Have you ever told someone what you’re working on, and gotten a reaction along the lines of, “isn’t someone else already doing that?”

It happened to me last week after delivering a speech about my big event, The Good Hundred Experiment, to a business audience. Someone took me aside afterwards to say,

“You say you want more participants from business and government. But a lot of them have workshop fatigue. They get invited to tons of these things. How are you different?”

That’s been playing on a loop in my head ever since. How ARE we different? We want to be doing something that’s genuinely needed, not duplicate efforts. But there’s almost no such thing as a new idea. Should we abandon our approach to doing good just because it resembles what someone else is doing?

In our particular case, I think the key differences are:Unique

  1. Personalization. The event is about each attendee’s own work. There is no third-party or educational goal, like, “Collaborating on a strategy for public innovation”. We meet people where they are and work to provide them with whatever they need, right now.
  2. Quality and accountability. Not all professionally facilitated workshops/interactive events are created equal. I suspect that when someone has “workshop fatigue”, they’ve been to a few too many of the poorly executed ones. We never stop tinkering with our program and strategies, never say no to an offer of feedback, and ask participants directly to tell us how to improve, every time. We want to be the best, and to keep getting better.

At last weekend’s event, a woman who goes to a lot of workshops and events all across the country stood up and said that yes, we are different; we stand out. So I feel better about that now.

But I still think it’s worth asking the question – how are you different? Are you offering something that’s really needed? Are you doing it in a way that’s different and/or somehow better than anyone else? Are you offering it to a community that doesn’t have access to anything like it?

Duplication is not good. And if your offering isn’t new or different, you might have trouble attracting participants/customers/donors/etc. But asking about it doesn’t have to lead to packing it in. It’s just a valuable exercise in making sure you’re truly filling a need.