Being unique can go both ways, either people love you or they don’t. Weakness can be seen as an opportunity to be unique through the mind of professional speaker, David Rendall. He advocates that people don’t necessarily need to improve their weakness because sometimes, amplifying it can lead to better results. It may sound too good to be true, but David shares the stories of real people who have made it work. He goes deep into the fundamentals of making your weakness a tool for your success.
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Finding Uniqueness Through Weakness With David Rendall
I’m interviewing Dave Rendall. Dave is a professional speaker. He speaks all over the world. He is one of these wonderful dynamic people who talk about how you figure out your freak factor. How do you figure out the things you do that might have been the weirdest things that you did as a kid, but be able to turn them around. You make those your strengths as you grow older. How do you turn that around to have the thought process of saying, “This is who I am, this is what I’m good at, embrace it,” and find out how you can use those strengths to be able to support your audience?
Dave, thanks a lot for being on the show. It is a pleasure seeing you here.
I’m happy to be here.
You say you don’t have a real job but you have an incredible job. You have an amazing life that you built to yourself. You sit there all day long, you motivate people, you make people think and you give people the opportunity to make their lives better. When you say you don’t have a real job, I think you have one of the best jobs out there. For people who don’t know about this show, what is the show about? How do you add value? How do you make people’s lives different? How do you engage people? How do you give them that special little thing that they want to come back to you? I’m going to let you tell your own story because there are some fascinating things that I want to get into. I want to get into Pink Goldfish. I want to get into how you started. I want to find out where you are now and where you’re going. Tell me a little bit of the story where you came from and where you are.
When I was a kid, I was always in trouble for three things. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t be quiet and I couldn’t do what I was told. Those characteristics made me unpopular with my teachers, parents and sometimes even with my peers. My story began there and having them tell me I was never going to be successful. I believe that I was never going to be successful because of those characteristics. I’m putting tremendous amount of time, energy and effort into learning to sit still, be quiet and do what I was told. Now, as an adult I discovered that I get paid to stand up, not to sit down. I get paid to talk, not to be quiet. I get paid to run my own business, not to do what other people tell me to do. That one epiphany is it turned out that my biggest weaknesses were also my biggest strengths.
The worst things about me were the best things about me. My biggest disadvantages were advantages. When I realized that instead of changing my path and started looking at whether that truth was also evident in other people’s lives and other people’s stories, what does that mean for the way that we run our businesses, our careers, parents and our children, once I started exploring that, it turned into the Freak Factor book. It turned into the Freak Factor presentation. It turned into the Freak Factor assessment. That’s what gets people’s attention and adds value. That gets people coming back. That’s the opposite of what we normally hear.
We normally hear, find your flaws and fix them. We do SWOT analysis on our businesses. We do personality tests on ourselves and it gives us 48-page reports telling us how to get better. I stand up there and tell people that you’re better than you already think you are in this specific way and not pumping them up, “You’re awesome.” This thing that you thought was wrong with you might actually be your superpower and that’s a massive shift in most people’s minds and has a big impact.As adults, we get paid to stand up, not sit down; to talk, not be quiet; to run our own business, not do what other people tell us to do. Click To Tweet
That’s huge because you’re right. We’re all told, “Stand up straight, you’re slouching. You don’t do this. You don’t do that. You don’t do the other thing.” Instead of focusing on the things that people do well because we all do certain things well. If we focused on those things instead of focusing on the stuff that we don’t do well and paid other people to do the things that we don’t do well, meaning taxes, that’s what accountants are for, I look at it and say, “What are the things that we can all concentrate on that we can help people do?” Instead of focusing on, “I better get better at this.” There’s a real mind shift there and I love it. I got to take that Freak Factor test of yours. I’d love to see how I score.
