Creative ways to differentiate yourself
in the workplace

I recently heard the following words used to describe our society today: "Our souls are leaking. We are in a recession and we are receding." It is my belief that as a result of downsizing, re-engineering, overwhelming changes in technology and job descriptions, and stress from having to do more with less, we are receding, both as individuals and as organizations into what Tom Peters calls in his book Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations the "boring blandness of mediocrity." We have chosen consistency, security, and "following the crowd" over creativity, risk taking, and differentiation. The result is a vanilla world!

In order to survive in today's world both as organizations and as individuals, I believe we must begin to think of creative ways we can differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. How can we capture people's attention, ensure their remembrance of us, enhance relationships, and bring "value-added" to our individual jobs? With competition for products, services, and even jobs at its fiercest ever, only those who stand out from the crowd will survive.

In 1993 I wrote a book titled The Creative Communicator -- 399 Tools to Communicate Commitment without Boring People to Death!, Irwin Professional Publishing, Burr Ridge, IL. I felt a deep sense of mission to share creative ways organizations and individuals all over the world were communicating commitment to their beliefs and values, hundreds of ways that were getting both customers' and employees' attention. It is my belief creative communication becomes the framework for any kind of differentiation to occur.

Here are three questions to consider when you send any message, whether it is written, electronic, or face-to-face:

1. Will it get the information across clearly and accurately?

Thie is the business level of the interaction, the real purpose for the communication, the task of meeting some external objective.

2. How will it make the receiver feel?

This is the human level of the interaction and is based on the feelings of the receiver. Look at the format, the words you've chosen, the tone of the message, and consider the emotional impact it will have on the human being who receives it.

3. Will it surprise the reader?

This is the element of creativity that is so often missing from our communications. The Chicago Tribune recently reported a study which found that the average North American worker spends over 50 hours a week communicating in some way. I think we are all bombarded with communications today -- piles of junk mail, hundreds of E-mail messages, and even full voice mail boxes -- so in order for our communications to be heard and heeded, we must do something as Maureen Glass stated in her Jan/Feb article in Association Publishing "to amuse, to alarm, to distract, and do everything we can to grab their attention."

As I discuss creative ways to differentiate yourself in the workplace, keep these three elements of every message in mind. Your purpose is ultimately a "business" one -- to win sales, respect, credibility, or even a job. However, the way your receiver feels will ultimately impact the outcome of the communication even more strongly than the business level. And finally, if you truly want to stand out, your message must contain an element of surprise.


Let's look at some very specific ways to creatively differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

1. Your Business Card

Since I believe that we are all in the business of creating relationships, I think it is important for your business card to not only contain information on the business level, but what does your card tell about you as an individual? What do you love? To what are you committed? For example, my business card has the bright-colored cover of my first book on the front and my personal motto "Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm" on the back. Consider adding a picture, quotation, graphic, motto, embossment, fabric, or even a sticker to create an instant bond with the receiver.

2. Personal Motto / Philosophy of Life / Mission Statement

Do you have a favorite quotation that represents your philosophy of life? Have you written a personal mission statement? I suggest you add these to your resume or brochures and share them with your customers, both internal and external. My resume contains the following quotation from Albert Schweitzer: "The only ones among us who will be truly happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve." I want future employers and customers to choose to hire me both on the human and the business levels. Tom Peters tells about a cab driver who shares his mission statement with every customer who enters his cab!

3. Fax Cover Sheet

Is your fax cover sheet all business? This is a wonderful opportunity to get your creative juices going and to get your receiver's attention by doing something to surprise them -- a graphic, quote, holiday message, trivia question, brain teaser, interesting fact. Mine has my logo of butterflies (get out of your boring cocoon of routine business communications and "fly free") and my personal motto.

4. Voice Mail Message

Most people do not like long voice mail messages; however, they do appreciate specific information about when and where you can be reached (business level). I would also challenge you to be creative as well as to remember the human level in your messages. No one wants to talk to a computer! I always try to make my message warm and uplifting, ending with a positive thought such as, "I hope your day is filled with surprises," or "Enjoy Spring!"

5. Your Office / Cubicle

Again consider what it says about you as a human being -- does your space exhibit in some way one or two things that you love? Mine contains a picture of Mother Teresa, collages of cards, pictures, and letters from people in my audiences, a fat-tummied ceramic pig to remind me not to take myself too seriously, pictures of my three children, many special gifts from friends and customers including a butterfly wand, a Teddy bear, a windup walking mouth, an "AFFIRMATIONS" jar, and many, many books. Also consider what the hallways in your place of work look like. Tom Peters says that if your reception area and hallways are boring, chances are that everything about your organization is boring including your service or product! Have a poster party and invite anyone who wants to come, have brightly colored markers, flip chart pads, and cokes and chips. Have each person write his or her favorite saying or quotation and then have the charts laminated. You have instantly uplifting, colorful hallways!

