Pick a fight you can win
Identify the business skills and behaviors you need to master
For many years, Avis’ advertising slogan was “We’re No. 2. We try harder.” Similarly, Pepsi had a mission statement that simply said “Beat Coke,” and Nike vowed to “Crush Reebok.” One of my favorites was the giant industrial company Komatsu, which focused on beating Caterpillar with the battle cry “Eat the Cat.”
Alternatively, there are organizations that have competitive awareness but choose to define success in their own terms rather than vis-à-vis their competitors.
Which technique is right? Maybe both. There isn’t one path to victory.
It’s well-documented that relativity greatly influences our perception of winning or of happiness. You’re happy with your compensation until you find out that the schmuck in the next office makes more than you do.
Even apes have this problem. They’re happy when they receive a cucumber until the hairy guy in the next cage gets a banana, and then the cucumber recipient goes … ape! True story! (Michael Lewis wrote a great book, The Undoing Project, which is about a relationship between two psychologists. But it’s replete with fascinating stories about human frailty.)
Similarly, Olympic bronze medal winners are happier than silver medal winners. One step away from victory, it seems, is more painful than just making the podium.
I’ve observed numerous directionless organizations choose an “enemy,” align the troops and make progress. It’s one of the quickest ways to advance, but it comes with challenges. You are, by definition, abdicating strategy to your competitors and playing their game. If the pie is big enough, it can work well. But you’ll fail if you can’t match or exceed their resources.
Other organizations consciously choose a different path. The essence of strategy is being different, and they look for their own way to address their market. Rather than stand toe to toe in the middle of the ring and slug it out with someone who may take punches better than they do, they look for another way to win the fight.
The one thing these two approaches have in common is that the path must be clear. If you’re going to do what the other guy does and do it better, you’d better really understand what makes that approach the best choice, identify the skills and behaviors you need to master, and execute like hell!
If you’re clever enough to have a different strategy from your competition, to answer the questions, “Where do we play?” and “How do we win?” differently than they do, then those ideas need to be extremely clear to your team.
Whether you’re out to beat Coke or march to a different drummer, the clarity of your ideas, the alignment of your team and the ability to execute brilliantly are requirements for success.