Are you a Special Snowflake

Working as a vendor I have knowledge of your competitors. I speak to many different companies working in the same or similar market. I see many different methods of solving the same problems. Some are better than other and as such I can help make recommendations.

This is the number 1 question I am guaranteed to be asked. “How does everyone else do it?”

When bringing that experience to clients there is a resistance. It could be pride, it could be fear of change. In either case, those who resist try to rationalise that feeling. The most common is “that wont work, we’re different to everyone else”.

You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake.
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I call this “Special Snowflake Status”.

Snow and flakes

Snow is made up of flakes. At a microscopic level each snowflake is unique. But when shoveling snow off our drive we don’t consider the flakes. The beautiful unique design of each flake matters not, when it is flung from our shovel. Those who argue “we’re different” are like the snowflakes to the shovel.

It may seem big headed and dismissive for me to think way but let me explain. The issue is not that the difference exist, it is that the differences often are resistance to an idea. The specific source of that resistance is for psychologists to decide. But there are a number of valid ideas which would explain it (not invented here, tribalism, resistance to change, motivation trifectaIllusory superiority).

The people who are snowflakes do not consciously know there are fundamental human psychological traits, causing their feelings. So the higher level conscious brain seeks to rationalise the feelings as best it can.

There will be difference, but when used in defense of other ideas it is often a rationalisation of a feeling we cannot understand to express.


A few year ago I worked for Cognito building workflows for mobile devices. One of the markets was field service. That is where skilled people (plumbers, engineers etc) go out and fix issues in commercial or domestic properties. Based on my experience of countless clients this is the process.

Travel somewhere, Work on something, pickup and fit parts as needed, Finish (complete or incomplete) and repeat till all the jobs for the day are complete.

There are people who argue against the description above. They will argue that a user might do multiple jobs on one site and not travel. That they might just survey the job and not fix. That the parts fitting process includes warranty return. That the finish process includes complex forms and safety processes. These are symptomatic of snowflake status rejecting a new idea.

The ‘snowflakes’ cannot see that 95% of the time this will work and that the 5% exceptions are just dealt with the same process they would outside a system. Legal, safety and regulatory requirements affect all companies in the same market. Therefore if the recommended approach works for others in the same space it will work for the snowflakes.

Derek Sivers’ 3 minute TED video refers to the first person to do something as a nut case. The next person to do it starts the movement. To follow someone else’s lead and show others how is hard.


Although I now work in Operational Risk and GRC, the same problem exists for me today. Risk and control is a more complex subject matter, but my snowflake problem is the same.

Interestingly with larger companies, where there are a number of acquisitions, I also see intra-snowflake-ism. This is where an individual operating company which is part of an overall group, rejects not only vendor ideas but the group methodology and approach too. Again citing “we’re different”.

It is not to say there are no differences. The problem is differences are often the psychological rationalisation of other feelings that we are either not aware of or cannot express.

Final Thoughts

The world is not black and white.

There will be differences. Be aware of our nature to rationalise our feelings to create barriers. Every difference must be beneficial to the outcome, creating value or removing cost. Every difference highlighted is common and not just a one-off an exception. If it isn’t either of these it could be your feelings making excuses.


Posted in GRC

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