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.

Read More →

Selling to Machines: How Search Engines Twist Marketing Strategy

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the go-to business strategy for companies to attract people using sites like Google. Ranking number one on search engines is a competitive advantage, but can it happen without twisting both words and marketing strategy?

_______

“I don’t read the script. The script reads me.”

(a movie character played by Robert Downey, Jr.)

The first person to read this essay will be a machine. The machine will impudently, implacably, and insistently insert itself between you, human reader, and me, human writer.

Human writers who want to reach human readers need a strategy. That strategy must use a special language to pander to the machine. It is called SEO: search engine optimization. It is a dreadful language. It relies on keywords, i.e., words for which humans might search the Internet. It requires that I make heavy use of key phrases — I repeat, heavy use of key phrases — so that my essay appears particularly relevant, in the machine’s icy judgment, to those who are searching for those key phrases.

The more I please the machine with my heavy use of key phrases, the better my odds of reaching humans like you who want to know about heavy use of key phrases. On the other hand, the process of pleasing the machine with heavy use of key phrases makes my essay less attractive to you, due to its heavy use of key phrases. In other words, the way I help you find me might make you unhappy that you did.

Read More →

Best Companies to Work For

How do you create competitive advantage? Elon Musk found the way, and the competitive advantage he enjoys makes his companies the best companies to work for today. Tomorrow may be a different issue.

________

Today we will look at three best companies, which together I will dub Elon Musk Enterprises. The reason these are the best companies to work for is that they are wonderfully independent of the uncertainties and vagaries of the free market.

Developing strategy is hard. Developing strategy that makes business news is even harder. One way to do it is Willi Robertson’s: work hard, look weird, and promote your brand relentlessly under god. Another is to possess the strategic thinking of Elon Musk.

Launching a new strategy is fraught with unexpected problems since consumer demand is always somewhat unpredictable. Oprah Winfrey can attest to that with her W network. Implementing a strategic plan, however, should be easier if the strategy actually has a coherent, consistent set of activities behind it. It helps further when the set of activities behind a strategy is simple and elegant.

Read More →

Make Critical Business Decisions Quantitatively, 97.3% of Quants Say

Don’t think you have to choose between left- or right-brain thinking when it comes to decision making. In fact, creatives and quants complement each other and can boost strategic thinking within groups. Effective decision making combines the best ideas from humans and machines. Machines are people too.
________

Odds are I made up that statistic in the title. Does that make me a quant or a creative? Meanwhile, though, there are critical business decisions to be made. It seems there always are. Making critical business decisions proves we’re very important businesspeople.

We must decide whether to make those decisions with the quants and their shiny petabyte teraflop machines or the creatives and their glorious, soaring humanoid imaginations.

Or not. I vote not.

A recent Op-Ed by Timothy Egan in The New York Times, “Creativity vs. Quants,” eloquently and intelligently brought into the digital age the ancient debate between tastes-great and less-filling. Mr. Egan wisely did not take sides even as he noted victories and defeats for both clans. And yet there is still an either-or undercurrent, perhaps not from Mr. Egan but certainly in the general culture. As for me, I vote not to make quants and creatives an either-or dichotomy.

Read More →

First Conviction Ever Under the 1996 Espionage Act

Competitive intelligence, trade secrets, and Oreos: Learn how a Chinese company tried to gain a competitive advantage from an American competitor using a twisted market strategy that led all parties to fail at competing. Clearly, taking risks does not guarantee a competitive advantage. 

________

A short news item in USA Today on March 6, 2014, reported that a San Francisco jury found two men guilty of stealing trade secrets from DuPont. Stealing trade secrets intrigues me since I am in competitive intelligence (CI), and CI has fought for decades against the idea that we’re corporate James Bonds spying on competitors.

We won the battle. The only people now who consider CI to be as exciting as industrial espionage are those who haven’t left their caves since Y2K. Today’s misconceptions are too sad even for Austin Powers. CI today is misconstrued as fishing online for competitor data, mischaracterized as trolling social media for customers’ view of competitors, or misunderstood as sniffing financial reports. But this is another subject. At least it is no longer espionage. At last the world realized we are boring.

Read More →

What Can Business Learn from Football?

The Super Bowl has just come and gone leaving me with fond memories of Scarlett Johansson and a new Soda Stream machine (take that, Pepsi!). The media buildup to the game with its endless hours of deep analysis inevitably applied 10³¹ (I counted) sports metaphors to business management and strategy.

What can business learn from football? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But that won’t stop people from applying sports metaphors to business.

It takes less time than an instant replay to reveal that those metaphors are mostly empty. Yes, football and business involve team play. So does kindergarten. Aside from that, football (or baseball, or synchronized swimming) has nothing to do with business. It is a limited duration contest, while business is unending. It ends in decisive victory, while it is far from clear what victory even looks like in business. It deploys physical moves that have no parallel in business. What, “go left and then run straight” is a lesson business should heed? Most importantly, football requires playing by rigidly enforced rules and regulations. There is nothing to innovate.

Read More →

An Interview with Professor Phil Rosenzweig, Author of Left Brain, Right Stuff

Ben Gilad: Your new book, Left Brain, Right Stuff, places a sharp focus on a distinction be­tween events we can influence — directly or indirectly — and events we can’t. Analytics has a role in improving judgments in the latter case. Strategic decisions belong to the former – the leader has an ability to influence the outcomes. Analytics should not be confused, as it is in some large companies, with strategic vision. Is this a fair characterization of your thesis?

Phil Rosenzweig: My main thesis is that decision research has been immensely valuable in shedding light on the mechanics of human cognition, and has done so largely by conducting experiments that ex­amine choices among options we cannot alter, or judgments about things we cannot influence. The primary lesson has been for us to be aware of our propensity for common errors, and try to avoid them.

That’s fine for some kinds of decisions, but much of life is very different. Often we can alter the options we face and improve their terms. We can also influence outcomes, and for that high levels of confidence are useful. Many real-world decisions call for a combination of skills: on one hand a capacity of detached analysis, free of biases, which we associate with left-brain thinking, and on the other hand a willingness to push boundaries and act assertively, which I call the right stuff.

Strategic decisions, in particular, call for both. Deciding on a good strategy surely has to take into account many things we cannot influence, like currency movements, geopolitical trends, technological breakthroughs, and the actions of rivals. But setting a strategic vision and then carrying it out through the actions of others is not a purely analytical exercise. We also have to make it happen.

Read More →