That’s the key insight. There’s StrengthsFinder stuff out there. There’s stuff that says build on your strengths. What I try to add to that is we often miss our biggest strengths because they look like weaknesses. We can’t completely apply that build on your strengths mindset because we’re so busy thinking about, “What about this part of me that’s always getting me in trouble, that always seems to be a problem.” We never fully go after that “build on what you’re the best at” mentality because we have these weaknesses nagging at us and making us feel like something’s wrong that we have to fix. Sometimes we miss those strengths altogether because they look like a weakness. Let’s say your strength is persistence. You probably hear a lot that you’re stubborn. Instead of feeling like, “I’m more persistent than your average person. I need to take that to the next level.” You probably think, “I’m stubborn and I probably need to learn to let things go. I need to back off.” That makes you worse, not better when you see that those two things are connected.
Besides being on stage, you probably do workshops as well. When you’re workshopping with people, where do you start? This is a mentality that’s been ingrained in us from the time we were born? It’s creating that real mind shift. I can’t see it be easy for a lot of people. How do you break them out of their comfort zone and move them to a point where they can say, “Maybe this is a good thing.”
It starts with that awareness piece, that assessment piece. We start by showing them that connection between strengths and weaknesses starting with my story then giving them examples of other people’s stories. In a workshop, we would do the assessment and they would pick their top five strengths or top five weaknesses. On the last page of the assessment, it shows them how the strength is related to the weakness, how the weakness is related to the strength. It pairs them up so they can see, “People criticize me because I’m blunt and rude but that’s because I’m direct and honest.” “I get in trouble for being stubborn but that’s because I’m persistent.” “I get in trouble for being inflexible. That’s because I’m organized.” “People criticize me for being judgmental and negative but that’s because I’m analytical and rational.”
They see those connections between what they’re getting criticized for or what their weaknesses seem to be and what their strengths are. We build on that to talk about acceptance and appreciation that these things have to go together. There’s no way to have one without the other and this is the way things are in your own life and in other people’s lives. It’s mostly through stories and examples. It’s not mine but a lot of other ones. There are dyslexic billionaires. I’ve got a guy with no arms who set the world record for the longest most accurate shot in archery. People with autism are hired as software testers because of their autism, not in spite of it. Through examples and stories as a German arm wrestler with a genetic condition made his right arm bigger than all of his other limbs.
That’s why he became an arm wrestler. We used him as an example of how he used his weakness as a strength by putting himself in the right situation. It’s not so much proving it through argument as it is proving it through example. When you’re looking at a real-life story of something that makes it true, it’s a hard thing to argue with. It’s one thing to say, “Dave, I don’t know if I agree that weaknesses are also strengths.” It’s a hard thing to say that a story of someone’s weakness and strength isn’t true or that I made it up. It’s hard to argue with the reality of an example of the story.
That keyword, “Story.” I bring it all down to language. It’s how you focus on the language and how you present things. Telling people’s stories gives them a hook. It allows them to have something that says, “I can relate to this because I’ve already gone through this in my life” This story grabs onto that hook memory. It’s a neat thing to do because if you can relate things through stories to people, they get it a lot easier. I tell people, “Get rid of the mission-vision statements.” Nobody remembers those six words, but if you can tell people a story and give them something to relate to and use language that’s powerful and relatable, people will engage with it.
It does not only help people get it better but it helps people believe it. It proves it and also makes it clearer than standing up there and giving statements or putting up bullet points or things like that.
You wrote another book with Stan Phelps, who was on the show. The book is called Pink Goldfish. Tell me about how that came about. Stan is the goldfish guy. He has written a series of books but this collaboration seems perfect for the two of you. I’d love to know how it came about. Tell me a little bit about the book and how the collaboration came about. Where are you going with that?
Stan is the goldfish guy. We wrote Pink Goldfish: Defy Normal, Exploit Imperfection and Captivate Your Customers. It’s taking the Freak Factor and applying it to marketing and promoting your business. Another way to think about it in a simple way is the Freak Factor applied to marketing. What we did was we looked for stories. We collected over 200 stories and examples of companies that flaunt their weaknesses. Flaunt means to parade without shame. Companies that amplified what other people would say, “That’s wrong, that doesn’t work,” or “That’s the opposite of the way we measure success.”
