The Power of Distinction
Being something to everyone or everything to someone.
I am a picky eater. And I always have been. In recent years, after dealing with a semi-serious health issue, I am now (much to the dismay of my wife) even pickier.
Last week I was traveling with my family. We were scouting out restaurants in a new place, and I was reviewing the menus online. It was the night of the trip we had set aside for a ‘nice dinner.’ So the menus all had the name of the chef listed at the bottom.
With fancy restaurants come fancy meals. I did not know any of these chefs personally, but they all seemed to love arugula, chutney, and truffles. As luck would have it, I do not love those things.
If it were at a casual restaurant, I would just request they 86 those things (that’s restaurant speak for leave them off). But these were not causal restaurants. These were restaurants that make snooty faces when you ask them to make any changes to the menu.
It dawned on me — this meal will likely cost three times what a ‘normal’ meal would cost for us. I’m paying 3x the price, and I have fewer options and less control.Why?
It is because Chef Leonard Fancypants — or whatever the chef’s name is— knows more than I do. They are the expert. They know the perfect chutney for that fish, the perfect wine for that steak, and the perfect place to find the perfect arugula. They have cooked this very dish a million times and satisfied hundreds of customers with it. I am paying for their expertise. And I ought not to stroll in with burrito breath, pretending I know more or know better.
Sure, you can make an argument that I am best suited to determine what I want. But I am not their target market. I am not a foodie. I am a picky, meat & potatoes southerner that would pick off the chutney before the plate hit the table. If they want to perform their craft at a high level, they should want to avoid me. They should discourage me’s from being their customer. I am a distraction.
In my 10+ years of working in various professional service industries, I have seen highly-educated folks with tons of experience attempt to be all things to all people. Against their better judgment, or perhaps in their desire to impress, they cave to the lowest common denominator.
Instead of being the chef, they position themselves as a line cook.
Hear me out — there is a huge market for proverbial line cooks. There are countless examples in the marketplace of someone who can make something cheaper, faster, and with mass appeal.
But there is also room for artists. There is room for experts, who are so skilled at a given trade that they do not (and should not) attract a mass audience. Someone who can charge 3x the price, because their output is exquisite, creative, or of emasculate quality.
The question is this: are you the chef or the line cook?
If you answer ‘chef,’ the follow-up question is this: are your customers willing to pay 3x for your service?
If no, then you are probably still a line cook. Perhaps you have chef talent, but you are not communicating it to your customers. Thus, you are a commodity — a line cook.
If you are tired of competing with many other cooks for work, consider differentiating yourself. Consider ways you can master your craft — perhaps for only a small segment of the marketplace — in such a way that they will gladly pay 3x for you.