"Only do what only you can do"

About a month ago I listened to this great NPR interview with Thomas Dolby, and at one point he proclaimed loyalty to the philosophy “Only do what only you can do.”

While it sounds like an old adage, it was not one familiar to me.  I like this phrase a lot.  It says to find what you have to offer that’s unique and special.  Use that and build on it rather than just being a commodity.  It says to concentrate on your strengths and make them stronger rather than concentrate on your weaknesses.  It says to value what you are and find ways for others to value it as well.

I’m reminded of a story I heard in an interview with iconic and enigmatic actor Christopher Walken.  He described how early in his career he wasn’t meeting with much success and started to try to be more like everyone else, those people who were getting the parts he wasn’t.  Walken had some kind of older acting mentor who told him, “One day someone’s going to need this unique quality you have, and when that time comes you’re going to be the only person who can provide it to them.”  Clearly in his case it worked, and part of what makes Christopher Walken a successful actor is the fact that he’s not really like anyone else.

This advice is good advice not only for an individual career but also for a brand or a product or a company.  Ask yourself what you have that’s better or different or more powerful than anyone else can produce.  Make that the foundation of your offering.  That way what makes you special is also what will make you great.

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