Lessons from Charlie Sheen

Along with millions of others this past week, Charlie Sheen’s dramatic and self-destructive rants captivated me. Although disturbing, we all noticed and paid attention. Coffee shops and water coolers were all abuzz about Charlie, and not about Milton down in accounting.

While I certainly don’t agree with Sheen’s world view, I have to admire his unapologetic stance. He clearly chose to stay true to his beliefs rather than just say what others wanted to hear. Though I’d never want someone in my family to go on an 18-hour bender with dear Charlie, I do appreciate that he stands for something. He doesn’t mind alienating a few and refuses to get confined by “should have” and “ought to.”

Sheen is being what author Seth Godin refers to as a “Purple Cow.” He is standing out from the pack, breaking the mold, and daring to be different. And as a result, he’s memorable. He can’t be ignored. He doesn’t try to please everyone. He’s a category of one.

How are you approaching your own business and career? Doing what everyone else wants you to do? It’s a recipe for mediocrity. The world has become too competitive to follow the herd, and the “me-too” players forgo the biggest bounties. In order to truly shine, you need to take risks, seizing ideas and models that are unique and memorable.

As a venture capitalist, I see dozens of pitches every month by entrepreneurs seeking funding and support. I’m often struck by the lack of originality and the pervasive follow-the-leader approach. We don’t need another Facebook, Groupon, or PayPal. The world won’t be improved by yet another buzzword-laden business plan. What really drives prosperity is creating something in a radically new way.

The world craves is originality. Fresh thinking and unique approaches shatter the complacent incumbents and change the game altogether. Bold, unique, and remarkable ideas trump the same-old, same-old. Don’t be so afraid you’ll offend someone that you end up watering down your most powerful thinking into a commodity soup. Ignite your own imagination instead of chasing after someone else’s.

Now, I’m not saying to go rush out and become a self-indulgent, egomaniac, narcissistic jerk. But I do think we can all learn from the highly-talked about, number-one-earning, can’t-be-ignored Charlie Sheen. Forget that what he stands for is so distasteful. The point is that he stands for something. And so should you.