Welcome to Competing.com

Our Typical Reader

Our Typical Reader

This is a site about competing better. You could have guessed by the URL. The contributors will focus on examples of successful competing and unsuccessful competing.

Underlying competing is strategy. No one can compete better without strategy because strategy is what enables anyone to win. And luck. But the site about luck is www.lasvegas.com. We have little to say about that.

The brave reader who reached this page is inundated with data and news everywhere else. What we think we can do is give insight. Insight is a funny concept since everyone uses this word to mean “what I say is important and what others say is less so.” Indeed, we believe that too but we won’t say it like that.

Instead, here is our insight on insight: it is about perspective. It is based on the “facts,” but facts alone are never insight because data have no perspective. Only the interpreter can have a perspective.

We do not filter by whether the perspective is right or wrong (how would we judge anyway?). We only care that it is a perspective, and it is thoughtful, interesting, and doesn’t contradict itself. The reader can then do with it whatever the reader wants to do with it. Once in a blue moon we may be able to make a reader in Duluth, Minnesota sit up and say: “Hmmm… I didn’t think about it that way before.”

We live, or at least we write, for John in Duluth. John, thanks for your comment. And if you like this site, please tell your buddy Paul and your neighbor George and your uncle Ringo…

Contact us  or if you would like to write for us click here.

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Succeeding without Competing

The success most important to you may come not from comparing yourself to others but from doing what you want. Succeeding without competing is possible when we look inward. 

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Look at your life. What’s the sweetest success you have experienced?

Bring up the memory of that event or feat. Savor it. Think of what you did to achieve it; think of how you worked, struggled, and risked; think of how you felt when your goal was finally in your grasp. Re-experience your glory, pride, and joy. Let your heart swell and your face smile.

I had an experience like that a few weeks ago. It taught me a lesson about competing.

I’ve conducted a couple of webinars for Harvard Business School, where I earned my MBA. When my (mumble)-year reunion approached, HBS invited me to deliver a presentation on a subject of my choice. It’s a serious honor, and of course I said yes.

If you’ve read my essays on Competing.com and elsewhere, you know me as a competitive strategist who’s helped dozens of Fortune 500 companies around the world build their bottom lines. You might not know that I’ve also done work in self-awareness and that I wrote a book called Nice Start: Questions Only You Can Answer to Create the Life Only You Can Live.

The safe choice for my HBS reunion talk would have been competitive strategy. I’ve been working on another book on competitive strategy, so I had plenty of new, provocative material that I knew would deeply challenge conventional wisdom.

But, as excited as I am about that book, I also love Nice Start. That’s what I chose. I put together a mini-workshop called “Nice start! Now what?”

I’ve delivered a lot of speeches and workshops. I’ve spoken on six continents to everyone from MBA students to chief strategy officers. I’ve spoken in venues from the Ciragan Palace to the French Ministry of Health to a bunch of universities to a bunch of companies to a conference at sea aboard the Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve spoken with simultaneous translation, when the audience laughs (if I’m lucky) ten seconds after the joke. I’ve been around.

And I’ve never felt as anxious as when I prepared my HBS reunion talk. I didn’t care that my audience would be Fortune 500 executives, multi-multi-millionaires, and high-level politicians. I cared that these were people I went to school with (mumble) years ago. This was show and tell. This was my opportunity to share what, if anything, I’d learned about life over the years.

I poured my heart into that mini-workshop. I wrote, revised, rehearsed, revised, slept on it (not literally), revised again, rehearsed again. I practiced over and over so I could sound spontaneous.

The big day came. I think I gave my best talk / workshop ever. People rushed from their seats toward me when it was over (for once, without tar and feathers). You should have seen the beaming smiles and glowing eyes I saw.

Their response was more than I’d even hoped. It was a peak experience for me. Sweet success.

Did you notice what I didn’t say about my talk and success? That’s where the lesson about competing comes in.

Other people spoke at the reunion. HBS’ dean, for example. Michael Porter, Clayton Christensen, Max Bazerman, Francesca Gino, other senior faculty. C-level executives from global companies. What I didn’t say about my talk and success was anything about measuring my performance relative to theirs. I didn’t say anything about it because I didn’t give it any thought. Of course I care what my ratings will be. (The school hasn’t finished tabulating them yet, and if they’re low you can bet this essay will vanish swiftly.) But I didn’t set as my goal or as my measure of success competing with the other presenters. My goal was to give 100%. Not 90%, not 99%, not 99.9%. One hundred percent. I’ll tell you, that last 0.1% is a lot of work.

Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, was famous for demanding that Apple’s products be “insanely great.” He didn’t say “insanely better,” which would measure Apple relative to its competition. He said insanely great.

