wall niche

The Niche Myth


Small Holes

When you think of a niche, an image of a penguin might come to mind. Penguins have mastered their frigid environment, huddling together in the cold, and sliding on their bellies doing badass backflips off of glaciers. An ecological niche is when an organism is well adapted for its environment.

“If you put a gun to my head and said, ‘You have to come up with a story for Happy Feet Three,’ I’d say shoot me.” – George Miller

Or, for you architecture buffs out there, you may think of niches’ second, and less commonly used definition, a shallow recess in a wall. I don’t know how frequently this applies to anyone, tbh.

Today however, we will be discussing the third definition of niche:

(n.) a comfortable or suitable position in life of employment

** N.B.: the English language loves to overload definitions

Comfortable or Suitable Position? The Heck?

To be fair, that definition is pretty sucky.

Organisms in general, prefer comfort over conflict. People are no different. So, let’s just define comfort as being in a comfortable state most of the time.

Ok, how about suitable? That word is well…suitable. It acknowledges that no situation will ever be entirely ideal, but it can be suitable. In other words, “Meh, I’m ok right now.”

this is fine

Environment Envy

Arguably, one of the reasons the human species is so successful on Earth is how quickly we adapt to new environments. Hot, cold, mountainous, desert, or rainforest, you will find people all over the surface of the planet.

According to natural selection, success is determined by survival and continuation of the genes of an organism.

In business, success is defined as making more money than you’re losing. Whether you sell shoes, technology, or insurance, the goal is survival and growth.

The environment is an always changing system. The larger the environment, the harder it is to predict change.

Big businesses are harder to operate because they are less adaptive. For a real life example of this, decide what you’re going to have for dinner tonight. Now, ask a friend and decide together. Now, ask another. For every friend you add, the more complex the decision becomes.

Much like an environment, the market must be worked with, not against.

Success in a market is a combination of timing, a solid product, and the ability to sell. Without all three of these being present in some shape or form, a venture will be dead in the water. For a real life example of this, try to open a lemonade stand in December.

The Common Advice

People argue the importance of finding a niche, a hyper-specific use case for your skills/product/juggling talent. This advice is well founded. Many successful businesses we see in our day to day lives do something well enough to get people to part with their money. Even in a sea of competition, they continue to generate value and capture a percentage of that value.

However, I’d argue that the way most people go about finding their niche is flawed.

Better Advice

When choosing a niche to work in, set out to find your particular competitive advantage. If you don’t think you’re good at anything, what do you suck the least at?

Competition

Examine the competition. Monitor what makes the Taco Bell franchise successful, or why Apple has so many raving fans.

After you examine businesses you admire, throw out your findings. You are not Taco Bell. You are not Apple. Imitation will only get you so far.

Great artists steal, but their personality isn’t run over by the stuff they stole.

The Benefit of Staying Small

The smaller the better! Right? Well, kinda. Being small can actually be a bad thing, if you’re small in the wrong thing. For example, if your niche is making boots that are for moon walking, your audience is going to be pretty small, if not zero. Not that many people have been to the moon.

So I should go broad?

On the other hand, if your audience is too broad, it’s likely that your product won’t be good enough at solving a specific problem and you’ll disappear into the noise. For a real life example, look at most YouTube channels.

“WHAT IS UP YOU GUYS THIS IS ** insert channel name here ** !”

Strike a balance. Build something brand new, but make sure it’s something people actually want. People may say they want a live-action remake of Hey Arnold, but they probably don’t need it.

How do I find my niche?

Unfortunately, I haven’t found one answer. I spent weeks trying to narrow down into a niche for my YouTube Channel. I’ve tried podcasts, comedy styles, how-tos, video diaries and more.

I do have tips to share though.

The first thing is to make content that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the process, you’ll eventually burn out.

The second thing is that the content worth creating will signal back to you. People will come up to you and ask you about it. They love your neon chair lights, or your charisma on stage, or the way you make that dank soufflé. This shows genuine interest, and is a sign from “nature” that you’re on the right path.

Specialize in Adaptation

If you must specialize, specialize in adaptation. The environment isn’t static, so specializing in the traditional sense can cause more harm than good! If your soufflé business is going under, utilize your baking skills and pivot to the hot new dessert!

Handedness

When I first wrote this article, I wanted to examine the relationship between niche and handedness. It didn’t end up fitting the vibe, but damn it, I’m gonna address it anyway!

I’m left-handed. About ~10% of the human population are left handed.

Why is this important? Well, almost by definition, left handed people are more adaptive to the environment. We have to be. Tools, cars, written language; are all made for right handed people.

For a real life example of this, ask a left-hander to write anything with a pencil and have their hand not look like this when they finish.

the struggle is real

Unfortunately, we also don’t get to complain about it. The environment very clearly signals that righties are dominant. Lefties must find their small hole as it was. Sitting on the left side of dinner tables as to not bump any elbows. Using notebooks with rings on top, etc.

Embrace your inner lefty. Adapt and utilize your strengths in any environment.