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A Brand Called You

Lesson 9 of 22

Identifying Table Stakes

Debbie Millman

A Brand Called You

Debbie Millman

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Lesson Info

9. Identifying Table Stakes

Lesson Info

Identifying Table Stakes

So table stakes. Table Stakes are these words that I end up preventing my students from using in their mission statements. Because this is the list of things that you have to have. These are the words that you have to show up as. You have to be intelligent. You have to trustworthy. You have to be passionate. You have to be curious. These are the words that in the competition of finding the dream job that you are competing with all of the other people that want that job too this is how they are showing up. So this can't be what you aspire to be in isolation. You have to have something else on top of the table stakes. On top of the passionate and memorable and prepared. When you play a game of poker table stakes are what you pay to get into the game. That's why I call these tables stakes. So these are the words that get you into the game of the interview. These aren't gonna get you the job. And if you're not any of these things you are likely not gonna win the job. Somebody else is gonna...

win it that has all of these things and then some then. And this is hard to come to terms with. So you mean if I'm curious and memorable and intelligent and smart and genuine and all of these other things I'm not gonna get the job? Not necessarily but it's not gonna help if you don't have anything else when 43,000 other people are also coming up and showing up like this. This is who you have to be on your best day. And you hope that best day is the day that you're in your interview but this is not enough. And this is mostly where we stop. We wanna be memorable, we wanna be intelligent, we wanna be genuine of course who doesn't? And if you are competing with the best of the best to get the best possible job you have to be more than this. You have to be more than all of these things. So we can't rely on table stakes. We have to encompass, we have to have all of these table stakes in everything that we do on our best days. Now that doesn't mean when you're lolling about on a Saturday watching reruns of Law and Order SVU you have to be memorable. But it means when you're interviewing for the dream job that you have to get into the zone and see these words and know that this has to be part of the fiber of your being. And if you aren't these things you are not gonna get the job. Somebody else that encompasses all of these things on their best day is going to. So I want you to think about your key benefit strategically. Because that is the added thing in addition to the table stakes that is going to set you apart. So what is your key benefit, strategically? You have to come up with your key benefit. The reason for being the thing that will help you become set apart from everybody else. But the strategically part I'm gonna help you with. So think about your key benefit strategically. Who knows what strategically even means? What is strategy? Pardon? How you go about something. To a degree it is. But it's not the business definition. It's not the business definition. So if you wanna think about your benefit and how to communicate it strategically in business you need to know the business definition of strategy. So I'm gonna share that with you. So one of the people that I'm most inspired by in the business world is a man named Michael Porter. Micheal Porter teaches at the Harvard Business School. He is the Bishop William Lawrence University professor at Harvard University. And he's written a number of really really remarkable books and he has a definition of strategy that I use and have been using and teach to my students for the last decade. I'm gonna take you through the definition and we're gonna talk a little bit about how you can use this definition to begin to uncover what you're unique benefit is and how you wanna be able to communicate that. So this is Michael Porter's definition. "Strategy is choosing to perform different activities differently," I'm sorry. "Strategy is choosing to perform activities differently "or to perform distinctly different activities than rivals." Easy words to read not so easy to comprehend so let's deconstruct this. Let's break this down. Strategy is choosing to perform activities differently. That's one way of thinking about strategy. Or to perform distinctly different activities than rivals. So I'm gonna give you examples of organizations of companies that do this. So let's talk first about performing activities differently. Anybody think of a company that performs that has come into the marketplace performing different activities? Yes. Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil, Cirque du Soleil the theater company. Okay, they did something different than other people did in the theater world. I'm gonna talk about I wanna pick an example, I have an example in my head so let's see if we get somebody to uncover it otherwise I'll share it. But it's a really, really easy one it'll instantly crystallize what choosing to perform activities differently means. Apple. Apple is a good one and we're gonna come back to Apple. So let's put a pause on Apple. There was another answer here I believe. Pass the mic. Zappos. Zappos is a good one. Very good one. We have some answers here. Do you have a mic? They're very particular about the mic. Virgin. Virgin is also a good one. Okay, I'm gonna cut to the chase. And I'm gonna tell you the brand that I was thinking about. So this is a super easy brand to be able to understand instantly how they as an organization are performing activities differently. The company is Starbucks. Who before Starbucks launched would have ever had considered paying four of five dollars for a coffee drink? One could argue that if the brands were really on top of their game brands like Chock Full O' Nuts or Maxwell House could have come into the market and created a coffee shop environment like Starbucks. But they didn't. So Starbucks took the concept of a coffee shop one that we had been accustomed to going into and participating in and buying from for all of our lives and fundamentally changed the activities of what we expected from a coffee shop. So they performed activities differently than anybody else before them in that space. So you understand there was an existing space lots and lots of coffee shops. Starbucks comes in and changes the notion of what a coffee shop could be. Changed the marketplace forever. Let's go to the next part to perform distinctly different activities than rivals. Distinctly different activities than rivals. So now we're gonna go to the beloved Apple. Because everybody would likely be raising their hand and saying Apple. But you're not saying Apple for the reason you think you're saying Apple. Okay, so Apple has clearly performed distinctly different activities than rivals. How? How? Make sure you use the mics, okay. How, how has Apple distinctly performed different activities? They introduced a product called the iPod and it changed the music industry. How did the iPod change the music industry because a company called Creative actually came out with a MP3 player prior to the iPod so that's partly right. But how did Apple perform distinctly different activities than rivals? iTunes. Yes. iTunes, iTunes changed the game. iTunes created an environment where this company performed distinctly different activities than rivals. There were MP3 players on the market before Apple, they came in and completely revolutionized the game. It's a lot harder to do that as a person. It's a lot harder to say my goal is to come in and perform distinctly different activities than rivals. Both are hard. But if it were easy it would be easy. So we have to start to think about when you're crafting your benefit how do you show up? How do you talk about what you do? Somebody like David Carson in the 80's and 90's performed distinctly different activities than rivals. He created design that no one else had seen before. But other people create design that maybe other people have seen before but do it with wit and a certain savior faire and a certain gestalt that changes the way we think about what is possible for design. So how do you want to create your own benefit, how do you wanna articulate your own benefit? You have to think about it strategically. What are you doing that is either performing activities differently like Starbucks or distinctly different activities than rivals like Apple? And that's where you start to craft what it is. If your answer to either of these attributes is one where in anyone else can say the same thing then what's the reason for being? Why would somebody wanna hire you? You have to really find what it is that makes you unique to your work. So in order to do that I want you to start thinking about being able to answer these questions. What do you love doing? What is it that you love? Jessica Hische talks about procrastive working things that you do when you should be working but you're not, and you're doing that to procrastinate. She suggests that often those things that you're doing to procrastinate are the things that you should be doing to work. So what do you love doing it? What do you love doing? Why do you love doing it? Why do you love doing it? These are the questions you have to answer in order to be able to get to the strategic benefit that you will provide. Why do you love doing it? How can you do it uniquely? This is hard. How do you show up to it and do it in your own unique way? What is your voice? What are you giving life to through your work? And then how can you prove it? How can your prove it, how can you show that you do this with examples in your work? Hard questions but all attainable. They all are attainable. What do you love doing? Why do you love doing it? How you can you do it uniquely? And how can you prove it? Then after all of that you want to be able to communicate all of this with stature and sincerity. You wanna be able to show up with all of this information that you uncovered about yourself and your hopes and dreams and wants and desires and to be able to convey all of this in a way that is not only inspiring but is also going to create brains resonating with yours in a harmonious way.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

