"the engineers didn't like Jobs. His unkempt appearance, and his belief that his fruit and yogurt diet meant that he could go without showers, didn't add to his popularity. Jobs's supervisor finally arranged for him to work late at night."
- The Little Kingdom (Michael Moritz on Steve Jobs)
I've recently been on an unintentional kick reading about doing the opposite of everyone else. Or similarly, giving up caring what everyone else is doing or thinking.
This is a principle that goes overlooked in quite a few areas of business and personal development.
Look at things like poker, investing, and Aikido (a Japanese martial art form). In these things, people succeed by going against the grain. Doing the opposite of the herd, or their competition. Pulling when someone is pushing. Playing aggressive when people are all being passive.
Doing the opposite of the traditional norm has been a big help for things we've succeeded at with Inkling. Here's a couple quick examples of ours.
When we started Inkling Markets we realized we were creating software that would fall under "enterprise software". One of the odd norms of enterprise software is that most vendors make it very difficult to learn about or try their software on your own without signing up for an immediate bombardment of sales pitches. So we've stuck to making Inkling prediction markets very easy to try and learn about on your own. Someone can ask us for assistance anytime, but it's up to them when they are ready.
This is quite the opposite approach most sales staff take. I was reminded of that especially around the holidays. You go into too many retail stores and someone is nudging up to you as soon as you walk in the door. They'd like to shadow you and your wallet around the entire visit.
I know doing the opposite here at Inkling has made our customers more comfortable and our product easier to learn.
Another example of us doing the opposite is with tgethr, our tool for simple group email communication. If you peruse what the majority is offering for collaboration tools, you see a multitude of Twitter inspirations encouraging tiny snippets of information popping up in real time for tons of people to see - or even watching you type :) We wanted something very much in the other direction. Something that was asynchronous, encouraged more long form writing again, that was totally private and secure, and still used email as it's central medium. Turned out it looks like a bunch of people would agree that's what they still want (evidenced by the recent vote for email as the best collaboration tool from Life Hacker)
A third example of this thinking isn't from us, but from Trevor Squires. In software development, a huge majority is thinking about 2 things: building a new web application or building an iPhone app. Trevor built a desktop application. A desktop application that merely makes someone else's product better. It's not a twitter client either. It's for a web application that pales in comparison to the traffic Twitter gets. It's for Campfire, a business group chat application from 37signals.
I can't say a lot about the monetary "success" Trevor has achieved with this. But I can say he has happy paying clients with us. And I believe even some of the guys at 37signals who built Campfire are using his application as well.
Being a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian can be a quick way to being a jerk. And I wouldn't recommend not showering like Steve. But I would recommend questioning what everyone else is doing as a frequent goal and daily mantra in order to increase your creativity and differentiate yourself and your business.