One Size Fits All, not.: Procrustean Bed

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
6 min read

I just recently heard about the ancient Greek myth of Procrustes who claimed he had a bed that could accommodate anyone of any height. I am surprised I haven’t heard of this before. Its such a fantastic metaphor and cautionary tale. Ilove having these kinds of stories in my arsenal as they act as shorthand to describe ranges of situations we find ourselves encountering.

Theseus and Procrustes, Attic red-figure neck-amphora, 570–560 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen

Procrustes (Προκρούστης) [I am also a big fan of the Greek alphabet. It looks so cool and is surprisingly easy to learn] or “the stretcher” (sounds like a pro wrestling moniker) was a rogue smith and bandit who attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, so as to force them to fit the size of an iron bed.

The term “Procrustean” has been appropriated in English and used to refer to situations where different shapes, sizes or properties are force fitted to an arbitrary standard.

The Dangers of Conformity

We allow ourselves to be diminished when we cut ourselves down to size in order to placate the ignorance of those we love, or our bosses, or some shapeless scold in our heads. We need courage to generate the escape velocity from the gravitational pull of these forces.

The Masquerade

This is what overly generalized societal norms attempt to impose on us. They sand off the idiosyncratic edges of our personalities, or force us to hide them and wear masks.

Procrustes Bed struck me as a powerful idea. I have found that I have tried to fit myself into different boxes in order to make myself more acceptable to others. The whole idea of trying to “fit in” is an exercise of trying to calculate what others will find appealing or acceptable, and then trying to portray oneself in that manner. It usually ends up making us fatigued, humiliated and miserable.

Never stop

We end up feeling like round pegs in square holes. We begin early in our lives being indoctrinated to conform. That is a function of our industrialized school system. There are so many ways that we can remain closeted and not show our true selves for fear of being ostracized. Many times those fears are proven true when we screw up the courage to show ourselves and are met with disapproval.

Stick to your guns


This is a big reason why many chose a life of entrepreneurship. It allows us to at least breath freely, away from the restrictive and stifling forces of conformity. In a self created environment with no toxic, reluctant forces looking to criticize our every move, we can follow our instincts and let our truth reveal itself.

A critical part of letting brainstorming session work their mojo is allowing all ideas to come forth without immediately imposing our critical apparatus and shutting them down. You need a safe nonjudgemental haven and like minded compatriots in order to let things flow. Otherwise stepping stones to big ideas in adjacent realities will be blighted like flower buds in a frost.

Niches and Segmentation

In marketing we want to identify potential customers and convince them to buy. We also are interested in convincing past customers to be repeat customers.

We do this by providing products and services they need and want. It’s all about making the right people aware of our value proposition.

Everyone is unique but we also tend to have interests in common with others. We want to identify those commonalities in the most refined and granular ways possible. These are called niches.

We use segmentation to identify niches with specific needs and desires that we can articulate clearly. In mature markets we use segmentation to find new customers. Segmentation allows us to focus our messaging and deliver it more effectively.

Marketing messages should be designed to address and inform each segment of the benefits and features that are most relevant to that segment. This is a different approach from mass marketing where one size fits all for all customer types. This approach is more efficient and affective, as it delivers the right mix to the right group of people, rather than a spray-and-pray shotgun approach.

Blighted like flower buds in a frost

Leadership and Management

Genuine authority is derived from being authentic. We lead and manage when our messages are in line with who we truly are. The cognitive dissonance of struggling to maintain a facade undermines our authority and erodes our health. People can tell when we are being disingenuous or hypocritical.

Losing our Immortality

Mark Nepo recalls the myth Sir James Frazer (of The Golden Bough fame) recorded and preserved from the Melanesians of the New Hebrides.

In their tale, humans used to be immortal and we would maintain and renew our life force by shedding our skin. One time a woman went to the river to cast off her old skin and noticed it got caught on a stick in the river as it floated. When she returned to home her child refused to recognize her and cried for the old woman mother and not this young stranger. In order to pacify the child she went back after her old skin and put it on . From that moment, human ceased to cast off their skins and died.

When we maintain ways that we have outgrown, no longer suit us, and that we have discarded, in order to placate ignorance and jealousy, we lose touch with what is eternal and true.

Don’t let them cut you down to size

Illegitimi non carborundum is mock latin for “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” This saying was popularized by US General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell during World War II.

“Vinegar Joe” Stilwell

Shine on you crazy diamond

We now have social media tools to help us find our tribe. We can transcend geography and find the folks who won’t judge us or even better will be delighted by our uniqueness and encourage us to let our freak flags fly.

Our uniqueness is to be treasured and cultivated and encouraged. Lets not waste our energy in maintaining the pretense that we are something we are not. Seek out your tribe, its what I’m doing right now.

Let’s make it a point to gently remove our masks and show the world who we truly are. And lets vow to encourage others to do the same. Courage!

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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