It takes work to get the work you love. It takes knowing how to interview well, how to communicate flawlessly, how to articulate your own purpose and to simultaneously do this while facing tremendous rejection. Debbie Millman is one of the most influential design minds of our time; an author, educator, brand strategist, and founder and host of the acclaimed podcast Design Matters. In her class you'll learn how to:

  • Create a meaningful philosophy that will guide your career
  • Present yourself in meetings and interviews
  • Network and standout from your competition
  • Find discipline in your approach to work
  • Sell yourself with more confidence

Are you spending enough time on looking for, finding and working towards winning a great job? Are you doing everything you can—every single day—to stay in “career shape”? What else should you be doing?

Join Debbie and answer these questions you should be asking yourself...


a Creativelive Student

B R I LLIANNNNNNT !!!! I love the such solid human being that she is and her grandiosity of holding our shoulder and say : go head! Dare to be your best self, own it. Here are some tips .... !!!! Uhuuuuuuuuu!! So inspiring! Thank you so much, Debbie. For couple of days you were my very BEST FRIEND :) Thanks Creative Live!! This is NOT a live "manual" on technical skills. If that is what you are looking for go some steps down and there are plenty of people teaching that, like traditional schools do. You will only learn what is "there" for you to learn if you are open TO HEAR with sincerity. Debbie tells several things that works and that doesn't in professional field besides showing what successful business look for in the people, or partners. Out standing!! I would love to watch another class with her.


I loved this course. Five Stars. I was initially drawn to this course because of the title. I had read Tom Peter's article (with the same name) in Fast Company magazine many years ago, and found it really inspiring. This was before 'brand' was a household word. Anyway, the course is geared more towards designers looking for their dream job than a typical branding course, but as it happens, I am a designer, so it was quite informative. I can also use much of the advice and lessons and apply them to my own business. From contacting potential employers or clients to creative self promotion, there's valuable lesson to be had. I watched and listened to this course in one day, almost straight through. I highly recommend it. Great insight, great advice - whether you're a design student or not. If you're the creative type, I think you'll find this both enlightening and very enjoyable.