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    Entries in competition (14)

    Wednesday
    Aug022017

    Defining the competition

    There are two schools of thought on how an organization should think about its competition - for customers, market share, talent, brand awareness, etc.

    One approach is to study your competitors closely, monitor their strategies, actions and decisions, and devote a lot of resources and energy to roles like competitive intelligence gathering, market analysis, and the development of specific playbooks focused on your main competitors to prepare your salespeople for what they are likely to encounter in the field. I'd say that in enterprise tech, HR tech for sure, this is the approach that most medium-to-large providers take.

    The alternate approach is to largely ignore specific competitors and spend the vast majority of your time working on product, message, and lots of internal and specific capabilities like implementation, service, support and the like. This is often the approach startup tech companies take as they likely have to spend most of their time trying to define their own message, communicate their unique value proposition, and if they are truly innovating in the market their competition may not even actually exist. Or said differently, they often are competing against 'doing nothing' and not against a competing product or service. 

    And truly most companies probably exist somewhere in between these two extremes - thinking about the competition some, and other times taking a more internal focus. And this focus usually skews towards former as the company grows, enters new markets, or begins to attract new competitors (success breeds competition). 

    I thought about this 'competition continuum' when I caught this piece on Venture Beat - Amazon's name pops up on 10% of U.S. earnings conference calls, a nod to the retail/tech/distribution giant's outsize reach in the US economy right now.

    From the VB piece:

    Almost 700 U.S. companies have reported quarterly results so far this earnings season, and the e-commerce titan’s name has popped up on roughly one of every 10 earnings conference calls so far. And the retailers whose lunch has long been eaten by Amazon.com Inc haven’t even reported yet.

    In all, Amazon has been raised either in passing or with some urgency on 75 calls hosted by corporate chieftains in the past several weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of call transcripts from components of the S&P 1500. That’s well more than twice as many mentions as Google or its parent Alphabet Inc and over three times as many as Apple Inc.

    Everyone from traditional retailers to 'big tech' companies like Microsoft and IBM all the way to Dow Jones stalwarts like 3M and Johnson & Johnson all have at least one eye on what Amazon is doing.

    It is kind of incredible to think that Amazon is now a real (or imagined) competitive threat across such a wide range of industries and companies.

    But here's what at least I thought was the really interesting thing about the piece, and the reason for the post in the first place.

    Most organizations spend lots and lots of time, (maybe too much time), thinking about the competition. I get the feeling that truly amazing, game changing companies like Amazon don't spend all that much time doing that. No, they focus on doing the things that make others worry about them instead.

    And that is a much, much better place to be.

    Postscript - I am totally obsessed with the Amazon Echo and really annoyed at every other piece of technology I own that will not yet respond to voice commands. I think this is going to be a really big deal in workplace tech and sooner than we think.

    Monday
    Dec052016

    Signs of the Corporate Death Spiral #4 - Competing like it's 2005

    While I was busy over the weekend watching my beloved Knicks researching some blog posts, I caught a TV spot from the wireless company Sprint, which features an actor who became pretty well known several years ago as the 'Can you hear me know?' guy from a series of spots for Sprint's arch-enemy Verizon Wireless.

    If you don't recall the once ubiquitous Verizon ads take a look at an example below, (email and RSS subscribers click through)

    These Verizon ads ran constantly back in the early aughts, as Verizon (and its competitors in the wireless market), were all feverishly building out their networks, trying to expand coverage to more places, and importantly, working hard to improve sound/voice quality for calls and reduce dropped calls. I would guess most readers are old enough to recall when every second or third cell phone conversation would be barely audible, if it wasn't cut off completely (and randomly). And back in 2004 or 2005, a cell phone (and network), that could not be counted on to reliably carry good quality voice calls was, well, pretty much worthless. Yes it's true, in 2004 you used your cell phone mostly to talk to other people. 

    So let's jump back to 2016 and think about what Sprint is trying to do with their messaging and spots starring the actor formerly known as the Verizon 'Can you hear me know?' guy? On the surface Sprint is trying to poke the bear (Verizon), with these spots, showcasing (in case we are all dumb enough not to realize this guy is an actor, and not a real customer), how Verizon's most famous advocate has now defected over to Sprint. In the Sprint spots the reason given for 'Can you hear me know's?' defection has something to do with overall network comparability and equivalency between Sprint and Verizon, coupled with Sprint's claim that its plans are less expensive than comparable Verizon plans.

