Seth Godin, who posts thoughts on marketing, value, and originality on his blog every day, published the book Purple Cow back in 2003. Online marketing hadn’t yet peaked then but web marketers were already challenging conventional advice about how businesses should map out and manage their public-facing communication, influence and impact, and reputation.
Purple Cow is a manifesto about building “remarkable” products and businesses. So many business writers still refer to it more than a decade later, and its title is enough to prove its thesis: we remember products that distinguish themselves and we stick with makers who demonstrate value over time.
The Godin book I read a few years ago is Linchpin (2010), which applies Purple Cow‘s principles to people. Linchpins distinguish themselves professionally with exceptional contributions over the long haul. Their contributions aren’t about whether they’re part-time or full-time, staff or contractors. Being a linchpin, for Godin, is about transforming common labor into art and recognizing that whatever our roles in a system, we can use our skills to reinforce human connection and to produce change. We don’t need to be system-authorized to do any of that.
For about a decade, attention has flowed to the purple cow, the linchpin, the innovator, and the disruptor. It’s nice to be thought original and exceptional, and there are still many rewards for being “first,” even if, like Burger King (US)’s novelty black burgers, your change doesn’t last. (Those burgers, which McDonalds pioneered, did just fine in Japan even if they flopped over here.)
But what happens to the ordinary in the meantime? Maintainers and sustainers don’t get awards in the way that innovators do, so does elevating the purple cows mean we must devalue the brown ones?
Surely not. Change still depends on stability, and even as we work to birth the new, we get to keep stewarding what already exists. I work with a lot of people who have strong visions for social change and improvement, and in some cases that change vision is quite radical. But even those groups demonstrate concern for conserving what’s good and building on what still needs developing.
Departures from the past aren’t quite as large as opponents perceive them to be, and it’s that continuity that builds a bridge from the “is” to the “could be.” Whether we’re cogs in a social machine or truly remarkable artists is ultimately not the most important thing. What matters is whether the amazing, rare experiences we know how to design can ever escape the sabbath, the holiday, or the weekend and take root in the regular hours of our lives.