We categorized those companies into different ways to describe the way that they flaunted that weakness, the different ways that they exploited that imperfection and put together a book. The way that came together is Stan and I are both speakers. We work in the same area in Raleigh, North Carolina. We’ve been friends for a few years. We trade speeches and clients and things like that back and forth. We try to help each other out. He’s writing that whole series of Goldfish books and the Freak Factor was interesting enough to him to say, “Let’s write a book about that together. We have to do something obviously that I haven’t already done so let’s apply the marketing” because that’s Stan’s area.
One of my favorite categories from the book is called, The Antagonizing. Most people talk about satisfying your customers, exceeding their expectations, trying to make people happy, doing focus groups and trying to discover what they like. Antagonizing is not that. Antagonizing is making people mad. It’s frustrating people deliberately or purposefully trying to make people upset. My favorite example of that is called Alamo Drafthouse. They came to Raleigh but they started in Austin, Texas and they show movies. They have a strict set of rules, no talking, no cell phone use, no texting, no coming late. If you come late, you’re not allowed in. They tell you that they’re going to kick you out. No kids, if you’re fifteen to eighteen. You can apply to be allowed to come in, only once you’re fifteen and only if you take a class. Imagine having to be certified to go to the movies.
They take this seriously and obviously that in and of itself turns people off. The example that we used in the book is this woman came to the movie. She started texting, talking and doing these different things and she got kicked out. She called up and she left this epic voicemail full of cursing and anger she sounded a little bit drunk. Instead of them saying, “We’re going to try to win this woman back. We’ll make this woman happy or we’re going to give her some free vouchers.” They turned it into a YouTube video as their public service announcement and they show it at the beginning of movies. They’re like, “We’re serious about this. This woman hates us and we want her to hate us. If you’re like this woman don’t come to our theater. We hope she never comes back. We don’t like people like that and we don’t want to make people happy.”
This thing that they did that made one person unhappy makes a lot of other people happy. If they didn’t enforce the rules, they wouldn’t be making everyone happy. They would be making different people unhappy while they made the other people who want to text and want to talk and want to come back. That’s one of my favorite examples from the book and that’s what we’re talking about. It seems ridiculous to say build on your weaknesses and do things wrong on purpose. It’s about changing your industry’s definition of what success looks like. When everybody has the same definition of success, everybody starts to behave the same way. If fuel mileage and affordability are the ways that you measure the value of a car, then everybody starts trying to make cars that have good gas mileage and that lasts for a long time.
They’ll all look the same.
Other people want a car that they don’t care how much gas it uses. They want it to go fast and they don’t even care if it’s that reliable. They want it to look great.When everybody has the same definition of success, everybody starts to behave the same way. Click To Tweet
Somebody wants the other Ford F-350 that come in diesel. They don’t drive. They want a big-ass truck.
When somebody else doesn’t want a car at all and they want a ride-sharing service in somebody else. It’s redefining in your industry. The point of the book is that we tend to homogenize business because we do things like benchmarking, where we say, “We model our businesses after what successful businesses do.” That’s another one of our favorites is opposing which is probably what I’m going to write a whole book about next. Opposing is simply doing the opposite of what everybody else does. The easiest way to understand the example of that is eHarmony, an online dating service. They sell that they have more marriages than any other online dating service. They’ll help you find the one forever. They have Neil Clark Warren and he’s a doctor. They have algorithms. You got pages and pages of information that take you hours and hours because they want to help you find the perfect match for you.
If somebody is trying to start a business in the online dating space. They look at that and it seems you have to have better algorithms, more doctors and better science. You have to create better matches and you have to have data that proves more marriages and then you win. You already alluded to the opposite of that. For Tinder, they’re not trying to help you find the one forever. They’re trying to help you find anyone right now, probably not for long. There’s no matching. The company doesn’t and science doesn’t match you, you do. All you do is pick whether you like the person’s picture or you don’t. They don’t have to enter all this information. They put in a picture and you decide based on the most superficial information.
