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.

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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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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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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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