    Or something like that. Who knows for sure because once the 'Can you hear me know guy?' starts talking, (and immediately reminds us that he is in fact the 'Can you hear me know?' guy), that is pretty much all I can focus on. Can you hear me know? Can you hear me know?  Blah, blah, blah and suddenly we are back in 2005. Back when dropped calls, heck when making calls was a big deal.

    Now? Not so much. A couple of years ago when my son wanted to get his first phone I was surprised by the request and asked him why he needed a cell phone because I wondered who was he planning to call?

    He replied, and he was maybe 12 at the time, that I was being silly because 'Cell phones aren't for talking to people, they are for watching videos, playing games, and getting on the internet.'

    And he was/is right. That is (mostly) what cell phones are for today. And that is why Sprint, who in 2016, running ads that like it or not, make us think about what used to be important, (dropped calls, bad call connections), is missing the entire point. What matters now is the device itself, its capabilities, the apps, the camera, etc. And oh yeah, once a day or so when we make a call we want it to go through, but who worries about that any more?

    Sprint in 2016, is still in a way, probably non-intentionally I grant, trying to compete with Verizon by harkening back to what used to matter about a decade in the past. And by that, they are missing the point completely. 

    Or they are making another point entirely. Which is, we are pretty much out of ideas. But at least we are now ready to compete with Verizon in 2005. We even got the Verizon guy from 2005 on our team. As if that matters.

    Have a great week!

    Wednesday
    May202015

    Loss

    Note: This week on the blog I am trying out a little experiment - writing on the first five (or so) subjects that popped out at random from a cool little app called Writing Exercises. The app provides suggestions for topics, characters, first lines - that kind of thing. I tapped the 'Random Subject' button a few times and will (try) to come up with something for each subject I was presented. It may be good, it may stink - who knows? But whatever the topic, I am taking like 20 minutes tops to bang something out. So here goes...

    Today's subject: Loss

    Wow, the fun never ends with these random subjects. Check the earlier posts on Regret and Fear. Is seems like the Writing Exercises app wants to make sure I stay in a funk all week. Ok, well I committed to this nonsense and today's post gets me over the hump for the week so carry on we must. But I am not going to get too heavy on Loss, as no one needs to be bummed out any further, especially on a Wednesday.

    When was the last time you lost something really important to you? I am not talking about misplacing a set of keys for ten minutes or not being able to find your favorite T-shirt on a Saturday morning, but rather actually losing, (gone, disappeared, never coming back...), something you truly cared about or even loved?

    It probably doesn't happen all that much, as we usually do eventually track down most of the things that mysteriously go missing. Maybe your roommate or one of your kids borrowed the thing and didn't tell you or didn't return it to its normal place. Or maybe you're simply getting old and more forgetful yourself and then all of a sudden - Oh, now I remember I left my lucky sweatpants back at the tailgate last weekend (illustrative purposes only, I assure you).

    Well, I know I have lost a few things over the years that I still am pretty peeved about.  Here are the three things I wish I still had, please feel free to share yours (lost or just moved on from), in the comments:

    1. My Camel Saddle Seat - Yes, I once had a camel saddle seat and yes it was exceptionally cool. I acquired it while working in Saudi Arabia a lifetime ago and after about 20 years and a dozen moves somehow I no longer have the saddle seat. And that stinks.

    2. My 1976 Buick Century - This car was slow, unwieldy, ugly, with ponderous driving characteristics and I loved it. I didn't so much lose it as it just went missing. I think. I actually don't really remember what happened to it. But I might have to get another one. 

    3. My Superstar Baseball Board Game - Superstar Baseball was a kind of strat-o-matic style board game that essentially kept my core group of 10 - 13 year old kids busy on summer nights in the late 70s. This was basically Fantasy Baseball before anyone had dreamed up the term Fantasy Baseball. Nothing better than watching two 7th graders argue over whether trading Arky Vaughan straight up for Pie Traynor was a fair swap. Where is my game today? Who knows.