That’s an example with opposing. What we often do with a new thing or something that’s succeeding is we compare it to the old thing and forget that the old thing is also succeeding. eHarmony is doing well, Tinder is doing well and they’re doing the opposite thing. They have different definitions of success and they do things in the opposite way. One of our strategies for creating your Pink Goldfish is to look at what everybody else does and do the opposite. When you do that is going to create a lot of resistance. It’s going to be hard for you to imagine because it’s the opposite of benchmarking. Why would you do the opposite of what a successful company is doing? It’s simple in the way that it works. It’s hard to pull off because of the courage that it takes to do things that’s the opposite and doing it completely different than anybody else does.
It’s that dichotomy that makes it interesting? Another one that you guys have in the book is the Elbow Room, which is one of my favorite restaurants here. I love Ed Debevic in Chicago as well but of that same ilk. It’s a restaurant based on getting abused. You walk there and they say, “Sit your ass down and get your coffee.”
It’s the Fifty Shades of Grey for restaurants.
If you can’t walk into this restaurant and be able to give it as well as you get it. Get out, don’t go, it’s not for you. It is a small little restaurant. They might have 25 tables and they do an incredible business. It’s a loyal following and people go there because they know it’s not going to be your average restaurant fare. Is it good? Absolutely but you’re not there for the food. You’re there for the ambiance. It’s a lot of fun. I love what you guys have done with this because you’re right. It’s sitting there and going, “If everybody’s going right, why aren’t you going left?” If your personality allows you to go left, go left. Don’t follow the herd. Don’t follow the crowd. Go with your gut reaction. Do something different, unique and special. It might be a little edgy. It lets people say, “That’s different.”
That’s where examples and stories come in. If Stan and I wrote the book saying, “You should do this, you should try this, do the opposite, make people unhappy.” On the face of it, those sound like ridiculous suggestions and it goes against most of what we hear about how to be successful. It’s the examples of “If that sounds stupid, here’s a company that does it and succeeds. If that sounds dumb and that sounds ridiculous, here’s a company that does it and succeeds.” It’s those examples that prove it that you can’t say, “I don’t know if that’s true.” It is like, “No, it is true. It’s just a matter of how you can use it in a way that fits with your personality and your style.”
If you’re a nice person, you probably don’t want to open up a restaurant that’s abusive towards people. If you’re a cynical person who likes to rib and tease people, you enjoy hanging around people who do, that’s your style and you like being around those people then that’s probably the people that open up that place. Some people don’t because they think no one would want that. You’ve got to have kind and empathic service. You have to wait on people’s hands and feet and make them happy and be nice and you’re not like that so you think, “There’s nothing I can do.”
That’s a great message. This is your day job. Your day job is you’re lucky enough to be able to talk about this all day every day. It’s unique. It’s different. What you’re doing is you’re not getting up in the morning, shaving, putting on your suit and tie and heading out to be a banker. There’s nothing wrong with that. The world needs bankers, accountants and lawyers. We need storytellers. We need people that can make us go, “That’s different. That’s a different way of looking at things.” That’s the value of a good storyteller. A good storyteller makes you think of things a little differently than you did when you walked into the room. You may not agree and it may not speak to you immediately. It may speak to you five years from now but if you remember the story, the lesson will stay with you.
That’s part of it too like remembering the story. Southwest Airlines is a fantastic example of a company that does the opposite in almost every way. The problem is that the story’s been told so many times. Even though it’s a good story, it’s too common for us to put in the book. We wanted stories that got people’s attention. The first story in the book is a company called Dirty Rotten Flowers. When you hate somebody and you don’t want to do something nice for them. You want to do something nasty to them. You sell that wilting smelly rotten flowers. It’s the opposite of 1-800-FLOWERS. Nobody looks at that and goes, “Of course, I’ve heard that a thousand times.” That was one of the things that we were looking for in the book is part of different and unusual as it’s memorable because it’s not common.
