Friday, January 2, 2009

Are You Unique...Really?

I'm here to tell you -- if you didn't already know it -- that the word "unique" has pretty much lost its punch.  Because it's used to describe an overwhelming amount of otherwise mediocre or mundane subjects, I find myself treating sentences containing the word with some suspicion, even disrespect.

One finds the word "unique" used a lot in mission statements. The intent is to garner support by implying that a program, a building or a collection has no equal.  However, declaring uniqueness doesn't necessarily make it so.

The sheer number and variety of cultural institutions in this country generally cancels out the uniqueness factor.  Chances are, if there's one of you, there's probably more.  And for some types of organizations, there's A LOT more.  We certainly know that about historic house museums and children's museums, community theatre groups, and kids art camps.  Just because your organization exists doesn't make it unique.

If we were to banish "unique" from our organizational lexicons, we'd have to work much harder to describe what makes us truly stand out from the pack.  In doing so, we run the risk of finding out our organization doesn't really stand out at all. On the one hand, you'd develop a focused set of attributes that set the pace for all you do; on the other hand, you'd have identified a challenge to be met.  

Either way you win.

Image:  i'm unique. by _ okat