How To Neuter Your Competition

by Mike Connolly

There are billionaires, and then there are visionary billionaires.

You find them in virtually any industry. Among contemporaries: Spielberg, Branson, Bezos and the late Steve Jobs.  Guys (and women) who are in business for more than just the money.

Make no mistake, the money matters, but they build, create stuff and make things happen to fulfill a unique vision they have.

In Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, Jobs explains how he became fascinated with computers.  As a kid, he was reading a study in Scientific American on the relative mobile efficiency of various species – how much energy they consume getting from point A to point B.

Turns out humans are a modest one third of the way down the list, with condors topping it.  But when a human on a bicycle is compared to a condor, the ratio goes off the chart.  There was no comparison.

Jobs loved the idea that a human – unlike any of the animals – could create and use a device that extends his ability to do something useful.

He saw computers as a “bicycle for the mind”, a tag they actually used in marketing Apple computers.

In essence that vision is a key part of what turned Apple Computer from a failed business 60 days away from bankruptcy in 1996 (under John Scully) into the most valuable company in the world when Jobs unfortunately passed away in 2011.

So how does this story relate to you, today, in your business?

It might not.  Or it might not today, but at some point there may be something in it for you.

I have a family member who says, “I hate problems.”  To me, this was always amazing and not surprising that this person was perennially broke.

“Problems” are nothing but opportunities looking for someone to solve them.  Often at great profit, frequently with much blood, sweat and tears and almost always when solved, offering great benefit.

And, as you may have noticed, another whole new set of problems to solve.

Henry Ford solved the problem of affordable, efficient transportation for the rising middle class.  But then, roads needed to be built, fuel and food stops provided for travelers and waste products from the manufacturing process to be disposed of.  One of the waste products he turned into a whole new industry, “charcoal briquettes” manufactured and sold by Kingsford, still at your local grocery store today.

The list goes on.  Look at all the problems the internet has solved – and the new ones it’s creating…  And on and on.

Management guru, Peter Drucker famously said “Marketing and Innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

What tends to get forgotten is the innovation part.

Walt Disney was not only a smart business man, but he innovated a whole new form of entertainment, the “Theme Park” in a way that nobody could see at the time.  No one would bankroll him, until he struck a deal with ABC to host “The Wonderful World of Disney”, in which he brilliantly got both the cash he needed and a platform to advertise his theme park from.

And of course, he later bought ABC.

The point is, like Apple Computer, Ford Motor Company, and on and on, none of this would have come about without the entrepreneur’s unique vision.  In Disney’s case it was the idea of creating the “Happiest Place on Earth”, a small town, family friendly place that his peripatetic family never really provided for him growing up.

So what good is all this to you? If you have a product or service with flat or declining sales or margins, obviously something’s not growing.  And ultimately, in business as in life, if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Maybe you’re okay with that.

But if you’re looking to distinguish your business from competition – an absolute necessity for survival in the coming “new economy” – you may need to dig deeper.  The advantage of having a unique, personal vision for your business is, it stands out.

What else could you be doing for your customers that your competitors are not?

Jobs said something that may be helpful to consider: Your customers don’t know what they want.  No survey would have ever revealed that what computer users wanted was a graphical interface or mouse.

The trick then is to understand your customer, develop a unique solution to a concern or interest she has and lead her to it.