One my favorite books is “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin. Sounds a little like a children’s book, but the premise of this marketing classic is that brown cows are not very interesting. Purple cows, on the other hand, are remarkable. They get people talking. Godin suggests that in order to stand out in business, you need to become a “purple cow.”
I saw this in action during a recent vacation in Door County, Wisconsin. We were at the famous Al Johnson’s restaurant, where they have goats hanging out on the grass-covered roof. We happened to be seated near a window where we could watch passersby looking at the goats. Almost everyone was taking pictures, their smiling faces lit with joy.
I guarantee you that if the same group of goats were in a fenced-in paddock a half mile down the road, there would be no crowd, no cameras, no joy. But on the bright green roof of a restaurant on a busy street in the middle of town? Different story.
By the way, the food is also amazing — I highly recommend the Swedish pancakes — but so is the food at many restaurants. That’s table stakes if you want to stay open for the long haul.
I can’t help but wonder why more businesses don’t try to be more…purple. Seems like a pretty cost-effective way to grow a business. Are they too afraid to deviate from the norm? Have they fallen for the lie that they aren’t creative? Worried they’ll be seen as weird?
I also wondered if there were any lessons that didn’t have anything to do with business.
Then I thought of my friend Jenna’s third grade teacher. Mrs. Wancho’s classroom featured an old claw-footed bathtub next to the window, lined with comfortable pillows, which was designated as a cozy reading nook that could accommodate up to three kids at once. This made such an impact on Jenna that decades later, she still talks about it to this day, and I’m sure helped contribute to her lifelong love of reading.
Now that’s a purple teacher.
Notice that it wasn’t a particularly daunting thing to do, adding an unusual reading area to a classroom. There was no grant needed or permit required.
It excites me to think about what a “purple” nurse could look like. Or a purple plumber, doctor, office manager, bus driver, waitress, pharmacist, insurance agent — you name it!
Being “purple” is a great way to stand out and drive profits, but it’s also a great way to increase engagement, foster teamwork, inspire joy and, well, make life more fun. (Not to think of the damage it does to Adultitis and its grand schemes!)
This week, I challenge you to be a little bit more purple in a way that impacts others. You don’t have to think big, just…purple. There’s a chance you might have to break a rule that doesn’t exist (“Restauants shalt not keep livestock on their roof”), but I’ll bet you can think of something that wouldn’t cost much money or time. The price is merely a bit of mindfulness and a willingness to tinker.
In fact, I’ve got prizes ready for anyone who reports back to tell me something purple they did this week!
Goats not required to win.