Being really different

Any effective, competitive strategy aims to be exceptional. If it comes across as similar to rivals, it fails to stand out from the crowd of copy cat imitators. Yet, we're deeply afraid of being really different amidst pressures to conform, fit in and toe the line. We instinctively crave acceptance by our herd, solidarity with our tribe and immunity to  their rejection. We often assume that we'll get ignored, shunned or dismissed if were too different. We hurt our own chances of acceptance if we're so weird that our "customers" don't get what we're trying to say, deliver and get to happen.

When what we're offering appears too similar to our rivals' value propositions, we've set up population ecology dynamics. We will experience "survival of the fittest" while customers, journalists, suppliers and the labor market all function as our predators.  We'll be faced with over-populated spaces where we get lost in the crowd and vulnerable to local extinction.

When we're really different, we create protected niches for our kind of deal. We do our deal in ways that helps others do their deal too. What we offer lets our recipients offer it to others. We set up the equivalent of replicator genes in our product/service mix. We give the gift that keeps on giving. We become a breeding ground for a new species that thrive while rivals barely survive.

Umair Haque suggests we become really different by following "Strategy's Golden Rule": "What your fiercest rival does badly, do incredibly well." That will be really different from our rivals. In Competing for the Future, Hamel and Prahalad encouraged us to be really different by:

  1. getting to the future first while rivals wait for the future to arrive to make a safer change
  2. learning faster from our strategic alliances and collaborations while rivals conduct "business as usual"
  3. cultivating core competencies while rivals cultivate efficiencies and leaner operations
  4. leveraging apparent disadvantages while rivals play to their own strengths

These are all ways to do exceptionally well whatever rivals do badly. The approaches recognize opportunities to try smarter while most are simply trying harder to complete, play by the rules and chase after incremental improvements. Each require that we have a vision for the future to co-create with those we serve and find will reward us for our efforts. We'll gain lots of fans while getting shunned by envious rivals. These fans will replicate our value in their own contexts and communities. They will appear valuable thanks to us.

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