Holiday season is tough. It's tough for a lot of reasons – some small and some not.

For example, I like to say "Merry Christmas" to people. It's what I grew up saying and I WANT to say it, so I do. At the same time, I understand others may not feel so inclined to say it or even want to hear it. They may prefer "Happy Hanukkah," or "Heri za Kwanzaa." A lot of people play it safe with "Happy Holidays."

While I'm a bit of a curmudgeon, I don't ever intentionally want to hurt someone's feelings (unless they deserve it and you know who you are and I know you're reading this). So even though I say "Merry Christmas," I'm always a bit concerned I've offended someone, even though I am not offended when someone says "Happy Hanukkah" to me. The holiday season is tough, but this is small stuff.

It's tough for many people when families don't get along or when someone doesn't really have a family to share it with. That's tough.

The holidays are tough for a lot of businesses. Did Black Friday and Cyber Monday help or hurt? 

For too many people this year, the holidays are tough because money is tight or scarce. 2011 was supposed to see the economy turn around from a bleak 2010, but unfortunately, it didn't. Too many people are still looking for jobs, underwater in their mortgages, and struggling just to survive. We're naturally concerned about what's going on with the Euro community, Afghanistan, Iraq, oil, the environment, and Kim Kardashian, but how can we pay much attention when our unemployment checks are stopping soon? This holiday season is really tough for too many families.

I'm not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but the 2011 holidays are tough for a lot of people and businesses.

Right now it is what it is and I'm looking ahead to 2012. I'm not complaining about 2011, because we did okay. It wasn't a record year, though and I want 2012 to be better, just like everybody else.

But how are you going to make 2012 better? Have you started making your plan of attack?

I'm not talking about New Year's resolutions. C'mon, let's grow up and admit it – resolutions are a bunch of hogwarts. "My New Year's resolutions are to lose 25 pounds, pay off all my bills, and finally learn to play the harmonica!" No, he won't. 

No, I'm talking real change in lifestyle and business stuff here. What are you going to do starting right now that is DIFFERENT from what you've been doing in 2011? It's simply no longer good enough to do the same things you've always done, just better. If they didn't work the first time, why would it change now?

Still looking for a job using all the same techniques as the other 13.3 million job seekers?

Still think sending more email blasts will make the difference?

Still think handing out imprinted pens at the local Chamber luncheon will grab new business?

Still think your company needs to cut prices to beat the competition?

That plan you've had for the last two years? How's that working for you? And now you're going to do more of that?

It's no longer enough to do more, get louder, or sell cheaper. This may sound strange, but being incrementally better than the competition is not good enough anymore. That still gives the competition room to catch up.

You must also be DIFFERENT. Visibly, measurably, and authentically DIFFERENT.

Look around you at people and organizations who are succeeding today. Look at well-known examples – Apple, Wegmans, Facebook, Starbucks, JetBlue, Zappos, Ellen Degeneres. They aren't doing things incrementally better. They are DIFFERENT! They develop products we didn't know we wanted (needed). They have customer service policies that are DIFFERENT. They deliver products and services DIFFERENTLY. And I know you can find small businesses who are doing the same in their industries.

By doing things DIFFERENT from everybody else, they are also writing the rules of competition that everybody else must follow. They're not just being better.

Are you unhappy with 2011? Then what will you do that's DIFFERENT in 2012?

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