Even when there are great stories of differentiation, we tried to not go with the easy ones and the most common ones. As soon as most people see Southwest these days, they go, “Yeah, Southwest Airlines whatever.” It misses the point that they’re one of the most successful airlines and people aren’t learning those lessons and applying those lessons, as well as they could. They might be called low-fare, but they don’t do all the things that Southwest does. They don’t put the whole package together. You don’t necessarily need to copy but that’s one of the reasons we took a different approach. We wanted to pick more obscure, unusual and we have some bigger ones in there as well but they’re not ones that people have heard a thousand times. We started with the more unusual ones.
If you had people reading the book and thinking, “I don’t know, I haven’t heard of some of these examples before. I haven’t been to the Elbow Room Café, I don’t know. It’s not as successful as McDonald’s. We put in some of the bigger name companies that have some examples of that differentiation. Usually, early on that they did some things that were unusual to show people this does work on a large scale. You can make money doing this. This is a profitable strategy. We also wanted things that got people’s attention that were memorable enough for people to share, “Have you heard the story of Elbow Room Café? Have you heard of Alamo Drafthouse? You got to watch this YouTube video. It’s hysterical to listen to this lady, cursing them out and to see how they use that to their advantage.”
It’s able to have the proof of concept both on the small side and the large side. If all you did was do these little mom-and-pop operations that were in a completely different part of the country than what most people live in, people go, “Those are one-offs. It doesn’t mean anything.” When you can bring and say, “Here are all these little one-offs, but here’s a couple of big ones, this is how they took this and scaled it,” all of a sudden, it gives credence and the credibility that it deserves.
That was also one of our arguments though. One of the examples is what we called withholding where you stay small on purpose. You don’t want to get big. You don’t want to scale. You don’t give people all the locations that they want. You don’t give people all the services and the products that they want. You deliberately keep it small and focused. You deliberately keep that one 25-seat restaurant. You don’t try to go regional and national. You don’t expand your menu. You don’t add breakfast and whatever it happens to be because you wanted to remind people of that too. The scale is one decision but it isn’t the only method of success.
I used my own business as an example. It’s 8:30 AM where you started and it is 11:30 AM for me but we both just had breakfast. I’m not waking up and going into the office answering emails, managing my company’s 401(k) plan for my employees, looking at what our health insurance is going to be for next year, answering people’s emails about their commission check and responding to different customer inquiries. I have a business where it’s only me. I’ve outsourced every aspect of the business except for the speaking. I don’t want it to get bigger in the sense of having employees. I don’t want it to get bigger in the sense of having all these other things. I like to speak and I don’t want to have someone else do the speaking for me.
I don’t want to create a speaking business. I want to be the speaker. It needs to be okay for people not to have to apologize for keeping it small on purpose. We pulled some examples from the book Small Giants by Bo Burlingham. He talked about companies who deliberately kept it small. It wasn’t, “You couldn’t grow, no one wants it.” No, it was “You could have gotten bigger and you deliberately didn’t because that wasn’t your strategy. That wasn’t where you’re going.” It’s okay to stay small in purpose. It’s okay not to scale.Opposing is simply doing the opposite of what everybody else does. Click To Tweet
I’m the same way. I was a big corporation years ago. I got rid of it. I got rid of my partner, my 30 staff, and everything. I’m much happier now. I run the business the way I want to run it. I treat my clients the way I want to treat them and I’m not worried about all those wonderful things that come with growing and scaling. Sometimes by getting bigger, you lose that. You lose what made you special by getting big. People have to think about that and ask, “What are the things that make them unique?” “What makes them different?” I’m okay with being a small business because I enjoy this.
One of my favorite quotes, I read it before I started my business and it was from a book called Free Agent Nation by Dan Pink. He said, “Bigger isn’t better. Better is better.” That’s a part of what we’re trying to give people. If people measure business success by size, by total revenue, even though that’s the one that makes me laugh, I don’t care how much even you as a person made last year. I certainly don’t care how much your business made. You can have a business that has tons of revenue and you might not even make any money at all. Somebody goes, “I have a $20 million business,” “How much money did you make?” It doesn’t matter.
