By Mike Farley
Note: This book review was first published in the November 2008 issue of WaterShapes. Given what has happened in the economy since then, we think the book is just as relevant today as it was then — perhaps even more so.
As 2008 draws to a close, it’s apparent that we are contending with a far more challenging marketplace than we enjoyed just a couple years ago. Current economic woes have cut deeply into bottom lines, forced some watershapers out of business and prompted many others to seek out ways to maximize the business and referrals that come their way.
With this challenging business landscape in mind, I recently picked up a copy of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (Penguin Group, 2002). Godin, the best-selling author of 10 books, is well-known for challenging the conventional thinking that constrains many businesses.
Although this particular book was written before the recent downturn in the world and U.S. economies, his message in this easily read 150-page discussion is quite applicable to today’s situation — particularly among watershapers who want to enhance their approach to the business.
Godin’s discussion starts out with an account of a trip to the French countryside, during which he was transported by the stunning beauty of the landscape and by the cows scattered over the hills and fields. Although those cows made a strong first impression, he writes, they all started to look the same after about five minutes — an observation that introduces his assertion that to be successful in business you must be remarkable and stand out from the crowd.
In today’s marketplace, he explains, there are a great many people who do a good job and are relatively successful by being predictable (even bland) and by rarely straying beyond their comfort zones. To be truly successful, he continues, we need to vest our products, services and ourselves with qualities that are unique.
Godin concedes that this is much easier said than done: Many of us fear doing the remarkable because we don’t want to risk failure and don’t want to buck educations that taught us from childhood to conform and “stand in line.” To overcome those fears, step up and expand our horizons, he says, we need to take risks and stop fearing failure.
Those who do take chances — and, as important, who constantly strive to expand their knowledge and skills and continuously pursue education — will, he says, have a better chance of expanding their businesses and remaining successful through good times and bad.
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In all of this, he says, there’s a further challenge that comes from our tendency in upswings to stay the course because we’re happy with the success we’re having and don’t want to stray from what’s working. Conversely, when markets soften we’re similarly reluctant to step out and try new things because economic pressure increases our fear of failure and sense of vulnerability.
The result, he laments, is that too few people are ever willing to be remarkable. In applying what I read to our industry, I can’t think of a more apt analysis: The watershapers I know who’ve taken chances by making pool interiors red or suggesting deluxe materials (or staging any of a hundred other innovative leaps designers have put on display in WaterShapes) are those who are still thriving in the current market. Those who have relied on production-oriented approaches are, by contrast, suffering greatly.
Although Godin doesn’t mention our industry in his anecdotes, we are nonetheless operating within a model that perfectly makes his case. As I see it, his book offers a reasonable admonition to us to stretch our boundaries; work referrals that arise from being creative and quality oriented; seek education; and, essentially, figure out ways to become the purple cow that stands out from all the rest.
Mike Farley is a landscape designer with more than 20 years of experience and is currently a designer/project manager for Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. A graduate of Genesis 3's Level I Design School, he holds a degree in landscape architecture from Texas Tech University and has worked as a watershaper in both California and Texas.