Be a Purple Cow, But Swim in Blue Oceans

Be a Purple Cow, But Swim in Blue Oceans
--- written by Dr. Andrew P. Lucy

In the Purple Cow1, Seth Godin speaks of the need to continuously differentiate and then re-differentiate to stay ahead of the game and “beat the competition”, but why not avoid it altogether? Finding a Blue Ocean2 of new opportunities seems like a great idea to boost the bottom line and grow a company, but can similar ideas and techniques be applied to the jobsearch process?

In looking for any new job opportunity, you must see yourself as the product and the employer as the customer. But, it can also work the opposite way around – as an employer, you want the best candidate to “buy-in” and join you, making you the product and the prospective employee your customer! Either way, why not first exploit the same principles we all use to attract “real customers” and re-apply them to the task of landing a dream job or dream candidate?

So, how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd without donning a fancy dress costume? I believe there are ten basic and easily followed traits and actions that can help (eight of which were first prescribed by Richard St John3):

1). Passion – top of the list (and a driver often referenced as “fire in the belly”). If you enjoy what you do – and who you do it with, feel motivated, acknowledged and rewarded for it, money becomes secondary. But it will come, as a natural consequence of the passion you have and the success to which that drive leads.

2). Realize that results should (and will) be rewarded, but don’t ignore effort and hard work. They are essential and need to be encouraged and recognized – whether or not there is an immediate pay off in dollars and cents. Dismantle the fear and threat culture and bring on the incentives. Even a donkey will kick out against the stick eventually, but he will always follow the carrot.

3). Practice and get really good at something – "Listen, question, practice, learn" – and always think!

4). Focus: don't run around trying to do everything, concentrate and excel process by process. If you are the employee, showcase your top skills. If you are the employer, your primary business and the culture you establish are your key attractants. Be the best for all your customers (internal and external), always looking ahead to beat the rest in setting new paradigms.

5). Keep pushing: as an employee push through shyness, self-doubt and being passed over – find a mentor and let them help you grow. Then move on to the next opportunity. As an employer: press on through downturns by valuing and preserving your staff and communicating with them. One day, it will be you that needs them more and they will return the favour with their loyalty and whole-hearted support (rather than through grudging self-preservation).

6). Build a culture to serve – not just offer service. Give your customers, employers and employees something they want or need, and for which they are prepared to pay or work to obtain and keep. Make your culture one that serves something of real value.

7). “Persist – through Criticisms, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure (CRAP)” 3. Never give up and don’t let the bastards hold you down! Everyone fails now and then, and everyone feels like CRAP sometimes. The winners are those that seek the chromatic cow, swim through the sludge, turn it to manure and reap the harvest.

8). Go crazy with ideas, so that the ideas flow. Good ideas come from observation, curiosity, question-asking, problem-solving, networking, connecting and risk-taking! No one can ever become remarkable by conforming – sometimes it is best to simply go with your gut (indeed, there is scientific evidence to support this notion4).

9). Accept criticism, complaints and failure. Warmly embrace them. Only through our mistakes can we grow, learn and improve. Only then can we become truly remarkable. That’s why it’s called “screwing UP”!

10). Connect with your customers, your employees, your employers and your colleagues on an emotional level not just a product one. But, more than that: delight each other! Always go beyond what is necessary to close the deal and provide not just what is expected, but what is needed. Those things that you can only discover by listening more than you speak!

Remember that when you pay for attention, it becomes merely advertising and hyperbole; giving the viewer/listener pause to think (and believe) that you are just trying to sell them something. Instead, win loyalty from your new customers, but even more so from your “old” ones, and from your staff and your employers. Whilst marketing can sustain you and may bring in a few more leads, only loyalty and the brand image that comes with it can truly grow your business – good PR is not just effective, it is free! It is generated by people feeling good about you and spreading the word.

Versions of this article have appeared in The Straits Times and the Talent magazine from GMP Group.

So, paintbrushes and swimming togs at hand - repaint the cow within you and teach it to swim!

A purple cow that once was rare,
May soon be seen most everywhere.
The only cows that truly last,
Are hence the ones that change most fast!

Perhaps the next one to be seen,
Will be a cow that’s evergreen!


1 Godin, S. (2003): Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable. Penguin Group (USA).ISBN-13: 9781591840213
2 Kim, W.C and Mauborgne, R. (2005): Blue Ocean Strategy : How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant. Harvard Business School Press. ISBN-13: 9781591396192
3 St John, R. (2007): 8 to Be Great: The 8-Traits That Lead to Great Success. Train of Thought Arts Publishing. ISBN-13: 9780973900910 (also:
4 Pessiglione, M. et al (2008): Subliminal instrumental conditioning demonstrated in the human brain. Neuron 59(4):525-7.

Brief profile of the author: Andrew Lucy obtained his PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of East Anglia in the UK and has secondary qualifications in Natural Medicines and psychotherapy. Over more than twenty years of life science research and education, Dr Lucy has consulted for several organizations and published numerous international research articles (and some poetry!) Dr Lucy holds the status of Chartered Biologist with the Society of Biology and is currently the Director of Student Development at the Management Development Institute of Singapore.