Tag Archives: Competitive Advantage

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

The Business Case for Team-Based Incentives with Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank

You getting Super Bowl fever? As a perpetual supporter of the underdog (unless my Steelers are playing), I’ve been reading about Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank. Even if you aren’t into football, you will appreciate that before purchasing the Falcons in 2002, Blank was co-founder of The Home Depot.

It may seem commonplace today, but when it was first introduced The Home Depot revolutionized the home improvement business with its one-stop shopping, warehouse concept. Blank then spent 19 years as its president before becoming CEO and co-chairman.

In learning about Blank, an interview last week exhibits one particularly admirable aspect of his leadership philosophy that gives strong hints as to why he has been as successful as he is. After the Falcons won their spot in the Super Bowl, Blank announced that he is flying all 500 Falcon employees to Houston for the game. When asked, “How big is that bill?” he responded:

It’s not about money. It’s about these associates, who were the ones that support our players, our coaches and our franchise… We are a family of businesses that share a set of values and we want to be able to celebrate this with everybody. All the Falcons associates are going because they’re all a part of what it takes to produce a winning team on the field.

This is motivating to the staff on two fronts. Monetarily, they are each receiving a one-in-a-lifetime experience that is far beyond most people’s budgets—between the flight, a ticket to the game (pricing starts at $3,500 per seat), hotel, and food it could easily cost $8,000 per employee.

More impactful, however, is the message of shared success that Blank is conveying. If the team does well, we all do well. These team-based incentives reinforce a company culture of collaboration and cooperation. As a result, team members are more likely to prioritize the shared goals and values of the organization over their personal agendas.

Not convinced? A 2010 study found that employees receiving team-based incentives are more willing to put extra effort into their tasks because they don’t want to let their teammates down. Armstrong and Ryden’s research found that companies with long-term, team-based incentive pay resulted in significantly lower than average employee turnover. And another study found productivity increases of 9-17% relative to companies with individual incentives.

If team-based incentives sound costly (and you aren’t able to send your team to the Super Bowl), don’t worry. Research shows that team-incentive schemes are 26-29% more cost effective than individual incentives. I’m no economists, but spending less and getting more for your money sounds like a competitive advantage.

As leaders, we need to make shared success a part of our culture. Impart the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” Make it a regular part of your communication and back it up with tangible incentives and rewards. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll be on your way to your national championship.

Is Your Motivational Style Reliant Upon Being Supportive? A Competition-Based Culture May Be More Impactful

Leaders are always searching for new ways to motivate their team. Incentives help, as do training, inspiration, and goals, but there’s one resource you are overlooking—the power of competition.

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.—Walt Disney

According to a new study, competition may be the key to increased performance. The research led by Jingwen Zhang compared the results of three groups: 1) competition-driven teams, 2) social support teams, and 3) a combination of support and competition. Overwhelming, the competition teams outperformed the support team by rates greater than 90%.

As much as society emphasizes the need for social support, you would think it would materialize into tangible outcomes but no, social support group had no significant bearing on progress. In fact, it may have caused participants to feel less motivated.

As part of the study, the researchers also measured the impact of social media and how it changes behaviors. To do so, all teams had access to online leaderboards. The competition teams could compare their performance to other teams and were rewarded based on the number of classes attended. The support teams did not know how well other teams performed but could chat online and encourage their teammates. According to Zhang,

Most people think that when it comes to social media more is better. This study shows that isn’t true: When social media is used the wrong way, adding social support to [a program] can backfire… However, when done right, we found that social media can increase [performance] dramatically.

To “backfire” Damon Centola, another researcher on the project, states that supportive groups can fail…

…because they draw attention to members who are less active, which can create a downward spiral of participation… Competitive groups, [on the other hand], frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members. These relationships help to motivate because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance.

For leaders, this means we need to frame social interactions as competitions. It should be healthy without a bloodthirsty mindset, and the policies, ethics, and positive culture of the workplace should be strictly enforced. However, a more competitive setting will help raise the bar for all. Zhang calls this a social ratcheting-up process where one person’s win inspires others to “ratchet-up” their performance. This is in contrast to social support teams who experience ratcheting-down—a low performer sets a precedent in which others now have permission to falter.

I think there’s something wrong with me – I like to win in everything I do, regardless of what it is. You want to race down the street, I want to beat you. If we’re playing checkers, I want to win. You beat me, it’s going to bother me. I just enjoy competition.—Derek Jeter

If your organization needs a competitive advantage, bolster competition. Encourage winning. Promote reliance. Incentivize victories. You can still be supportive, but don’t allow it to be used as an excuse or to condone underachievement. Utilize support to re-energize; let it provoke a champion attitude. And if you do it right, you’ll “ratchet” right past the opposition.

Golden State Warriors’ Four Lessons on Finding Your Competitive Advantage

Stephen Curry bannerEvery leader is looking for a competitive advantage. We analyze business models, speak with consultants selling “the next big thing,” and delve into industry best practices all in the hopes of finding the magic bullet no one has ever considered. When someone does find it, we (and every other thought leader) beat ourselves up for missing something so obvious. Such is the story of the Golden State Warriors.

The Golden State Warriors just finished the NBA regular season with the best record of all-time—73-9—surpassing Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls. In addition, Warrior’s superstar Stephen Curry finished the regular season with a record 402 3-pointers and Coach Steve Kerr won NBA Coach of the Year.

