Chaos is a ladder

If you’ve been watching Game of Thrones, you may recognise this quote from the shows master manipulator Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish.

Being born into a family of poor soldiers in a world where power & resources go to those born into the right noble families, Baelish has used his cunning to stir up chaos in order to advance his position.

Through his scheming, he’s managed to become the King’s financial advisor, then a lord of two of the ‘Seven Kingdoms’, and is currently plotting his way to becoming the next King. He causes chaos- such as wars and murder of key people (all while keeping his hands clean & the suspicion away from him), and then helps those caught up in the chaos solve their problems in exchange for advantageous positions for himself.

He is portrayed on the show as being one of the slimiest villains (in a show with many many villains) as he uses covert tactics, and is hard to pin down as to what he wants, shows no loyalty, and plays all sides- if it will work out in his favour. He is portrayed as the most morally corrupt.

However, in a world where the rules of the game are to assemble the biggest armies, learn to fight well (physically), and try to be born into the right family- he is the character on the show I root for above all the others as he’s one of the only true underdogs not being born into power, and his weapon of choice is his intellect. If I were directing, I surely would have portrayed him the hero of the story!

And then there’s the quote that sums up his life philosophy “chaos is a ladder”.

Now I’m not usually one for quotes. I find most of them to be upbeat feel good fodder with little substance such as “find your passion”. But this one happens to be my favourite quote of all time, and has quite a bit of practical application when it comes to spotting and making the most of opportunities- especially when the odds are stacked against you.

Chaos is when the same old same old doesn’t work anymore.

The order of what was is no longer. Things are now uncertain, and people may be panicked. The great thing about this is that people may be more willing to try new things.

If it’s not broke, don’t fix it can be the order of the day when things are good, and can lead to complacency and clinging to the status quo.

But when the status quo no longer works, it can be a great time to re evaluate things.

Your potential customers may be re-evaluating things too.

Those big, safe, established competitors you had swimming around, making sure nobody would touch you?

We’ll they may not be doing work that works anymore if the winds have changed.

Sure, what you may have been proposing in good times may have felt risky to those you want to court, but now that their house is on fire- what have they got to lose?

If the chaos is really bad, you may seem like their best hope- because what they are doing isn’t working.

Chaos is a time for renewal and change.

And for those who’re the underdogs and little guys, it can be a time of opportunity.

Is someone about to rise from chaos to topple New Zealand’s throne?

If you’re a fellow New Zealander, we all saw the Jacinda effect in action.

For those of you who aren’t, Jacinda Ardern is (as of the last 2 weeks) the Party leader of the main opposition party in New Zealand politics- the Labour Party.

For the last 3 terms, the National Party has been in power, and looked like a shoo in for yet another term, while the Labour Party has been changing its party leader almost as often as I change my underwear (which is daily in case you were wondering).

Again and again they selected conventional choices.

Those who’d been around the longest, stuck to the party tried and true policies of yesteryear, and made the party stakeholders feel safe. They also looked how you’d expect them to look- over 50, white, & male.

While they all ticked the boxes on paper that would enable them to govern somewhat effectively, they all lacked a critical ability that would get them there in the first place- salesmanship.

It’s an unfortunate fact of politics that to be able to govern, you must first be a great sales person and campaigner. Two skills which may not even be related. But it is what it is.

So for years they’ve burned through their list of ‘safe’ candidates, none of which were able to lift the party’s polling numbers.

And then rock bottom arrived- 24%, which was the lowest result since polls began in 1995. All of this just 8 weeks out from the election.

So with the house now ablaze, and having burned through almost all of the conventional options, there was one obvious solution: Jacinda.

And by obvious, I mean she was the obvious choice of the people. The people whose support is needed to win an election.

For a long while she’d been showing up in the ranks of preferred Prime Minister polls.

Despite being a relatively junior member of parliament.

This didn’t go entirely unnoticed by the establishment, who recognised her popularity, and took advantage of this by making her the deputy leader. Actually, I’m not sure why it happened, I’m speculating here, but it makes sense.

And in the weeks leading up to her being sworn in as the new leader, she’d been outranking the actual party leader Andrew Little in the preferred prime minister poll.

So she was clearly the obvious choice.

Only she wasn’t like the rest. She didn’t fit the mold.

Despite being in parliament for coming up to 10 years (so she’s clearly experienced), it’s been said she lacks the experience because she hasn’t achieved enough whilst there.

But I reckon it’s also because she doesn’t look right.

She is younger at 37, female, attractive, and able to have a laugh.

I know from experience that when you don’t look right your credibility comes under considerable scrutiny.
And by not looking right, I mean looking young.

You’re guilty until proven innocent.

You’re not given the benefit of the doubt- you’re perceived to be incompetent until proven with complete certainty otherwise.

It’s one of the last forms of discrimination that society deems to be acceptable.

Being female, attractive, and funny aren’t really issues in and of themselves, but when combined with a youthful appearance, these can add to the associations one may have with incompetence.

But she’s likeable, a great story teller, speaks with conviction, & in fact does come across as credible- which seem to be the primary qualifications needed to win an election these days. Qualifications which none of the others had.

And after only a couple of weeks, the party support jumped up 9% to a total of 33%.

There’s still 6 weeks left, so let’s see how far this goes.

Had the Labour Party not been almost burned to a crisp, I don’t think she’d been given a chance.

But when there’s chaos, what once seemed risky can instead seem like the safest option.

And it usually is.

I’m not the same as my competition- I’m different. But do your customers agree?

It can often be difficult to see your own situation clearly. You see things at 100x more detail than customers do, and have a different perspective. Plus you know what to look for, and are able to easily evaluate between the different service providers.

