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Googling Ancient Oakwoods, Yahoo!, and Harnessing Difference

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

A Post About Being Different…Kubau-Kiel

Three times a year my family and I visit a friend’s static caravan in a remote part of Argyll.

Castle Sween, it’s called. No-one’s ever heard of the place. It’s one of Scotland’s best kept secrets.

Arriving there is like exiting a time machine. Back to the 70s. You know, when people passed the time of day with each other, smiled, said hello, and stopped for a chat.

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From “the van” it’s 25 minutes’ drive to get a mobile or (reliable) wireless signal.

caravan castle sween different weird post.

“The van”.

Family Ties

Ninety-five per cent of people are there because of a family connection. Usually their parents owned a caravan. And they keep coming back for more.

I know this because when I’m shooting the breeze at the village hall coffee morning, or chatting with someone leaning over their caravan decking, I invariably ask them.


This Easter we were on our favourite walk.

Taynish Art Trail (a short bimble through a forest, past an old mill, to the edge of Loch Sween and back).

picture of seal taynisj art trail weird different post.

On the water’s edge, there’s a wooden box. Lift the lid and you find a map case containing a comments book and an anthology of poems about trees.

William Blake

And a William Blake verse inscribed on a stone:

blake poem different weird post

To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the Palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.

We were sitting on a bench taking in the view when two families appeared. They’d come from different parts of the UK to holiday together.

I started speaking to one of the blokes. He came from Brighton. And eventually asked: “So what brought you here on holiday?”

His reply:

We googled ‘ancient oakwoods’.

ancient oakwood forest canopy different weird post.

The oakwood tree canopy on the Taynish peninsula.

(As you do, I thought, amused). The conversation drifted off and we said our goodbyes. But the exchange stuck with me.


What a marvellous, leftfield, different way of planning your two-week family holiday.

Not a brochure, Center Parcs, family connections, or TripAdvisor for this guy.

He took an extremely niche interest (unsurprisingly, Google tells me no-one is searching for this term), googled it, and chose one of the few areas of Europe where these trees grow.

Meaning a 12-hour drive for the Brighton guy’s family (the others were from Durham).

Now that is out of the ordinary. A little bit weird. Different.

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Solo PR

Fast forward to the present and I was reminded of this exchange when I wrote a post last week.

In it I shared 28 lessons I’ve learnt in 28 months as a solo digital PR practitioner.

One of which is:

“Don’t be afraid to be different.”

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My point was that solo businesses have the advantage of not being hidebound by bureaucracy and shouldn’t be scared to try new, different things.

To stand out from the crowd.

crowd different weird post

Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd.


And this applies to SMEs as well.

Being different, hey, maybe even a bit “weird”, is good.

Who wants homogeneity?

​Who wants people speaking at you like they’re dictating a press release?

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Who wants to read about what you’re going to do “going forward” or the “thrill” (nay “delight”) of some corporate semi-bauble.

Not me. Not any of my clients. Nor anyone I want to be doing business with.

Because we’re all weird, different, unique. We all have our own idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies. So why not celebrate that?

Don’t agree with me? Perhaps you’re NOT a solo practitioner (whatever your field), or you don’t work for an SME?

It’s easy for me to say, but this sort of stuff doesn’t apply to you. You’ve got that monthly board meeting to prepare for, your main competitor’s just launched a new service, and your sales are down this month.

corporate life different weird post.

Harvard Business School MBA Leader

Let me bring in an expert to persuade you otherwise.

I read a book recently (I read a lot; mainly business books – you can sign up for my monthly reading list email here).

It’s called Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, by Youngme Moon, chair of the MBA program at Harvard Business School. You should read it too.

Youngme’s premise:

What if working like crazy to beat the competition did exactly the opposite – made you mediocre and more like the competition…rethink your business strategy, stop conforming and start deviating, stop emulating and start innovating. Because to stand out you must become the exception, not the rule.

Topical Exhibit One: Yahoo!

You’ll have read the news this week that one of the founding companies of the Internet (Yahoo!) was acquired by Verizon for a cool $5bn.

Sounds a lot yeah? Not when you consider Microsoft’s rumoured to have offered 10 times that amount back in 2008.

Going back even further (1995) when I was in my final year at University, Yahoo!, as far as I was concerned, was the Internet. Back then, Yahoo!, “was the future”.

Moon tells a familiar tale – to anyone who was around in those days – of the world’s then-leading search portal (and its competitors AltaVista, AOL etc).

Of how each of the world’s most popular information superhighway navigators began – like the pigs in Animal Farm – looking the same.


…within a few years all of them had evolved into online smorgasbords offering a swollen buffet of information and services.

october 12 1999 wayback Yahoo homepage

Yahoo!’s homepage on 12 October 1999.


Then Google came along, offering this:

Google homepage 12 October 1999 different weird post.

Google’s homepage on 12 October 1999 (I love the way Google launched with a press release).

They said it wouldn’t work. Google gave customers less not more.

Google didn’t (at that stage) try to be all things to all men. And it didn’t meet its customers’ expectations.

Who wants a search engine portal where you CAN’T find out about the weather, news, horoscopes, shopping all on one handy (albeit slightly crammed) webpage, they said.

The rest, as THEY say, is history.


But the author doesn’t leave her thesis there.

She cites, among others, IKEA, JetBlue, Cirque du Soleil, The Simpsons, Swatch, Birkenstock, Red Bull, Mini, Apple, Benetton, Dove, Harley-Davidson, Marmite. I’d add Innocent, Skoda, Freeagent, and BrewDog to the list.

marmite pics for different weird post.

All brands that are different. That don’t follow the herd. That shook up their area of the business world. And staked out a little corner to call their own.

These are not examples of clever marketing (albeit marketing, in each case, has played an important part in their success).

These are companies that stand for something. That ARE different. Now household names, for many years they were considered, well, “a bit weird”.


No matter what size your business, there’s gold in being different, being a trendsetter, finding your “guns” and sticking to them. Plough your own furrow, be authentic, and believe in what you offer. BE DIFFERENT.

Moon finishes by making three predictions for companies that will be successful in years to come. The new Googles, so to speak.

#1. They’ll offer something that is hard to come by (scarce).

#2: They’ll have a big idea.

#3: They’ll be intensely human “conceived by individuals who are acutely sensitive to the complexities of the human spirit”.

Let’s hope she’s right.

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  1. Reply

    Nick Sharpe

    July 28, 2016

    I've sympathy for all the thousands (millions?) of people who're desperate to be different and stand out but can be hide-bound by a c-suite that's reluctant to make a public mistake.

    All PRs will recognise this.

    Maybe it's the skills to charm your way past the defences that really deserve celebration.

    • Reply

      David Sawyer

      July 28, 2016

      Hi Nick

      Billions? It's hard to turn round a supertanker. I'd say being charming is a great skill but if no-one's listening, time to stop wasting your breath. No point (wherever you work in the world) being a square peg in a round hole.



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