Have you ever felt lost in the crowd? Join Mike as he dissects the ‘zebra effect’, a fascinating survival mechanism that helps keep zebras safe from predators. While this phenomenon is especially important for zebras, as humans it is imperative that we preserve our individuality. Mike explains the subtle art of maintaining distinctiveness while the world pressures us to conform. Mike shares ten tried-and-true ways for you to preserve your individuality in every aspect of life, from taking care of your body and mind to learning to love being wrong.
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Episode transcript below:
0:00:00 – Mike Malatesta:
This episode is sponsored by the DreamExit. The DreamExit is a private bespoke program for successful entrepreneurs with annual revenue between $5 million and $100 million who realize that they have one chance to get their DreamExit right and that the odds of realizing that dream by themselves, all alone or at the last minute are stacked against them. In less than 90 days, we teach you how to design, build and execute a customized DreamExit playbook that gets your business ready for sale at its maximum value and gets you ready to maximize your meaning and purpose in your post-exit life, even if today you are not ready to sell. You see, dreamexits just don’t happen. They are the result of early, professional and proven planning. So if you’re an entrepreneur with annual sales between $5 million and $100 million and you want to learn how to 10x to 100x your chances of achieving the DreamExit you deserve, go to dreamexitplaybookcom today. Hey everybody, thank you so much for joining me for this free Thinking Friday episode, and today I was inspired to do this by a newsletter that I get from a fellow called Sahil Bloom. You’ll have a link to his website in the show notes, and you and I have talked about things from Sahil before. He writes a really nice newsletter and every so often something in it catches my attention. I feel like it’s worth us sharing with one another. So today I’m going to talk about what he’s calling how to be different, aka the zebra effect. So here’s how it goes.
A team of researchers were trying to study zebras in the wild when they noticed a unique challenge. Every time they’d observe a behavior of a specific zebra and look down to jot it in their notebooks, they’d lose track of the zebra that they had observed in the pack. And you probably have this happen to you all the time. Sometimes I try to count birds when I’m walking and I try to count birds in the field or deer in the field, and it gets pretty difficult because to me they all look the same and they’re kind of moving a little bit, so it’s easy to lose track. So anyway, I feel for these observers trying to track the zebra, who all look the same. The black and white stripes make it exceedingly difficult to keep tabs on. Any specific zebra. Makes sense. So to solve this, the researchers placed a single red dot on the target zebra to make it easier to follow. Again, that makes sense and it worked. The target zebra was much easier to track, not just for the human researchers, though. It was also much easier to track for the lions that were hunting it, and so, within days, each target zebra was taken down by the lions.
And, as the researchers learned, standing out can be dangerous. Blending in with the pack is often a survival mechanism the zebra effect. The same principle applies to all of our lives, yours and ours. Blending in is easy and comfortable. Standing out is hard and uncomfortable. It’s risky. The difference, however, is found in the reward For the zebras. There is very little upside in standing out. For all of us, the upside is unlimited.
In his final shareholder letter, amazon founder Jeff Bezos quotes a passage from the blind watchmaker, and this is the passage. Staving off death is a thing that you have to work at. Life to itself, and that is what it is. When it dies, the body tends to revert to a state of equilibrium with its environment. Our bodies, for instance, are usually hotter than our surroundings, and in cold climates, they have to work hard to maintain the differential. When we die, the work stops, the temperature differential starts to disappear and we end up the same temperature as our surroundings. More generally, if living things didn’t work actively to prevent it, they would eventually merge into their surroundings and cease to exist as autonomous beings. That is what happens when they die.
Reflecting on the passage Bezos wrote in what ways does the world pull at you in an attempt to make you normal? How much work does it take to maintain your distinctiveness? What I’m really asking you to do is to embrace and be realistic about how much energy it takes to maintain that distinctiveness. The world wants you to be typical In a thousand ways. It pulls at you. Don’t let it happen. You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it. This is perhaps the most beautiful mental model I’ve encountered for considering the importance and weight of being different. If equilibrium with our surroundings a state of normalcy, in other words is our natural state, we must fight to maintain our distinctiveness consistently and relentlessly. Distinctiveness isn’t free. You have to pay your dues every single day, but it’s worth it.
The fight against normalcy is the most important fight of your life. To maintain your uniqueness in a world that pulls you to blend in is the only way to realize your full potential and live a fulfilled, texture-rich existence. And it comes with a risk that glaring red dot but the rewards are abundant. And then CHILS shares 10 ways to stand out. It’s 10 ways that you can stand out, and I just wanna go through these with you.
Number one take care of your house, which is this metaphor for your body Treat your body and mind like a house you have to live in for the next 100 years. Keep the foundation and roof in solid order, fix minor issues as soon as they arise and make the small daily, weekly and monthly investment required to ensure it will last a long, long time. Can’t show up as your unique self in the world unless you’re taking care of your house. Number two learn to enjoy being wrong. This is something that you and I have talked about before.
Wanting to be right is a dangerous thing. Finding the truth is much more important than being right. Retrain your mind to embrace new information that forces a change in viewpoint. View each quote unquote software update in your mind as an improvement upon the old. Open mindsets rule the world. I so believe that, and I know you do too.
