Your Competition, Isn’t

Day 16 of 21 days with Chuck’s new book, Why Employees Are ALWAYS a Bad Idea

I’ve personally landed millions in contracts from small companies to giant technology and pharmaceutical corporations, and I’ve never once thought about “competition.” It has never been a factor. I actually don’t think I have any, and I don’t believe you do, either. If you think you do, you just might be thinking like an Industrialist.

Stop Watching the Competition
Competition is a business disease of the Industrial Age which is very closely related to scarcity disease. In the Participation Age there are a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t be worried about people entering your market, coming up with great ideas you haven’t had, or improving on yours.

People who focus on trying to figure out what makes their competition successful don’t have enough good ideas of their own.

General Motors wasn’t created as a car company, but as a holding company. It didn’t create anything, but for decades watched the rest of the car market closely and bought car lines that others had created and worked to destroy those they couldn’t acquire. Their DNA was Industrial – find somebody else’s good idea, capture it and keep anyone else from coming up with an idea that might threaten that status quo product.

GM is not alone. United Airlines carefully watched Southwest grow and draw their customers away, then tried to mimic their success by repainting some of their airplanes and calling the new thing TED. Most long-term United Airlines passengers saw it as what it was, a bad clone of Southwest. United was too busy watching Southwest to come up with any great ideas of its own. Many in the market, in reference to a mule’s behind, simply starting calling TED “the back half of UniTED.” As with GM, United’s DNA is not creativity or innovation. Their DNA is dominating the world by maintaining the status quo, a futile exercise in a rapidly changing world, as they have found out.

In contrast, for years Apple was well known for focusing internally for its competition, and regularly destroyed not only the status quo in the market, but their own products which were still selling very well. When you live in a world of abundance you know you have a great idea inside you, and your responsibility is to uncover it, not steal the other guy’s great idea.

Mimicking Your Customer’s Products and Services
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s a lousy business strategy. The two last words of a dying marketing program are, “Me. too.” Again, United’s TED experiment is a grand example of this kind of tom-foolery. They took the facade of Southwest’s secret sauce and made a movie prop out of it with no building behind the facade. The result was a transparent attempt to mimic another company without the dedication to their core principles, strategies or infrastructure.

Great companies are too busy fleshing out their own ideas to follow others around their industry like mimes at a busker festival.

Focus on your client’s needs, not your competition’s products.
In general, companies that are doing it right are
1) focused internally on their own creativity and
2) on what their customers want.
Never one or the other – always both. Henry Ford said, “If I had asked my clients what they wanted, I would have made a faster horse”. Ray Kroc and others had to invent an entire industry (fast food) in order to sell their products. Their customers did not tell them they needed that. We should be in front of what our customer even knows they need, and working to get them that before they realize it’s potential.

In some cases we get our best ideas from our clients, and not listening to them carefully would be lazy and or arrogant on our part. In other cases our offerings are a combination of our own ideas and something our customers demonstrated they need (even if they didn’t express it). And in all cases our customers help us refine our products and make them better.

If you focus first on coming up with good ideas of your own, and then on meeting the needs of your clients, you won’t have time to focus on what other providers are doing.

You’re a terrible guesser, anyway.
I’ve seen companies dissect the products, services or marketing of other companies and copy them, only to find out they were mimicking the worst part of what the others were doing. The copycat thought that “X” made the other company successful. The other company might even believe it. But quite often whatever they copied doesn’t work because it’s out of context or some small condition is missing that made it successful.

But worse yet, mimicking others speaks of a culture that has little or no foundation of its own. Copycats make cheesy Industrial Age products that never lead them to the next great idea. The two last words of a dying company are “Me, Too.”

Explorers and pioneers don’t mimic others. One of the best ways to ensure you are irrelevant is to mimic other people’s successes rather than create your own. That mimicking strategy is fundamental to a world of scarcity, and shows a lack of originality, passion, cause, mission, or joy in what you do.

They won, good for them.
If someone “beats” you, they simply have something the customer needs that you don’t. Rejoice for the customer. If, in turn, you sometimes have things other customers want, you’ll attract those relationships and the other guy won’t.

Wandering Generalities
“Are you a wandering generality or a meaningful specific?” – Zig Ziglar Companies that focus on their competition are wandering generalities , built on a mimicking other company’s successes instead of creating their own. They’re just building cash cows.

The bottom line
In the Participation Age, companies don’t focus on competition, or even the recently popular term “coopetition”. They focus on getting better, making their industry better and making the world a better place to live both through creating more useful products and by their value to society.

Get the idea of competition out of your head and focus on being the best at whatever great idea you’ve birthed. And while you’re at it, try to figure out how to make the other guy successful, too. You’ll make a lot more money and have a lot more fun. And Stakeholders will come running to you work for you.