Taylor Hicks probably won this year's title of “American Idol” as much for his individuality as his talent. To voting TV viewers, the 29-year-old's salt-and-pepper hair, down-home casual singing style, and rough-around-the-edges manner may have seemed like a refreshing change from what they might have expected an ideal “idol” — polished, slick-haired, with movie-star looks — to be.

In a society that constantly craves something new and fresh — whether it's in fashion, home décor, cars, or recreational experiences — the best way to maintain a competitive edge is to play on individual strengths. Individuality ensures distinction because the results achieved by applying it can't be copied or anticipated.

Ramesh Patel, this issue's “Ten Minutes With …” guest, writes about the value of distinctiveness. Today's high-end clients are looking beyond the usual high-quality goods and services to acquiring living experiences that are special or one-of-a-kind. They seek brands that impact how they feel about their lives — whether the contribution is one of convenience, comfort, or status.

To truly grow your upscale business, you need not only to keep up with your peers, but to distinguish your company from theirs as the place where clients go to get that something “special.” Playing on your business' individual strengths and allowing the distinction of the services you offer to grow through full use of the individual talents and perspectives of your staff will ensure your status as a special, one-of-a-kind firm with your clients.

So embrace your individuality, and the power of distinction — which can translate into the ability to attract and satisfy even the most demanding upscale clients — will be yours.

Wanda Jankowski