Let curiosity guide you. That’s number three. A 2018 paper found and there’ll be a link to that found that the brain systems engaged by curiosity contribute to maintain cognitive function, mental health and physical health with age. Furthermore, curiosity has been connected to higher levels of life satisfaction and positive emotions and lower levels of anxiety. Curiosity keeps us happier, healthier and more fulfilled. If curiosity was a pill, the world’s pharmaceutical companies would clamor to sell it as a super drug. Let it serve as your guide into new worlds, and one of the things I love doing about this podcast with you is exploring curiosity. Let me do it all the time. I just love it.
Number four do the old fashioned things well. Simple actions that are completely free. Look people in the eye, be true to your word, be on time, practice good posture, hold the door, be kind, have a confident handshake and, I’m gonna add, stay pleased and thank you. Those are some of the things that will never go out of style. Number five stop fearing boredom. We really need to normalize boredom. He says some of the most creative moments come during periods of boredom On a walk, in the shower or at dinner by yourself. You’re bored, you’re mind wanders, your thoughts mingle, creative insight strikes.
Schedule boredom into your weeks. That’s a unique request. Schedule boredom into your week. I do a lot of that, by the way. Number six I don’t do it to be bored, though. I do it to be free, but I do schedule boredom into my weeks.
Number six avoid perspective blindness. This is a quote from Mark Twain. It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure. That just ain’t so. Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant. Again, I’ll link to that in the show notes. The world is much more complex than any of us can possibly understand. At the end of every month, ask yourself what you’ve changed your mind on recently, if you can’t think of anything that just could be a bad thing.
Number seven find your tribe. Your environment creates your entire reality. Surround yourself with people who are constantly talking about the past and you’ll be stuck in it. Surround yourself with people thinking big about the future. You’ll build a beautiful one. Build a tribe that encourage you to think bigger. I like to say and as you and I have talked about, I like to say be around people who are winding up in life, not people who are winding down. If you want to continue moving forward and you want to continue to be curious, be around people who are winding up. So that’s just my additional take on Sahil’s advice.
Number eight avoid the comparison trap Early in your life and your career. It’s tempting to compare yourself and your progress with those around you. This person made X dollars last year. That person got Forbes 30 under 30, so, and so it’s crushing it. It’s natural, but dangerous. Learn to turn it off. Focus on what you can control. The only comparison worth making is to yourself from yesterday.
Number nine stop taking everyone’s advice. This is the advice paradox. Taking more advice can leave you less well-prepared. Most advice sucks. It’s well-intentioned, of course, but it’s dangerous to use someone else’s map of reality to navigate yours. Develop your own filters and selectively accept and implement advice. Take signal, skip noise. And I’ll add to this I’m sure you’ve done this right. You’ve asked people for advice multiple people and you get all different advice and you end up doing nothing with their advice and you do what you thought you were going to do in the first place. I know I’ve done that and I think that’s what he’s talking about with the noise. I mean, if you ask too many people for advice, you’re likely to get too much information that you can process. And the other thing is, when you ask people for their advice and then you don’t take it, they kind of get offended. So be careful when you’re asking for advice.
Number 10, avoid the need for external validation. Gregori Perlman is a mathematician considered to be one of the smartest humans alive, but in 2006, he walked away from professional mathematics and decided to live a secluded life outside St Petersburg, russia. Since walking away, he has turned down countless awards for his contributions to mathematics, including the Fields, metal and Millennium Prize, many of which came with significant cash prizes. Asked about these rejections, perlman said everybody understood that if the proof is correct, then no other recognition is needed. If the proof is correct, then no other recognition is needed. Perlman is an extreme example of someone who has completely eliminated the need for external validation. He was fulfilled by the process, by the work itself, not by the validation from his peers. While none of us should reasonably aspire to this level, there is a powerful lesson in his story A life devoid of the need for external validation is a life lived on your terms.
A life devoid of a need for external validation is a life lived on your terms. That is a beautiful sentence. As Jeff Bezos said, being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously. The fight against normalcy is the most important fight of your life. It may be risky, it may come with a steep cost in the short term, but the long-term rewards are worth it.
So thank you very much for joining me. I hope you got value out of this today. I enjoyed sharing this with you. This made me think and I hope it makes you think about why it’s important to be different, why the zebra effect doesn’t apply to you and what I say every podcast at the end. You have greatness inside of you and it’s different than what everybody else’s greatness is, so why don’t you maximize that today and every day going forward? Thank you for joining me and until next time, hey everybody.
Thanks for listening to this show and before you go, I just have three requests for you. One if you like what I’m doing, please consider subscribing or following the podcast on whatever podcast platform you prefer, if you’re really into it. Leave me a review, write something nice about me, give me five stars or whatever you feel is most appropriate. Number two I’ve got a book. It’s called Owner Shift how Getting Selfish Got Me Unstuck. It’s an Amazon bestseller and I’d love for you to read it or listen to it on Audible or wherever else Barnes, noble, amazon you can get it everywhere. If you’re looking for inspiration that will help you unlock your greatness and potential, order or download it today so that you can have your very own copy and if you get it, please let me know what you think.
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