Howard Bannister: “You’re just… different.”
Judy Maxwell: “I know. But from now on, I’m gonna try and be the same.”
Howard Bannister: “The same as what?”
Judy Maxwell: “The same as people who aren’t different.”
That’s from the Peter Bogdanovich–Buck Henry masterwork “What’s Up, Doc?”, and right there, where Howard looks at Judy like “wait, what the hell does ‘the same as people who aren’t different’ even mean?” is where Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger’s book Rare Breed starts its journey about what it means to be different, what it doesn’t mean, and how to use it to create something important. (Sidenote: if you haven’t seen “What’s up, Doc?” stop reading this review right now and go watch it).
Bonnell and Hansberger are the founders of Motto, which they began with $250 and grew into an award-winning branding agency with offices in New York and Dallas, and with clients like Hershey and Microsoft. And, as happens to many successful entrepreneurs, they decided to share what they’d learned with the rest of us.
But by doing so, they’re invariably lumped in with the dozens of other “CEO-memoirs”, “entrepreneur tell-alls” and “wunderkind manifestos” the world has thrown at us, books that were little more than poorly written ego-strokes, built around the premise that “hey, this worked for me, so if it doesn’t work for you I guess you just don’t want it enough.”
That Rare Breed is different from those other books was refreshing. That it was so importantly and fundamentally different is why we’re telling you to go buy it.
Rare Breed is organized around two goals which sometimes feel at odds with each other but which, if used together, will make it easier for rare breeds to unleash a torrent of innovation and ingenuity. And let’s face it, we need all the innovation and ingenuity we can get right now.
The book’s first goal is to throw a lifeline to people who feel they are “different” and encourage them to embrace that difference. To this end, the book screams as passionately as an over-caffeinated cheerleader at God’s final pep rally, throwing buckets of confidence and positive energy at people who they fear are struggling with being “different” in a “same” world. Who need that pat on the back that will not only help them get off the couch or out of the dead-end job, but may also keep them from putting a bullet in their brains in despair. For, as they write:
We wrote it for you – for anyone who feels like they don’t fit in. For anyone who wants to lead, create, inspire and provoke change on their own terms by harnessing all of who they are, not just the pretty parts.
Rare Breed … [is] a personal growth book for ambitious entrepreneurs, leaders, creators, and provocateurs.
But, as we noted above, the problem with this first goal is the context of those other books, the ones that tell you to find your bliss, embrace your inner child, follow your dreams. That are dreadful and superficial and only serve to encourage fundamentally selfish and talentless people to wreck their lives and the lives of those around them as they foolishly tilting at windmills of narcissism. Books that are frankly blind and privileged and annoying and dangerous.
The book’s second goal is dedicated to helping people parse the nuances of being a rare breed in an effort to recognize the responsibility of it and to harness its inherent power. To make those who are creative, unusual, unique, driven, different, aware of the impact that has on others, and advise them how to use it as an engine for driving great, meaningful, era-defining work. And perhaps most importantly, how to keep from being a Grade A asshole while they do it.
Not only is this rare and valuable in itself, it also makes the first goal authentic and raises the entire book above the level of most in its category.
With stories drawn from the public space as well as from their own experience, Bonnell and Hansberger organize their insights into chapters that break rare breeds down by seven characteristics – characteristics commonly perceived as “vices” but which they perceive as “virtues” for rare breeds. Then – and this is the important part – they analyze those characteristics from both sides, looking at both the good and bad of them. Like when they talk about the downside of the “Rebellious” characteristic:
The thing that separates the heroic rebel from the nihilistic agent of chaos is service. Who or what is your rebellion serving?
Or about the upside of the “Obsessed” characteristic:
Being intelligent or gifted or having a big idea won’t bring greatness in any field without a ridiculous, all-consuming, obsessive work ethic.
Or about the unintended consequences of being “Hot-Blooded”:
But even righteous rage, left unchecked, destroys everything.
Or the common misunderstanding of what it really means to be “Weird”:
Some people confuse the trappings of weirdness – the clothes, the piercings, the laugh – with weirdness itself. You might have, too. But that’s selling yourself and the Virtue of weird, short. Being weird is about the mind behind the window dressing, a mind that’s quick, witty, penetrating, and provocative.
These observations are important, not because they will dissuade people from being rebellious or obsessed or hot-blooded or weird, but because they will help them understand what those things really are so they can use them to create something important. Why? Because, as Bonnell and Hansberger write:
Finding your contribution isn’t just about people remembering your name; it’s about people remembering what you did, how you made them feel, and what you stood for.
It is these observations and insights that make what Bonnell and Hansberger are saying important. Because they remind you that being a rare breed, or unusual or a genius, is ultimately, not about you. It’s about what you can do because you are one.
And that is what makes Rare Breed not only different, but better.