way.
I know it's scary to be different but embrace your weird. If you are doing it a little differently, good. It's probably the best thing you can do. Fitting in, following trends, staying inside the lines will make you good but you probably won't be great.
I leave you with two final examples. One is another classic wierdo, Iggy Pop, who like the New York Dolls helped shape the face of punk rock. The second is a personal favorite that reminds me to stay a little out of order, The Ballad of Johnny X by the Bouncing Souls.
Like Johnny X I hope you guys can keep your strings one turn out of tune.
Here are the albums for these songs if you inexcusably don't own them.
If there's one place to start this whole thing it's questioning authority. The one band for me that had this in spades has got to be the Sex Pistols. For two-and-a-half short, loud and brutal years Johnny and the boys were the angry, seething face of disgruntled British youth. They called into question any and all social norms, anyone in an authority position including Her Majesty Herself as you saw (truly scandalous I know).
For me though the Pistols cemented this as a main tenant of punk rock, do not bend to authority but break it. Now I'm not saying you have to go full on Johnny Rotten (pardon Johnny's language, if that stuff bothers you best just move along knowing Johnny was not too kind to the interviewer)...
... but there is an attitude in there that can be forgotten.
It's just, I think people are far more likely, and more willing to give into authority than to question it. It's comfortable, it's easy and it usually feels right. The Milgram experiment proved it thoroughly. We will do quite a bit when simply told to do it by someone we see as an authority, and how many times have you seen this play out in the business world?
Likely not every mortgage broker thought all those loans they were closing not all too long ago were good ideas.
I'd doubt that all the engineers and designers in Detroit thought that making more SUVs was a good idea.
But their bosses told them to do it so they did, and likely at the time they didn't feel too badly about it.
Questioning authority, pushing back on the boss takes strength and it takes guts. It also takes heaps of tact, lets not fool ourselves here. There is no way you can bully your way through your management and come out smelling like roses. The thing to take away here is not the swearing and bad attitude, it's the strength to be honest no matter who you are talking to. It's the strength to always first ask yourself why before just saying yes.
So just to be clear here, I'm not calling for anarchy in the cubicles, I'm just saying speak up if you see something dumb. If you see the business headed in the wrong direction, tell someone. If something does not feel right, questions it.
To close, here's one more dose of Pistols to put you in the right mood.
And if you don't already own "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols" hit a link below (CD or MP3), it's a piece of rock history.