What went in the back pocket?
Even with that, we need to go back to when we were kids and we had a job and got paid by the hour. Don’t tell me what you made last year. Tell me what you made per hour. What I can guarantee you is with the life that I’ve been able to create for myself, the dollars per hour stack up against even Fortune 500 CEOs. They’re making more money than me but they’re also putting in 90 to 100 hour weeks. I’m putting in 90 to 100-hour quarters. We need a different mindset to say it isn’t about the big number, the annual number, the profit number. It’s about the take-home number. Even that, it’s not about the take-home number. It’s about, “How many hours did you have to work to get that return? Can you have a good lifestyle without doing some of the stuff that makes things bigger, which increases your inputs even though it also increases your outputs?”
That’s where I’m coming from. In the book, we’re trying to give people courage and be big. Stan wants to make his business bigger. Stan is trying to hire people. Stan is trying to create a Goldfish Empire and that’s great, but I’m not. We can still work together but we have different goals. Stan can do both of those. He can do a good job doing that. He can have a good life doing that. I can have a good life doing what I’m doing even though we’re doing the opposite. That’s what we’re trying to teach people in the book. You can be doing things completely differently and have that still be effective than the “successful companies” or the companies that everybody knows about.
It’s being successful on your terms. That’s a key thing. When you walk out of a room or you get off your stage and you walk away, what is the one thing you want to leave people with when you’re not there?
That’s easy. It’s the last thing that I say in all my speeches. There’s a quote by E.E. Cummings who says, “We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals the deep inside of us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch” What I tell people is that I do my speeches in an effort to show people the deep inside of them something is valuable. Usually, that thing is deep inside of them and it’s valuable. It’s usually the thing they’ve been told is the most worthless thing about them.
Not only is it not worthless, but it’s also worth listening to, it’s worthy of our trust, it’s sacred to our touch. What I hope people do is they hear that for themselves and they see that for themselves. When they leave, it also changes the way they see their kids, their employees, their spouse or their partner. They become a person who reveals to other people that deep inside of them something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. I did a talk for the Richmond Chapter of the American Marketing Association. It was like early Pink Goldfish. I did the marketing talk. I used marketing examples and business examples. The first question in Q&A was this applies to kids and parents too. You could use this idea of weakness and strength in your family. Even when I’m trying to give people the career application, the business application and the profit application, what people care about are those relationships.
They care about those things that give life meaning. That’s the core of what I’m trying to do is show people that there’s something hidden in them that oftentimes they’ve missed. Not only have they missed, that people told them is awful. That it isn’t awful, it’s fantastic and then once they see that, that’s not a small change. It’s a massive change that affects every single part of their life once they start making those applications.
It’s getting people to believe in themselves and understand their true value. That’s a phenomenal thing. Dave, thank you very much for being on the show. I hope you enjoyed this episode with Dave. He was great. He tells great stories. He gave us some good lessons. Monday to Friday 9:00 to 5:00, what do I do? With Your Brand Marketing, I consult, I provide workshops and I speak on brand message, market vision and value. It’s about your story. It’s how do we tell a story that’s unique, different and people want to engage with. That’s what this show is about so come and join us. Talk to me. I love to work with you every Wednesday at 10:00 Pacific. This is the Your Living Brand Live Show.
- Dave Rendall
- Freak Factor
- Stan Phelps
- Pink Goldfish
- Small Giants
- Free Agent Nation
- Ed Debevic
- American Marketing Association
About David Rendall
During the last fifteen years, David Rendall has spoken to audiences on every inhabited continent. His clients include the US Air Force, Australian Government, and Fortune 50 companies such as Microsoft, AT&T, United Health Group, Fannie Mae, and State Farm.
Prior to becoming a speaker, he was a leadership professor, stand-up comedian, and nonprofit executive.
In between presentations, David competes in ultramarathons and Ironman triathlons.
David has a doctor of management degree in organizational leadership, as well as a graduate degree in psychology.
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