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Why Do Successful People Forget the Things They Were Taught?

Sameness and Compliance Breeds Mediocrity

Compliance is a great way to get buried in the herd

To have a successful career and be an indispensable employee to an organization, there is one thing you have been taught for most of your life you must turn your back on.

I know I'm not the only one that remembers guidance from a parent suggesting we should obey the teacher and not be THAT child that sticks out and disrupts everyone else.

I'm not convinced that the intended message was "don't disrupt" and not "don't stick out".

There was always a stigma attached to the kid that was noticed in class as being different than their classmates.

It was somehow viewed as being inappropriate, unusual, and somehow unacceptable to be noticed for how you didn't conform to the unwritten rules of the day.

And unfortunately, many kids who were tagged as outcasts succumbed to the pressures and expectations of those around them.

Their natural talents to look at the world differently; to offer ideas that were "out of bounds" relative to accepted norms were stultified by the storm of criticism of the school leaders of the day.

These kids became victims of a society that wanted clones and we never got to witness and value from their greatness.

They were beaten down to be the same as their peers who were all encouraged to follow the rules and colour inside the lines.

And they left 50% of their potential on the table.

The truth is sameness breeds mediocrity and comfort with the status quo; neither of which will serve us well in a chaotic world of technology disruption, economic variability and surging competition.

What I learned in my 30+ year career is that likeness kills organizations and unfortunately the collateral damage is the people in them.

Just look at the companies that went out of business over the past decade - Circuit City, Radio Shack, Blockbuster, Enron, Woolworths and Linen & Things - just to mention a few.

They became irrelevant to their customers in the face of new competition; they couldn't change fast enough and break the mould of what worked for them in the past to become an organization capable of thriving in the future amidst the new challenges imposed upon them.

This is an unbelievable challenge for leaders who must create a culture of innovation and creativity in their organizations to create a competitive advantage and survive.

They must counteract what people have been taught; to dispel the notion that fitting in is what is needed to be successful.

And to embrace those that for some bizarre reason had the strength to push back against "the establishment" and peer pressure to maintain their breakaway views.

And to encourage those who chose to fit in to now breakout and impose an edge on normality to cause change.

Your personal challenge to now step away from the crowd is formidable. 

You have to:

  • reject the imprinting you have received for most of your life to "be a good boy/girl" and do what you're told, and
  • convince those that control your career opportunities that organizations need to be different to win in tomorrow's markets and that YOU are the ingredient to make it happen.

It's not sufficient that you personally change; you must be a strong advocate of standing out from the herd to others.

Compliance and conformance teachings aimed at keeping you in the crowd will hold you back, not get ahead.

Try to forget what was drilled into your head during your school years. Complying to knowledge requirements is the table stakes to a successful career, but it won't enable you to reach your lofty goals.

Only being different will.

Roy Osing
Roy Osing

Roy Osing (@royosing) is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of executive leadership experience. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

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