10 Ways to Create Unmistakable Work

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By: Srinivas Rao


When something is unmistakable, it’s so distinctive that nobody else could have created it except you. When nobody can do what you do in the way that you do it, regardless of the art form, your competition becomes irrelevant.

You’re not the best. You’re the only.

One of the questions that I’m asked is how to make something that’s unmistakable. On my podcast, The Unmistakable Creative, I’ve interviewed the most creative people in the world, from every walk of life imaginable—people who embody what it means to be unmistakable—and have found that they have certain qualities in common.


  1. Curiosity


The most common theme that comes up again and again in my interviews with creative professionals is curiosity. When people indulge their curiosity, it leads to innovation, insight and creative breakthroughs. When I asked Tina Seelig of Stanford’s d.school what the through line was to her career, she answered without hesitation that her secret is curiosity. Because of that curiosity her work has extended beyond just teaching into writing books and leading the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, in which students are exposed to a wide variety of startup founders, authors and thought leaders.

This insatiable curiosity is so prevalent as the common denominator amongst guests that I now look for it to choose whom to interview for The Unmistakable Creative Podcast. As a result I’ve interviewed bank robbers, performance psychologists, authors, entrepreneurs and even drug dealers! And because of that fact, many of my guests are people you don’t usually hear on other podcasts, helping my work stand out among the sea of podcasts.


  1. Experimentation


Unmistakable people are like scientists working in laboratories. They conduct lots of experiments and make lots of little bets.

The story of how Stewart Butterfield founded Slack shows the power of experimentation. As part of building a multiplayer game, Butterfield and his team built an internal communication tool. The game was a failure, but became the impetus to spin off the chat program and launch Slack that was recently valued at $3.8 billion. A seemingly unrelated side project, an experiment, was the foundation of something that became one of the most important communication tools of this decade. Google’s 20 percent time policy, which has been responsible for products like Gmail, Google News and many others, is another example of how experimentation drives innovation. This is something that can be applied to anybody’s life or business.

Experimentation allows you to make little bets without significant costs of time and money, while giving you enough feedback to determine whether or not to go further down a particular path.


  1. Longevity


Y Combinator President Sam Altman says “A long-term view is your greatest competitive advantage because so few people have one.” In a world that moves at breakneck speeds, where we’re exposed to millions of messages a day, our perception of longevity is warped. A year often feels like a long time. According to Altman, a founder should be prepared to work for 10 years on a startup. Hustle now, but don’t take your eye off of the prize and have long-term patience and vision.


  1. Commitment


With the click of a few buttons, starting a website, online project, podcast or YouTube channel is easier than it has ever been at any time in our history. With social media you can easily announce your new creation. Because starting is so easy, sticking with it becomes more important than ever. The Internet is littered with the digital graveyards of people who had a brief moment of inspiration:

Blogs that have been abandoned within the first year,

Podcasts that only have 10 episodes before someone gives up,

Apps that haven’t been updated or developed further and much more.


To cut through the noise and be taken seriously for any project, book, piece of art or company, commitment and consistency are non-negotiable ingredients.


  1. Embracing Fear


Many people never start because they assume they will fail. Or there will be a magical moment when their fear disappears. As motivational speaker Philip McKernan once said:


“We all want to get rid of and eradicate fear. Therein lies one of the biggest problems. I don’t think we ever deal with and put fear to bed. It’s always going to be part of us. The problem is that we won’t accept that. So we put on our sneakers, our Lululemon pants, and our Under Armour tops and we sprint and we run from fear. And eventually we have to stop and take a breather or stop and take water or sleep, or pee or whatever the hell we have to do. And you turn around and the bastard is behind you. And the bastard is fear. Fear doesn’t need water. It doesn’t need caffeine. It doesn’t need sleep. It doesn’t need anything. It will always be with us. So, do we want to spend the rest of our lives running from it or do we want to turn about and face it? Sit down, get to know it, process it. Then you don’t feel you have to run away from it. You can walk this world with it. And it loosens its grip on you. And ironically when you embrace it as a natural part of your being it doesn’t control you anymore.”

What we fear most is the unknown, but much of what’s possible for us, what can move us from where we are now to where we want to be, occurs in the unknown. If we accept that, it becomes much easier to embrace fear.


  1. Bridge the Gap between Art and Commerce


In the process of building products, services and companies, or even launching new initiatives, our natural temptation is to look at what’s been done in our own industry. But if we look beyond those walls and bring in elements from other art forms into products and services, we can help bridge the gap between art and commerce. This is how products and services transform into emotionally engaging, compelling experiences that we can’t help but pay attention to and can’t help but be moved by. When author and speaker Erik Wahl began his career, rather than study what other speakers did, he looked at comedy, music and other art forms that were incredibly engaging. By combining painting and music with his keynote talks, Wahl has bridged the gap between art and commerce.


  1. Ignore Best Practices


Best practices are nothing more than guidelines to capture what works and help lead to further successful outputs. As Shane Snow said, “Best practices don’t make you the best. They make you the average of everyone else who follows them.” A key ingredient to becoming unmistakable is not to follow other people’s rules. Nearly every best practice would be more accurate if it was preceded by the disclaimer, “This is what we did. This is how it turned out. It might work for you. It might not.”


  1. Avoid the Echo Chamber


When we see something that works, we might want to mimic it to try to replicate the results. But if you do this, the best you can hope for is to create a pale imitation of something that already exists. At worst, this imitation will be completely ignored. In order to create work that’s unmistakable, create work unique to you, your experience and your inner compass.


  1. A Bold Point of View


Author Justine Musk put it well when she said, “If you’re going to have a bold and compelling point of view, you’re going to piss some people off. Rather than focus on the validation you may or may not receive, put your energy into your work and what it is you feel compelled to express. If you attempt to appeal to everybody, you’ll appeal to nobody.


  1. Your 0.1%


The fact is that there will never be another person with your exact genetic makeup, life experiences and perspective. And to omit this uniqueness from your work is to deny the very essence of what it is that makes you unmistakable.

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