Different Not Better

I was part of a research exercise in my company where we broke into groups to read a specific business book recommended to our leadership team. As a result, I read the book, Play Bigger (a very worthwhile read) and a big takeaway is that to make a leap of success, one should focus on doing things different as opposed to doing them better.

Better is just features and benefits. It is doing what we have always done in business, life, sports, but just at a higher level – sometimes only slightly higher. The key is to be different. To change the frame of reference, to create a new vision of the way forward. This shifted perspective, decouples us from the rules and ways of the past. Do the circumstances of 2020 leave much room for improving on what we did in 2019?

Being different is the stuff of innovators and pioneers. Consider Henry Ford, if he wanted to do something better, he would have focused on a faster horse; instead, he created something different. The Chrysler Minivan was a different way to look at family transportation. Prime examples these days are Netflix with streaming movies, Uber with transportation, and Apple with phones and music.

Being better is part of the ‘er’ complex where we compare ourselves to others and measure our accomplishments against them. Getting ourselves wrapped up in this comparison game can help us improve, maybe even become a slightly better version. But this is rarely how we get paradigm-shifting innovations and world-changing creations.

In a popular 1980’s movie there is a scene when the main character picks up a hitchhiker. As the scene plays out, the hitchhiker pitches his can’t-miss business idea: a “7-Minute Abs” video that he is convinced will outsell the popular “8-Minute Abs” workout. The skeptical driver responds: “That’s good — unless, of course, somebody comes up with ‘6-Minute Abs.’ Then you’re in trouble, huh?” At which point the hitchhiker becomes outraged by the wake-up call that all but banishes his dream. Better is never guaranteed to last very long.

The recent offense transformation in football, especially at the college level, is a result of attacking schemes differently. I grew up during the decades of incremental advances in running games with workhorse backs and pulling linemen being countered by stronger and quicker defenders. Now coaches focus on gaining the slightest tactical advantage – spreading the offense out, adding the read option and run-pass option (RPO). To match this evolution, defenses have been forced to adjust. They could no longer rely on being better, they need to do something different. Thus, the hybrid linebacker was created. A defender who was more versatile and less predictable, who can play safety in coverage and play down in the box as a linebacker.

Celebrating the holidays this year will require a new mindset. This season is different, not necessarily better nor worse, but certainly different. We need to redefine what celebration means, get clear about what we are trying to create. Let’s focus on the reason for celebration, it hasn’t changed. A different approach can create new ways to clearly convey the meaning. A message of joy, togetherness, peace, generosity, and gratitude.

We will need to rethink our traditions. Instead of regretting what is no longer available, invent something new. Parties, gifts, and holiday meals are just the means to create emotions and memories. Let’s discover new traditions that are based on what is available in this moment. Deliver the old traditions in new ways. For the first time ever, I celebrated Thanksgiving dinner outside on the patio. We moved the time up to accommodate the daylight, dressed a bit warmer, and covered the patio table with a tablecloth. We decided that if things were going to be different, then let’s go all in.

How it has always been done is not necessarily how it should continue to be done. Obstacles and setbacks can drive better ideas – if we are willing to see past these circumstances. To see a new reality, we must start doing different things. This allows unique opportunities to enter our life. If we keep doing the same things, we will continue to get the same results.

A global pandemic does not have to be an obstacle to everything. What we often think is holding us back may, in fact, be a catalyst to success. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is reported to have said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” As an optimistic realist, I choose to accept that change happens. There is little sense in fighting it. Life does not happen to us; it happens for us. It sometimes asks me to be different, not better.

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” – M. Scott Peck

I love how Christianity is different. Every other religion teaches being better and earning God’s glory. Other religions have laws or pillars to appease their god with the hopes of getting into eternal paradise. Christianity teaches that God came to us. He sent His Son to die for us. We don’t have to appease God to receive His favor. No other religion has an empty tomb. Christians follow a Divine Leader who died and was resurrected. Caesar and the Roman state brought stability and wealth such that they offered salvation under their rule as “savior,” a better option. We are exiting an election where each side proclaimed their plans, and their candidate were the better options to save us. Luke, in the words of Peter, denies that salvation comes through anyone other than Jesus (Acts 4:12).

Christians are not “better” than everyone else. Shame on any of us who think and believe that way. That mindset leads to judging and oppressing “others” rather than generously loving them. We must recognize that everyone is created in the divine image of God. We’re called to treat others in the most Christ-like way possible by embodying the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, and self-control, all while being humbly sacrificial.

Praying harder and longer, reading scripture more frequently and deeper are great. Those are ways to be better in our faith. But God is calling us to be different, not better. We need to shift from building a better life to answering a different calling. I am not yet who I want to be. I am not yet who God wants me to be.  But I’m different. I’m changing. And Christ is at work in me.

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