Contrary to popular belief, competing with other individuals or companies is counterproductive. From a business perspective, focusing on your competition instead of focusing on continuous innovation by creating new, must have products, and services, will over time result in you looking and acting more like your competitors, not to mention fighting an escalating battle over shrinking margins. So even when you’re in the lead, eventually someone else will copy what you are doing, which makes you compete with them even more. Unfortunately, the majority of companies are so focused on competing that they’re locked in a losing battle – a vicious cycle of one-upmanship.
A better idea is to seek advantage. That means using Hard Trends (trends that will happen) to redefine and reinvent your company, your products, or your services so you can jump ahead and stay ahead. It’s about moving beyond your competition by nurturing, promoting, and enhancing innovation and original thinking – both individually and within your organization. In other words, you want to become an innovator not an imitator, and go beyond the competers.
What’s the difference between competers and innovators? No, competers is not a misprint. It’s an original term for those who reflexively compete rather than seek to gain a strategic advantage through innovation. Here are some of the distinctions between competers and innovators:
Copy what others are doing
Look for better ways of thinking and acting
Get locked into set patterns
Cultivate a creative mindset, create new patterns
Believe the future will take care of itself if they take care of the present
Focus on their future goals and building a path to get there
See scientific and technological developments as threats to their status quo
Focus on how they can apply new technologies to open up new opportunities
Collect and swim around massive amounts of raw data
Look for ways to translate raw data into actionable knowledge and insights
React to trends
Use Hard Trends (trends that will happen) to predict and even create new trends and profit from them
Have a short-range view of planning and consider it a necessary evil
Take a strategic view of planning and know the value of building change into the plan
Dread change and resist it as long as they can
Seek to remain adaptive and to use change to their advantage
Avoid anything that would cast them as being significantly different from their competitors
Maximize their differential advantage
Try to control and direct their people
Empower their people for positive action
Complain about how unproductive their people are
Realize that people are their most upgradable resource and look for ways to help them be more productive and innovative
Think about how they can use high-technology to cut their work forces and save money
Integrate strategy, technology, and people to create new products and services
Believe in standardized operations that force people to act in predictable ways
Encourage creativity in their people to rapidly solve problems and grow their business
Are annoyed by problems and see them as enemies to progress
Go looking for problems they can turn into opportunities
In short, competers are usually so caught up in meeting their day-to-day challenges and fighting the competition that they fail to see and act on new game-changing opportunities, while innovators see the present only as a stepping-stone they can use to create a bigger and better future.
Which would you rather be?
How to Innovate
If you’re ready to stop being a competer and start being an innovator, here are a few tips that will help.
• Be Future-Oriented
Since you’ll be spending the rest of your life in the future, doesn’t it make sense to think about it and plan it rather than just let it happen? Identify the Hard Trends that will impact your business and industry and then list the opportunities that create the new advantage each represents. Identify the soft trends that might happen and list how you could change them into opportunities to gain new advantage. As you plan your future innovative path, ask yourself these five questions based on the Hard Trends and opportunities you have identified:
1. What path are my competitors on right now?
2. Where are the successful companies most likely to evolve to?
3. What’s the logical progression of the industry?
4. How are my customers changing?
5. What are my customers greatest unmet needs both now and in the near future?
Your answers will enable you to stop competing and start creating by thinking in terms of innovation. They’ll help you open your eyes to the future possibilities so you can stay ahead of the curve rather than simply keep up. Remember: If you want real advantage and innovation, you have to think beyond what you’re doing now and plan your future wisely.
• Do What the Masses Don’t Do
Most businesses copy successful competitors and then wonder why they aren’t further ahead. For example, chances are that in your business you use a word processing program, and if you’re like the majority of people, you use Microsoft Word. Did you know that there are over four thousand features in Microsoft Word? How many of those four thousand features do you use on a regular basis? Probably less than ten. How many did you pay for? All four-thousand! Do you think your competitors are using Word the same way you do? Most likely, yes.
Taking it a step further, when a new version of Word comes out, your competitors purchase it, just like you. They even use the same features in the new Word program as they did in the old version – again, just like you. As you might guess, you could easily substitute Word for all of the different software programs you use. Few people are going beyond what everyone else does in a way that produces any real advantage or leads to innovation.
The key is to dedicate yourself to finding advantage and using it to innovate. Using the word processing program example, ask yourself, “What are the features in Word that my competitors are not using that can give me an edge?” In other words, don’t just copy what the competition does; rather, look at what they’re doing and then do what they don’t do.
• Change Your Customer
If you truly can’t find ways to innovate, then ask yourself if there’s a better customer you can go after – one that’s better and different than what everyone else is going after. Can you innovate by customizing your product or service for the better customer so that the better customer would want what you offer and not what the competitor offers? This is the process that gives you the advantage, and it all boils down to simply being more innovative on an ongoing basis.
Shaping Your Future
One thing is certain about the future: competition will intensify. So why play that game when you can own the game? Standing out by innovating again and again! Granted, keeping track of what your competitors are doing is a good idea; however, letting what they’re doing dictate your next move is not the best strategy. Instead, focusing on innovation based on the direction Hard Trends are taking all of us in, is the way to go for long-term profits. In fact, when you become an innovator rather than a competer, you’ll be the company that is taking the industry into the future – the company all the others strive to imitate. That’s when you’ll truly be a leader and have the upper hand and the innovative outlook that enables you to turn tomorrow’s opportunities into today’s profits.
DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash Foresight.