The progression of a business can be very much like that of life.

As children, we are born into the world, bright, unique, and full of promise. We are put on a quick path of learning and growing, and then we are challenged to pick a career path at such a young age.

When we’re young, we are fed full of inspiration and dreams. We can be anything we want to be. But at some point, the world starts closing in around us and telling us to just be like everyone else.

We consider career options, eyeing the projected salaries for our chosen field, feeling pressure as our peers start to close in their next steps and choices. We hear the heckling of family members when our choices don’t match up with their definition of what would be considered secure and successful. And we start down a path we aren’t even sure we chose.

We are bogged down with others’ ideas of what to do and who to be. As much as we want to make our own decisions, we don’t know how. And we can’t find an industry report confirming the return on investment of the choices we want to make, so we go with the field that has the best number attached to it.

And so it is in business.

Except that isn’t how it is for everyone.

You start a business because you want to do something different in the world. Maybe you’ve been in business for years, and your differentiated product has you growing faster than you can keep up with. Or maybe your business has been around for decades and its already turned into just one of everyone else, but you’ve come in to do things differently.

You get to an inflection point where you recognize you need to grow or change – to decide – in some way. But you don’t know how and you don’t know what to pick.

In come the experts, telling you how businesses like you are supposed to be. Putting you on a path to make you like everyone else that’s just a little further along than you are now.

Instead of understanding more about you and where you want to go, giving you options for how to get there, you are told that you must change in some way, and pick from just a few proven options. It’s the only way to be successful.

Except that it’s not.

You are in business to do things differently. You have a standard others don’t. You have a way of doing things others don’t. You are drawing people into your business that others aren’t.

It’s the soul of your business. Your reason for being, the way the world is different because you are in it.

There’s a vibe people are attracted to. It’s what you do and how you do it. The trouble is, you’re so close to it that you don’t even recognize it as unique anymore. And you convince yourself that a few small compromises to hit the numbers won’t matter.

Except that they do.

If you’re finding yourself in this situation, you have more options than you think you do. Make sure that you’re getting clear on what it is that you actually want.  Your own vision.

Then work through what makes your company unique – truly unique. If you can’t come up with anything yourself, survey those on all sides of you. Even if you can come up with your own answers, survey others to make sure you have an accurate view of how you are perceived.   

I’ve worked with companies who have been tempted to give up on this exercise because they have found themselves in the place of being just one of everyone else, or they can’t decipher which of their capabilities is truly unique. It can be hard to move through when nothing comes to mind.

The process of understanding and building what differentiates you is one of both uncovering and discovering. It doesn’t happen overnight. And it requires purposeful choices around what would be the most meaningful and impactful, so that you can move forward and build with intention.

And when you do that, you get to keep – or reignite – the soul of your company.

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