Formulas for success make it easy for us to sell books, create self help seminars, and give advice in every area of life. You have a problem. My formula is the solution. People want the formula, the magic bullet, the thing that's guaranteed to help them make the money, lose the weight, and find the love of their life.
Consider the following formulas for success in life, writing a book, or building a successful startup.
- Book = Author + Writing Habit + Time/Effort Required.
- Success in Life = Person + Elite Education + Prestigious Job
- Startup = Founder + Venture Capital + Product Market Fit
There's one variable that completely throws off all of these equations. It's the individual or organization who is attempting to apply the so-called formula, or method.
- Kids who grew up with the same parents turn out incredibly different.
- Students who go to the same school and graduate with the same degree end up on divergent paths.
This is true for online courses, working with coaches, building companies, diets, and exercise programs. We're not robots. We're humans with unique sets of strengths and weaknesses, flaws and quirks.
Standardized Education is a One-Sized Fits All Solution
The idea of standardized testing as a way to measure people who are all different is no different than assuming the same size shoes will fit everybody perfectly. If you gave me a pair of high heels and expected me to walk in them, you'd conclude that I was uncoordinated, lacked balance, and must have something wrong with my legs. That would be insane.
But that's exactly what we do with standardized testing. When we reward conformity, that's what we will breed. Instead of creating students with the ability to solve interesting problems and are capable to lead, we create students with the ability to follow instructions, memorize information, and follow orders. This does nothing but prepare them for a future that doesn't exist.
In the future, people will be rewarded for navigating ambiguity, finding clarity through action, and for standing out instead of fitting in.
Frameworks Instead of Formulas
Recently I started doing one on one work with people to help them write books. After writing a total of 4, I know it's something I can help people with.
But I also don't tell them they're going to get results that are unrealistic or tell them I can solve a problem that I can't. I know that each of them have different situations and with the same approach to writing their books, it will be different for each of them.
- One of my clients has a big platform, an established brand, and a ton of content already written.
- Others are just getting started, don't have anything written, and are starting completely from scratch.
Even though they're all getting the same knowledge, their results will be different because they are different people at different stages in their writing journey. This is why I encourage people to treat everything they learn as a compass instead of a map, and a framework instead of a formula.
Best Practices: The Enemy of Creativity and Innovation
In Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best . , I said that best practices are our worst enemy. Of course, that doesn't mean that people who serve food at a restaurant shouldn't wash their hands or that we should replace round tires with square ones. There are instances where it makes sense to do what we know works, has always worked, and works for everyone.
But there are far more instances where it doesn't make sense to follow the herd.
When Paul Jarvis designed Danielle Laporte's website, people would come to him and say "make me a site that looks like that." He would have to explain to them that even if he did that, they wouldn't get the same results because they weren't her.
A few years ago, when Derek Halpern started social triggers, another blogger copied his design to the letter, thinking that this would cause their subscribers to go through the roof. They completely overlooked the fact that Derek had spent years building popular web sites and happened to have a high level of expertise in what he was teaching.
As I mentioned in another article after Mark Manson's book had freakish success, putting "fuck" into a book title had became the formula for best-selling books.
The mantra of popular podcasters who sell courses on podcasting has been "everybody should start a podcast." Some of these people are making 6 figures a month and millions of dollars. Of course, what's left out of this is that they had a head start, they had 50,000 people on their email list, or a popular blog when they started.
People don't see all these other variables and falsely assume that if they copy the actions of a person in a position of authority, they'll get the same results.
When a friend once sent me a list of guest recommendations for our podcast, I opened up all the About pages of everyone in multiple tabs. I felt like I was reading the same About page over and over, and I also didn't have a clue what any of them did.
The mimicry epidemic is more rampant than ever, and less profitable than ever. We've replaced the standards of interesting and valuable with the standard of being famous.
Paradoxically, in their desperation to stand out, and become like their heroes and role models, everyone overlooks this blatantly obvious variable that throws everything off, causing them to blend in, instead of stand out. As AJ Leon once said, "We can learn from others, but we have to resist the lure of uniformity."