To conform is to be human, but to conform in business and leadership is a recipe for failure.

Studies show that conformity begins as early as 2 years of age. A predisposition to “conform” and “fit in” are both built into our genes and part of human evolution.

Our brain mechanisms trigger similar signals as those known as “prediction error” when our behavior conflicts with a group’s; the brain signals that we need to adjust our behavior.

Over human evolutionary time, the mechanisms that ensured our survival and reproduction showed that those who had a predisposition to conform had an edge over those who did not, and consequently got selected over time.

When looking at this idea of conformity through the lens of business and leadership we see the same mechanisms at play. At Sandbox, we have worked in most sectors including over 350 different businesses and brands, and when we conduct competitor and sector research for clients we quickly find that there is a common “industry language” that occurs in every sector.

Organizations use the same words to describe their products, services, features, advantages, and benefits. They even use the same colours, visuals, and core value statements, and yet they want people to buy from them and work with them because they feel they are different. It is as if we are programmed not to stand out in order to survive.

Seth Godin speaks to this in his book The Purple Cow.

The following video, first mentioned to me by a Branding friend of mine, Gair Maxwell, speaks well to how we are programmed to conform.

The key learning I have had, and pass along is, in life and in business we are pushed towards conformity. But at the end of the day, it is the not the things that make us the same that drive success, but instead, it is those things that make us different and unique, that will ultimately drive our success.

If you are in business today, in most sectors, it is easy to stand out from the crowd and allow customers to find and buy from you or align with your cause.

The “real secret” is not how your products and services are unique, as most of these can be replicated in a short amount of time if what you sell really is different.

In many cases, the “real secret” is built into the DNA of the founder, entrepreneur, visionary, or leader. Having someone work with the visionary to uncover what it is that makes up the quality and character of that person which then plays out in the company’s brand, values and everyday operations is where the magic to standing out lives.

I like to say, “What makes you different, makes you great”.