A Catch Phrase That Set Me Off

I had the opportunity to witness a conference presenter while I waited for my turn and time on the conference agenda. What I heard in these few minutes left me sputtering in disbelief.

The presenter was talking about change. You’ve heard it before–we’ve got to change, now is the time to change, here’s how to change, blah, blah, blah. That wasn’t what provoked me.

The provocative statement was this–the presenter showed a slide and then said off-handedly, “Unique is the enemy of great.” The point was supposed to be that people who resist change will often say that their situation is special, out of the norm, and thus the impetus for change is lesser here rather than there.

OK, I get it. Overall, I agree with the sentiment. But when you really chew on this particular quote–unique is the enemy of great–I think you begin to get a bad taste in your mouth.

There’s nothing wrong with emphasizing and understanding the unique. Unique is good and in a lot of contexts, unique is great. Just because someone wants to show that there may be particular circumstances in play that will complicate someone’s proclaimed course or direction doesn’t mean he or she is deathly afraid of or opposed to change. By overlooking those nuances or peculiarities, it could be that the change sought will be the change sunk. If you implement a change without accounting for uniqueness, you’re doomed to failure. Don’t knock uniqueness.

Here’s more. Let’s flip our little slice of wisdom about unique being the enemy of great. So what is the ally of greatness? Standardization? Conformity? Vanilla and bland? Lemmings, lockstep, and Stepford-Wife replication?

 Again, I know, I get it, it’s just a catch phrase and shouldn’t be taken so literally. Take it easy, Dan, it’s only a casual remark.

But again I say–let the impact and implication of the phrase settle in for a minute. If the value of it diminishes so fast, then how useful or relevant or healthy a phrase is it?

I confess that I’ve surely uttered similar, off-the-cuff lines and phrases. But Lord oh Lord, let them be few, far between, and much better thought-out.