July 23, 2022

Snowflakes. Many things come to mind when thinking about snowflakes. We think of cold weather, the winter season, snow. Sometimes we even associate it with those cute elementary school projects where snowflakes were made out of construction paper, but have you ever thought about snowflakes from the perspective of a snowflake; its voyage?

As the snowflakes fall and gently land on our nose, we rarely think about the tumultuous journey the snowflake has taken to reach us. From high atmospheric conditions, to traveling through various levels of humidity and temperature, the flakes began to crystallize and take shape. They stretch out their crystals, resembling a hexagonal yawn. Letting the elements—the up-and-down flurries of life—crystallize their form into a form like no other. They become unique and distinctive.

Isn’t it amazing to think about the fact that no snowflake looks exactly alike? It’s simply because each snowflake falls in a unique route to the ground. Turning liquid drops into diamonds in the sky, the life of a snowflake reminds us that we all are unique and should celebrate our diverse contribution to the world. We should celebrate the Onlyness of You!


Like a snowflake, Nilofer Merchant understands the power of celebrating our uniqueness and our unique perspective. In the 2016 Harvard Business Review article, “What Creates Advantage in the ‘Social Era,’” she coined the term onlyness and highlighted the importance of acknowledging the uniqueness in each individual. Merchant describes onlyness as, “recognizing that each of us stands in a spot that fits only them and is a function of history and experiences, visions and hopes. That unique point of view is the genesis of new ideas, the ones that challenge the status quo or improve upon the existing conditions.”

It’s such a breath of fresh air to finally see the professional world celebrating the uniqueness of each individual within organizations.

Sadly, most of the uniqueness individuals hold isn’t only uncelebrated but hasn’t even been acknowledged during their formative years. I often ask my Alumni360 students, “When you are in class, do you have ample time to express your specialized strengths in your projects? Do people inquire about you? Do they ask where and how you shine? Or does everyone have to do the same thing the same way?”

Oftentimes their response is disheartening. I have to admit, I have been guilty of it too. Being a teacher is challenging when class sizes are large and resources are low. Diversified instruction is difficult when there are many personalities and needs in one class.

Moving everyone through a standardized system is efficient for attempting to educate masses of students at one time. Though it is efficient, the collateral damage of stifling student uniqueness is becoming too costly. This format worked for the industrial revolution but can no longer suffice in our modern era of work.


Most of the current workforce has already gone through conforming systems; systems that converge people to think in one way—that test and compare students against a one-size-fits-all standard and penalizes those who dare to break from the norm.

So now we must do the retroactive work of empowering people to celebrate their uniqueness because, as Rabbi Warren Goldstein states, “We should marvel at the fact that each person is a universe unto themselves, with their own hopes and dreams, joys and concerns, strengths and weaknesses, challenges and opportunities. For the mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other.”

When leading teams and groups, it is important to have people be a part of a collective vision but not to the extent where they can’t express their many facets, their multiple perspectives of who they are, or be allowed to contribute their unique creativity. Maybe in the midst of our regular routines and deadlines, take a creative breath. Let’s think beyond the quantitative and productivity that may be necessary and continue to create and explore new ideas that have the potential to propel us into new and exciting uncharted territories.