We live in a niche-worshipping world. Concentrating, grappling and iterating until we find our own niche is today’s business battle cry. To be successful, it’s essential to clearly define your value proposition, develop laser-like focus, and then energetically sell your niche solution to your niche audience, right?
This is the way successful people think and work isn’t it? We’re smart. We read the success stories, advice columns, and case studies. Not to follow suit would mean we were either lazy or stupid.
But what if there was another way? What if you could enjoy a career that was free of suffocating, restrictive, niche shackles? What if you could chart a dramatically different path? A path where niches and specialties served as mere paving stones to skip along on your way to serving others and filling needs?
I’ve been participating in a personal experiment over the last year. I haven’t been attaching any sort of title to my name whenever I introduce myself to others. I have also been immersing myself in multiple, local meetup groups that I never knew existed before. I never thought of it as networking—just getting to know a bunch of really cool, smart people. As I met more and more people, I’d be repeatedly blown away by the incredible work they were all engaged in. Such innovation and wizardy is most certainly unfolding in nooks and crannies just like this all around the world. But these pockets of imaginative awesomeness tend to be tough to spot from your heavily draped living room window or even the driver’s seat of your car collecting Chalupas from Taco Bell’s drive-thru. A bit of exploration and social risk-taking are the dual tollbooths granting access to these kinds of inspiring enclaves.
Down With the Niche!
In the last few months, I have had four different friends from these groups approach me with proposals to work on different projects with them. All four projects have interested me a great deal. All four projects grew from the unique needs, challenges, and opportunities my friends were dealing with. All four projects required skills and talents predominantly owned by niche workers. And all four niches were completely different!
Was this a fluke? Would I be stretching myself too thin across areas in which I lacked expertise if I took them all on? Surely working so many different niches could never be sustainable. Could this good fortune actually be a sign of weakness? Was it more of a curse than a blessing—the unfortunate side effect of lacking focus?
There are countless stories of successful entrepreneurs who would take any job they could get when starting out, just to keep the lights on. But when they became more successful and focused, they became increasingly selective with how they spent their time. Their ability to avoid the distraction of numerous opportunities and shiny pennies is the stuff of legend—the very core of true entrepreneurial greatness!
Hard Working Hobos
So could it be possible to denounce the niche—wide-eyed—and still be successful? Could the hobo’s approach to finding work apply in today’s high tech, professional environment? Hobos work hard. If when you think of hobos, you envision a panhandler or bum with their hand out or a cardboard sign next to an onramp, then you’ve got it all wrong. Hobos are more than willing to work. They work to finance their next adventure. So when they arrive in a new town, they don’t go around knocking on doors selling knives (niche). They don’t start spreading the word about being a highly trained metal worker who is willing (and only willing) to do metal work. They get to know people. They find out what others need to have done. And then they do it. It’s not about them or their niche. Their niche is serving those in front of them—filling their need.
Maybe I’m more of a hobo than I realized. Maybe I’ll just embrace my hobo ways and proactively, deliberately live a niche-less life. Maybe placing the needs of those around me before my own need to scratch a niche can lead to unimaginable uncharted territories of personal success.
But then again… maybe not. We’ll see.
Photo Credit: Keith Nerdin