For anyone trying to propel their success, it is worth asking how a team with a 35-year losing streak transformed themselves into a NBA powerhouse. While some seasons were better than others, until five years ago, no one identified the Warriors as winners. Then the new owners came up with a less-than-revolutionary idea—what if we concentrate on 3-pointers?

Focusing on this niche plan may seem obvious, and I’m sure others tried it, but no one has utilized this system more effectively than the Warriors. Just as the masterminds who purchased the failing franchise turned it around, we must enhance our ability to spot a niche, which is simply determining the ways we can compete differently. Here are four things we can all do to make the most of our next opportunity and utilize that niche.

Remain Objective. The Warriors’ executives placed a strong emphasis on statistics. They found quantifiable evidence to support their new emphasis on 3-pointers: research showed that NBA players made roughly the same percentage of shots from 23 feet as they did from 24; the only difference was that the 3-point line ran between these distances.

Lesson: We need to collect similar measurable data to find untapped opportunities without being obstructed by unsound, emotional leanings.

Remain Open. When exploring potential advantages, the Warriors did not decide to focus on 3-pointers and then collect supporting evidence. Instead, they performed a deep dive into the endless supply of statistics before finalizing their plan.

Lesson: Brainstorm with an open mind to avoid an unconscious predilection towards reinforcing your own ideas.

Don’t Rely on One Top Performer. To put their plan into place, the Warriors knew they needed to build the team around Stephen Curry so he could take more 3-pointers. However, they also knew that most 3-point-shooting teams had one superstar surrounded by a collection of talented supporting players. This created an opening for Klay Thompson who was an excellent shooter and could take some defensive pressure off Curry.

Lesson: Finding one top performer is great, but to have a real competitive advantage, you need a team of top performers… and they must we willing to work together.

Believe in Your Plan. Before the season began, the Warriors had a chance to trade for one of the league’s premier players, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love. While many would have jumped at the chance, the Timberwolves wanted to trade for Klay Thompson. Because this was a deal breaker, the Warriors passed.

They kept asking for Klay, and we kept saying no. We weren’t going to trade Klay, and they weren’t going to do a deal without Klay.—Joe Lacob, the Warriors’ primary owner

Lesson: Once you have a master plan in place, you must retain a dogmatic determination to see your plan to fruition.

We are all on the hunt for innovative solutions that will propel our business. Some solutions are cutting edge, but most are an attempt to get back to the basics. Dig through your data points to find missed opportunities. Involve key members of your brain trust on the treasure hunt. Maintain an open dialogue to continue on the path towards constant improvement. And remain vigilant for your Golden State-like golden opportunity.

Kimmy Schmidt on the Ten Ways to Foster a Culture of Flow

kimmy-schmidt bannerDo you have any of those annoying colleagues who dare to be consistent beacons of optimism? Whether it is a pre-coffee Monday morning or a post-lunch Friday afternoon, these individuals persistently seek new challenges and strive for self-development. I call them annoying because they push me to be better, even when I’m content with my current state of mediocrity. They are, what comedy fans may consider to be, a Kimmy Schmidt.

Kimmy Schmidt is the lead character in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The premise of the show is that Kimmy is saved from an underground bunker where she’d been held for 15 years by a cult leader who convinced her that the world had come to a nuclear end. We follow Kimmy as she re-acclimates to society with Pollyannaish positivity and a fierce determination to succeed.

Life beats you up, Titus. It doesn’t matter if you got tooken by a cult or you’ve been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say we’re different. We’re the strong ones, and you can’t break us.—Kimmy Schmidt

People with Kimmy’s personality are internally driven by their sense of purpose and curiosity. They focus on tasks (versus rewards), finding the opportunity to build skills as the ultimate goal. In psychological terms, the “Kimmys” are considered to have autotelic traits; in the workplace, a team full of Kimmys is considered to be the perfect culture.

An advantage of autotelics/Kimmys is their ability to get into a state of flow, that feeling of being completely involved in what you are doing. As described in a TEDTalk by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when you are fully captivated in an activity you don’t have enough attention left over to be distracted by gratuitous chatter. It is as if you are entering a state of euphoria where nothing else exists. There is a feeling of inner clarity, confidence that the task is attainable, and a loss of worries and concerns.

Not surprisingly, Csikszentmihalyi’s research has found that those who frequently experience flow are happier, more innovative, participate in more employee development, and have higher productivity. So for leaders, the question becomes how to generate workplace conditions where autotelics can flow. Here are ten things you can do:

  • Set well-defined goals
  • Provide clear and immediate feedback
  • Minimize distractions and overscheduling
  • Group teams according to shared interests, rather than ability
  • Introduce creative spatial arrangements—chairs, but no tables—to encourage standing and moving
  • Discourage competition
  • Emphasis the goal, while deemphasizing external rewards
  • Encourage the development of individual interests
  • Diligently battle against apathy and boredom
  • Institute a playground design: Charts for flow graphs, project summaries, brainstorming, results, open topics, etc.

If you are looking for a competitive advantage, it would be beneficial to find ways to increase the number of flow experiences within your organization. More flow will increase the effectiveness of your workplace, enhance team dynamics, and result in a better work product. It is also more constructive than isolating yourself in an underground bunker.