I’m not saying “Nice start! Now what?” was insanely great. I’m also not saying that it wasn’t insanely great. I’m saying that it feels different — it feels fantastic — to go for great instead of going for better. I’m saying also that that feeling matters. It’s dreams and vision. It’s fire-in-the-belly motivation. It’s at the heart of why people start companies. It’s also why it’s difficult to maintain that spirit when the company grows beyond the founders.1

Go back to your own sweetest success, the one you brought to mind a few hundred words ago. What made it so sweet?

I suggest that doing what makes us successful is not what makes us proud. Doing what makes us proud is what makes us successful.

 

1 Here’s a way perhaps to keep that spirit going. HBS professor Francesca Gino, in her excellent book Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), describes a study she conducted along with Dan Cable (the London Business School) and Brad Staats (now at the Wharton School). They found that new-employee orientation at Wipro greatly reduced turnover when it emphasized the contributions that the newcomers could make to the company.

 

What do you think? What were some sweet moments of success for you? How did you react to them?

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Why Strategies Fail

No one adopts a strategy expecting it to fail, yet strategies fail. That doesn’t happen on purpose but it also doesn’t happen by accident.

Christele Canard, founder of Switched On Leadership, interviewed Competing.com co-founder Mark Chussil for the cover-story subject why strategies fail. You can read and download their wide-ranging discussion here.

Christele and Mark talk about:

  • Why smart strategists believe their strategy will work and what happens when they find out in business war games that it won’t.
  • What happened when Mark built a strategy decision test technology (patent pending) and his own strategies didn’t work so well. (Hint: first, he looked for a bug in the software. There was no bug.)
  • Why people are so comfortable thinking inside the box and what it takes to get them to go outside.
  • What’s wrong with “I did this and the result was that” reasoning.
  • How people can expand their strategic thinking with a simple question.
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Evidence of Strategy Everywhere: “Hot Doug’s”

You might think I’m announcing that today there is strategy in the United States. Such a discovery would indeed be welcome but it’s not what I mean. I mean that you can see strategy in almost every newspaper article. All you need is to want to see it!
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We tend to think strategy, in the sense of unique positioning, is for large companies with large strategic-planning staffs and large strategy-consulting firms presenting large bills. It might be that the opposite is true.

In large companies strategy is mostly tactical tweaks to the master plan that made them big to begin with. That strategy was the founder’s dream. It succeeded, and made the company large. The rest, as they say, is history, with a bit of tinkering at the margins.

The number of large firms that changed strategy or created strategy once they were big can be counted on one hand with perhaps four fingers left over. IBM (under Gerstner). (Apropos IBM, see also my co-editor Mark Chussil’s “The Holy Grail of Competing.”)

Did I say IBM?

Since small businesses are typically run by their founders, and since they haven’t yet accumulated the fat to sustain them for decades like large firms, if they are to survive they must have some unique positioning. If the business is local, we often don’t see “strategy,” but even a slight difference in activities can make, well, a big difference.

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What Mental Jujitsu and Criminal Profiling Say about Your Competitors

You may think you know what your competitors are doing, but what do the implied meanings indicate about their competitive behavior? Here’s how a little mental jujitsu and criminal profiling can help you see the motivations behind their moves.

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My first martial-arts instructor was a short, fat accountant who could toss a charging 250-pound person across the room without breaking a sweat or a spreadsheet. Size didn’t matter to him. He knew that throwing a person is all about leverage. The harder you came at my instructor; the harder you’d hit the ground. I love that about martial arts.

If you want to toss a person charging you, you’ve got to look beyond the overt person-charging-you information. Subtle cues or inconsistencies, invisible to the untrained eye, tell you the deeper story of your opponent’s trajectory. The leverage you need to toss the person is in the deeper story.

The same deeper story applies to your opponents in the marketplace. Your competitors provide you with a constant stream of messages and information: advertisements, quarterly statements, analyst reports, and much more. You can learn a great deal about your competitors by looking beyond the overt meanings (charging) to implied meanings (subtle or unintended cues).

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Evidence of Strategy Everywhere: “The New Entrepreneurial Spirit: Bypass”

You might think I’m announcing that today there is strategy in the United States. Such a discovery would indeed be welcome but it’s not what I mean. I mean that you can see strategy in almost every newspaper article. All you need is to want to see it!
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In Disruptive Innovation versus Old-Fashioned Strategy I admired the smart strategy of Elio Motors in bypassing some regulatory costs. It seems that type of entrepreneurial thinking is becoming a major theme of entrepreneurial strategies.

USA Today reported on the success of Uber and Lyft, startups that use smartphone apps to connect passengers with private drivers. In just four years Uber expanded to serve 128 cities in 37 countries; Lyft serves 67 cities. The companies’ strategies depend directly on skirting government regulations: they claim not to be taxis and therefore not subject to taxi regulations.

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