    So that is my take on Loss. What have you lost that you would love to get back?

    Monday
    May042015

    'We believe we can do anything'

    I get kind of bored with most of the conversation/writing about 'Company Culture'. Probably because at best the dialogue seems either a little empty or obvious or perhaps even derivative. Or at worst, it equates vague concepts like 'culture' and 'fit' with exclusionary hiring, promotion, and rewards policies. Used in this way 'culture' becomes the same thing as 'gut feel', which then allows some organizations and leaders to do whatever the hell they want ignoring data, logic, and even at times, the law. And finally, and something I have written and presented about, the 'culture' army confuses or at least substitutes 'culture' for strategy. When a company builds its business around say, providing the best customer service in their industry, that is a conscious strategic decision, not a 'cultural' one. But the 'culture' folks like to ignore strategy, conveniently.No. 61, Rust and Blue, Mark Rothko

    Anyway, a few weeks ago I was listening to a very senior executive at a large corporation discuss their organization's recent strategic acquisitions of a few smaller firms that competed in new, or at least adjacent markets to where the larger firm had traditionally competed. This (at the time still new to the company and in their role) executive expressed concerns to the CEO about their organization's ability to efficiently integrate these newly acquired companies and to effectively compete in these new markets. According to this new Exec, the CEO just leaned back and said something to the effect of 'Relax. This is ACME Company (not their real name, obviously). At ACME, we believe that we can do anything.'

    And to me, that little story was the best example of what, if such a thing really exists, a 'culture' can mean to what an organization does, how they approach challenges, and the types of people that will succeed (and hopefully be happy), working in the organization. As a philosophy it is simple, fundamental, and definiitive. It doesn't require lots of complex messaging or high cost communications strategies to articulate. It is pretty easy to evaluate decisions, actions, behaviors, and probably people too in comparison. Plus, and this is probably why I liked it, the 'We believe that we can do anything' approach sits in an opposite or at least an entirely different way to think about experiments and risk and competition than the 'embrace failure' crowd.

    Like I mentioned at the top, I am not that big on the 'culture' discussions but when it can be expressed in one sentence, in seven words like it was by that CEO, then you might get me to buy in, at least a little. ACME believes that it can do anything.

    What does your organization believe?

    Have a great week!

    Friday
    Sep052014

    You need a rival, not just more competition

    Wanted to point out to a really interesting study/paper on the effects of rivalry and competition on individual performance. In the study titled 'Driven to Win: Rivalry, Motivation, and Performance', author and researcher Gavin Kilduff took a look at what the phenomenon of interindividual rivalry (think Bird - Magic, Bill Gates - Larry Ellison, or Beatles - Rolling Stones) and its consequences for motivation and task performance.

    Long story short, (and the paper is kind of long so I will save you from reading the entire thing if that is not your bag for a Friday), is that in a study of competitive distance runners it was found that the presence in the competition of a rival, increased individual performance by as much as 25 seconds over a distance of 5K.

    And the paper makes an important distinction between what constitutes a rival versus the more general and generic idea of competition. A rival, in this context, is another runner with which you have competed against numerous times in the past and whose finishing times were consistently near to yours, such that in the course of many races contested over time you would have come to 'know' and recognize that competitor as a rival.

    So at the starting line, during the race, and in the important drive to the finish line you would in theory see and recognize this rival, and at least according to the study, your performance would improve relative to a race where you were just trying to do your best and not trying to best your rival.

    It is kind of an interesting concept I think, that there is a difference in performance that is driven by a rivalry compared to the more general and abstract notion of competition. Competition is vague. A rivalry has a name and a face and talks trash about you sometimes.

    If indeed we perform better when we have a rival what might that suggest for more mundane situations in the workplace? Should managers more actively pit one employee against another in performance-related competitive situations in order to foster the notion of rivalry?

    Should organizations more explicitly identify and benchmark against key competitors and strive to 'defeat' them in sales, recruiting, or other corporate contests?

    Should each if us personally select or identify a 'rival' to measure ourselves against and to compete with on a day-to-day basis?

    It's a jungle out there my friends...

    Happy Friday.