It’s like when you look in the mirror and see you’ve got a couple of pimples forming, plus a bit of a double chin at certain angles- but nobody else notices. They think you look great, and instead notice how straight your teeth are, because that’s what they notice isn’t right with them.

But most of the time customers aren’t thinking too much about choosing who to go with- they just want their problems sorted. Or it doesn’t matter too much and they just go with what ‘feels right’ in the moment without much thought. They aren’t evaluating you the same way you evaluate yourself and your industry.

Given the different points of view, it can often be difficult to explain to clients that they’re looking a little bit too alike to their competitors. It can sound as though I’m describing a situation that applies to others, but not them.

So how can you tell if this may be you (even if you don’t know it)?

How can you see things like a customer would?

I was trying to explain this concept yesterday while with a photography client.

And as each photograph is ‘custom’ it can make it even more difficult to discern the feeling of ‘sameness’ a customer might get- cause none of them are exactly the same.

I realised how pointing out how 2 different sets of photographs that are different, but asserting they look the same would be just confusing as f***.

So instead I decided to illustrate this by showing this effect by asking my client to be a customer, and choose who to go with in an industry they’re unfamiliar with.

We selected plumbing.

We fired up our trusty uncle Google, and scanned through each of the listings on the first 2 pages in quick succession.

I don’t think we stayed on a single site for longer than a minute.

Whilst the specific wording was a bit different on each, the layouts not exactly the same, and the list of services and offers not exactly the same, the overall impression was the same.

Without fail, they all said the following things:

-How many years of experience they had.
-Areas they service regions, suburbs etc.
-We can help with any problem- no job too big or too small.
-Here’s our list of services and prices:
-We respond quickly
-We are reliable, and people trust us.

In addition to this, most of the sites where white, with blue flourishes.

These websites told you no more than “I’m a plumber, and do exactly what you’d expect I’d do. Call me”.

Which is all well and good to a certain degree. You know you need a plumber, so you look online to find one, and those in the list have a chance of being chosen.

In fact, after being overwhelmed by this decision, you’ll probably feel indecision, and you’d probably just do what most people do- and that’s ask for a recommendation from a friend.

Being chosen will depend on you having a large enough following, so that you’ll have the best possible chance to be recommended. The more people who have worked with you in the past, the more chances you have. Being good at what you do is a minimum expectation, and not something to necessarily rave about- although i you do bad work it goes without saying that you won’t get recommended.

And who does this way of buying benefit?

Those who are already well established- despite you being just as worthy as them for the job.

But let’s say for a minute that you look up Plumbers on Google and there’s one there that instead of saying something along the lines of “24/7 Plumber- Servicing the (your town)Region” it said “We fix leaking pipes”, and if you had a leaking pipe, that listing would probably be the one you’d gravitate towards.

Specialisation is one way to stand out from the wallpaper of your competition, but isn’t the only thing to think about. Point is- if you’re saying something different in a way that resonates more strongly with your customers than what others are saying, you then become the obvious choice of who to go with, and customers may not even consider anyone else.

So, after this, he was starting to get the idea, but I was still sensing a bit of doubt- after all, photography isn’t like plumbing. Plumbing is just plumbing. It’s all the same isn’t it? You call up, get your leak fixed. End of. Right?

Enter: phase 2.

So then we selected from this bunch what we thought were the top three most generic sites that we felt typified what all the Plumbers were saying, and told him to call them up.

We made up a bit of a story about a blocked toilet that wouldn’t flush, then asked the bog standard questions (when, how much, yada yada) before getting to the meat of the matter: We found you on Google, and we’ve been to a few other sites, but not sure what we should be looking for in a plumber…

And you know what? All the plumbers we called thought they were by far the best, and enumerated all the reasons why.

Because they didn’t see things the way we did. They thought they were different.

Then the crux of the matter- getting him to see that the same thing was happening in his market.

We followed the same process and looked up local photographers.

We quickly scanned the sites and noted overall patterns.

Of which there was quite a few:

-Having a similar list of services offered; wedding, portraits, landscapes, babies, corporate/events.
-Having similar prices.
-Saying something along the lines of “You should hire me because I’m passionate about capturing memories- it’s about the people”

On top of this stuff, there were also common themes running through the collection of photographs as a whole- even though they were all technically custom and ‘different’.

-Similar subject matter was taken in the shots; the wedding dress shot, jumping in the air at the beach, babies shot inside ‘stuff’, close-ups of hands and feet, etc.
-Similar photographic styles; in wedding photography there’s a warm yet mid range tone palette in pastel type tones. There’s not too much contrast or chiaroscuro, there’s a bit of lens flaring with the suns glare featuring quite heavily. There’s also a ‘twee’ country bumpkin wholesome vibe- not dramatic, or energetic, or edgy, or other vibe.There’s heavy use of mid range shots in front of a simple rustic flat outdoor background, typically with 2 tones- straw tone grass, with mountains etc.

After first seeing this play out from the perspective of a customer in a foreign industry (plumbing) he was then able to see this pattern in his own industry (photography).

So go on-give it a go!

Go Google the industry category that best fits what you do.

Go through and note all the similarities.

What things are you all saying?

What are you all offering?

Who are you all speaking to?

How do you all look?

You can also do this for any part of your business. You can gather together a selection of ads across your industry, an audit of places and mediums you use to promote your business, or even looking at the characteristics of the people you hire.

Are you all looking and sounding the same? And does doing so serve a purpose?

Because while you’re looking and sounding the same, no one will notice you.

And if it’s harder to get noticed, you’ll have to spend more, and work harder and longer just to be seen.

Do you have the time and money to outwork and outspend others in your market in order to be the go-to choice for customers?

Thought not.

And if you decide to do your own thing in your own way, you won’t have to worry about what your competitors are doing.

You can ignore them.