Purple Cows – Getting Noticed vs Being Distinctive

The High Priest of 21stC BizDev thinking must be Seth Godin – love him or hate him (a few do).  If you have been hiding in a cave since the last millennium and rather missed 21stC BizDev thinking, I’d recommend starting to catch up with any of the YouTubes by Godin I have never actually managed to finish any of his books … they tend to read like a strong of blog posts stuck together.  He has blogged daily for years and there are some great pearls in there – surrounded by a lot of sand.

One of the distinctive titles of his over a dozen books is the Purple Cow.  This has been interpreted, reinterpreted and misinterpreted.  You drive past a field and amongst all the same-old cows there’s a purple cow:

Purple Cow image

So it gets noticed right? And you remember it right? And you tell your mates right? So that’s the “get noticed” vibe. And you can see it makes sense.  I recently heard of someone in an office where they put a job online. Within four hours they had received 200 CVs (and that’s probably not a lot). So how to stand out? How to get noticed?

Set against this “standing out” can be taken too far (especially as this is culturally determined).  You could send in a lavender-scented CV on bearskin – now hey that would stand out but would it help?

So this is one of the criticisms – that the book is advocating gimmicky attention-grabbing techniques.  An impression by the way that was probably aided and abetted by purple cow milk carton packaging for the pre-publication promotional paperback edition. Ahem.

And the metaphor kind of falls flat after that. I mean you paint your cow purple and it gives the same milk? Get outta here.  However the key point hidden away by the confounding metaphor is that is one – business or individual – can produce and focus on something unique, fresh, and new then that’s most of the battle won.

So where do I stand here?  Is it about getting noticed? Is it about being distinctive?

Drawing from Taoism I would say firstly its about balance – you stand on two feet.  Drawing on modern memes the “both/and rather than either/or” is a great one [as in “Why not be an accountant and a poet?” – it doesn’t have to be either/or].  Why not be distinctive AND get noticed.  After all Godin has made a career out of getting noticed and along the way developed a business model to match.

Taking Taoist thinking and adding a level of sophistication … to use a great Zen quote “no fixed position”.  So sure we stand on two feet but what’s more valuable in life is walking from one place to another (otherwise we would just be plants eh?).  When you are walking the balance is constantly changing .. left foot, right foot.  In the same way you, or I, will need times professionally/personally when we need to work more on getting noticed and more on being distinctive. We will also need times when we coast (we are human) and chill – too many people burn out their inner resources by constant “pedal to the metal”.

How much effort has your business put recently into making something fresh and original? 

How much effort have you put recently into making yourself fresh and original?