6. Ways of Appreciating Others

How do you appreciate others around you? Doing this creatively will help you stand out in a really positive way. Get your creative juices going to determine some unusual, attention-getting, delightful ways you can thank others in your life. Whenever I speak to an audience anywhere in the world, I give each person a small, business-sized card that has a butterfly on it and says, "The world is more special because you're in it" and on the back it says, "PASS IT ON." I ask them to give it in the next 48 hours to someone who has done something special for them. When I spoke to a branch of IBM, they decided to create their own "pass it on" cards and have sent them all over the world! Consider a fishbowl of cartoons, jokes or positive thoughts, special post-it notes to leave, affirming stickers, handwritten notes of any kind, bringing a picnic lunch to share with someone, and of course, any kind of treats. A friend recently sent a business colleague and internal customer the following huge 3-D "treat" card:

You are CERTStainly a LIFESAVER and worth $100,000 to us! Sometimes life is a ROCKY ROAD but BAR NONE you are always MOUNDS of JOY, laughs, and SNICKERS! Your are a BOUNTY of fun, very CAREFREE, and EXTRA special. SKOR big and count down to PAYDAY. Best wishes, hugs, and KISSES!

7. Adding a Personal Signature to your Work

This is a wonderful challenge for us all--what can we do to differentiate ourselves from all the other people who do the same work we do? In these days of career changing and layoffs, it becomes essential, I believe, that we strive to find a way to stand out from the crowd, to be special. As a professional speaker, I have two personal signatures that differentiate me. One is the "Pass It On" cards which I have given to over 12,000 people in the last 14 months. The other is the atmosphere I create. No matter what size group I speak to, whether it is 30 or 3000, I line the walls of the room or ballroom with 50 - 60 brightly-colored, laminated flip charts with quotations in my handwriting that relate to my speaking topic. My "customers" love it, it enhances learning, and it is memorable.

* A graphic artist I work with always includes a stick of sugarless gum in everything he sends, his "signature."

* A nurse leaves a handwritten card by the bedside of her patients with a note introducing herself and assuring them of her care and understanding.

* A United Airlines pilot handwrites notes to 5 or 6 passengers on every flight, thanking them for their business.

* A baggage attendant collects nametags that fall off luggage and mails them back.

* A taxi driver gives his customers a choice of 5 different kinds of music as well as a variety of newspapers.

* A grocery bagger puts a "thought for the day" in each customer's bag.

* A meat packer places a "snoopy" sticker on each piece of meat he prepares.

Adding your personal signature to your work will result in greater commitment to your job and lots more fun in the workplace.

8. Become the organization Expert

Find some small niche / topic / skill that you have a passion for or interest in. Then learn everything there is to know about it. Read, study, interview, practice until you become the "organization expert" in that area. Your value, reputation, and job security will increase in direct proportion to your added knowledge. Before I began my own company, I became the "how-to, idea" expert for my company, collecting many stories and legends about what people were doing to serve their customers creatively. This knowledge ultimately ended in the publishing of two books and is one of my speaking guarantees -- to get people's creative juices going and have them leave with many immediately applicable action ideas. Become a lifelong learner to remain competitive in today's job market. Tom Peters suggests that we "repot" ourselves every five years!

Although I've focused in this article on individual ways to differentiate yourself, all of the ideas can be applied to your organization. Choose ideas that fit your culture and are comfortable for your style of interacting. However, don't be afraid to leave your comfort zone. The element of surprise will add delight and joy not only for those with whom you interact, but you, too, will approach your work with a new and creative spirit. You will help to add the sparkle and zest that will allow both you and your organization to survive rather than to recede into "boring mediocrity"!

About the author


For free articles you can use in your company newsletters and an archive of dozens of immediately applicable “Ideas of the Month,” go to Barbara Glanz, CSP, works with organizations that want to improve morale, retention, and service and with people who want to rediscover the joy in their work and in their lives. She is the author of Balancing Acts — More than 250 Guiltfree, Creative Ideas to Blend your Work and your Life (Dearborn 2003), Handle with CARE — Motivating and Retaining Employees (McGraw-Hill 2002), CARE Packages for the Workplace -- Dozens of Little Things You Can Do to Regenerate Spirit at Work (McGraw-Hill 1996), The Creative Communicator (McGraw-Hill 1998), CARE Packages for the Home (Andrews McMeel 1998), and Building Customer Loyalty (McGraw-Hill 1994). As an internationally known speaker, trainer, and business consultant who has a Master’s degree in Adult Education, Barbara lives and breathes her personal motto: "Spreading Contagious Enthusiasm™." She has presented on six continents and in all 50 states since 1995. For more information, she can be reached directly at 941-312-9169; Fax 941-349-8209; email:; website:

Free CD/tape offer The Sedona Method

Learn more Communication Skills


home | Dream Job |Resume Writing | Job Interview | Customer Service Skills

Presentation Skills | Leadership Skills | Self Confidence | free ebooks | Contact us | Privacy Policy