You Need to Be Shticky To Connect and Influence

People are attracted to that which is novel and unusual. Our attention will go to the red rose in a bouquet of white ones. We all like to think we are that red rose. “Remember, you’re unique, just like everybody else.” The reality is that few of us really are, at least not without working hard at differentiating ourselves in a memorable way. Finding something different about ourselves and figuring out how to communicate that can make a difference in getting what we want.

The race to the top of whatever field you’re in is not won by skill, knowledge or talent alone. You also need to find something that makes you unforgettable and helps you stand out from the crowd. You need to find your “shtickiness,” in a world where the competition for our attention increases every day.

The Power of Shtick

“Shtick” is derived from the Yiddish word for “piece,” but it came into popular parlance in the United States when it was used to describe the work of comics. Their shtick was their signature mannerisms or phrases. Today the word extends beyond comedy and theater to mean, as Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it, “one’s special trait, interest, or activity.”

Remember Lada Gaga’s meat dress? That was shticky. Or recall Rodney Dangerfield’s hook-line, “I don’t get no respect.” Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, the two French musicians behind the group Daf Punk, would shy away from the camera. They found their shtickiness in a signature look and air of mystery by hiding their faces behind masks or helmets. But shtickiness is not limited to the realm of movie stars and pop idols. You need a little bit of shtickiness, too.

Shticky vs Sticky

We’ve been told about “sticky” messages–compelling enough to touch a chord deep inside, but short and memorable enough to stick in our brains. When marketing ourselves, we also must have an equally clever way of presenting our work, our ideas, our products and our very selves. Shtickiness gets attention. Stickiness helps keep and grow that attention. Shtickiness without stickiness is fluff.  But when you can stand out and deliver over and over again, you become an unstoppable force.

Do you think your line of work is too serious to have room for whimsy? Think again. Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has it. Writer and author Gloria Steinem has it. Steve Jobs had it. So did Stephen Hawking. Professor Brene Brown’s perspectives on shame and vulnerability made her “shticky,” too. Each of these individuals stands out in crowded fields outside of show business. They have powerful personalities combined with curiosity, fresh ideas and staying power.

Tyson, for instance, as one of the most eloquent teachers about the cosmos, defies the image of the nerdy scientist who can’t relate. His clever turns of phrase have made him a celebrity among the real stars. He’s been known to say, for example, that he didn’t kill Pluto’s planetary ambitions but simply “drove the getaway car.”

Steve Jobs didn’t just like black turtlenecks. He devoted his entire closet to them as one more way to draw attention to a brilliant, break-all-the-rules business model. Brene Brown stepped onto a TED stage and not only talked about vulnerability but demonstrated it, touching a chord with thousands.

Those who command “shticky” defy convention but do so with purpose: To connect and communicate. To be unforgettable.

How to Uncover your “Shtickiness”

You must find your shtickiness without being gimmicky, silly or over the top. If you are uncomfortable with what you do, you will simply look foolish. In business, especially in professional services, being shticky requires a careful balance pushing boundaries while not going too far.

So how do you find your inner shtickiness?

  • Coin a new word or catchphrase that can be associated only with you.

Economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner did this very successfully with the word “Freakonomics,” a book title that laid the foundation for a new international brand. The book marries economics with popular culture to explore some provocative questions. They could have called it, “The economics of daily life” (yawn, yawn, yawn) but instead dreamed up a new and exciting word. Heck, I am doing it now with talking about “shtickiness.”

  • Capitalize on what’s different.

Find something that sets can set you apart.  It might be a choice of clothing. It might be the way you approach your work. I once went to a dentist who had majored in music. chemistry. Once, after telling me I’d need gum surgery, he took out his guitar and played some Beatles music softly, which had the strange effect of calming me down. The singing periodontist. Now that’s different. He is an excellent dentist, but he also has a different approach. I’ve referred him to dozens of people.

  • Promote. Promote. Promote.

Shticky people constantly promote their shtick. They write books, they speak, they take bold and provocative positions, and they consistently remind you of their shtick. They demand to be noticed. Mohammed Ali was a great boxer, but he also had a way with words unusual for sports figures. His pithy, self-promotional quotes like, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” made him the darling of journalists and set him apart from every other fighter. Mohammed Ali would constantly proclaim his greatness. Saying it often enough (along with his winning record) made it so.

Shtickiness isn’t just about coming up with a signature word, idea, approach or promotion. It’s an attitude and a way of being. It’s about being willing to be different in a way that gets you noticed, makes you memorable and highlights the contributions you make to your colleagues, bosses, clients and friends. It’s doing so in a way that is true to who you are and want to be. It also means taking some risk. 

What is your signature? How can you turn a passion, a favorite color or a turn of phrase into your “shtickiness?”