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"So you don't actually have to be better than your competition - your competition just has to be a little worse than you!"

That sounds like a familiar strategy in many companies. This keeps them focused on the competition, not on their customers. Which keeps armies of marketers and consultant employed to find a way to stay 'a step ahead of the competition...'

Sigh.

What if there was a way to not have to compete, or compete a LOT less? Spend on R&D and clients, not on chasing the competition?

The book, "Blue Ocean Strategy" (Kim/Mauborgne) at http://www.blueoceanstrategy.com/ gets close to this ideal. Example: Yellow Tail wines. This company chose to ignore their industry and the standard oenophile and focus on why people were not drinking wine. Success! They have a loyal following and have destroyed many previous barriers to enjoying the product.

It's good to take the opposing view -- that is also innovative. Look at what the alternatives are and how you can be better at solving the customer's problem: nicer design, a bike that does not leak, a car that runs all the time, an operating system that requires less maintenance and hogs less memory to run, etc.

The companies that gain a decidedly large lead are those that decide to solve the problem better *and* do something unexpected.

"Better" in the case of Microsoft wasn't that MS Word was so much better - a number of companies (Lotus, Wordperfect, etc) were just that bit worse than the "integrated" approach that MS took.

Cars are another example - the US auto industry (like the British and Italian ones) didn't suddenly get worse in the 1970's. They just didn't get any better, and then they got worse - and it became quite clear that they much worse when the Japanese cars kept, well, running. And then the aforementioned car companies steadily got worse and worse - their management was for nought.

The British bike industry is another example. They didn't get worse, they actually got a little better during the 1970's. But the Japanese bikes didn't leak oil, were technically "cooler", and incorporated more advanced ideas - they were that much better than their competitors.

In the 1990's the Italian motorcycle industry discovered that the best way to compete was not to compete against the big Japanese firms - you simply competed for consumer dollars as a lifestyle product. Prettier designs, more exotic technology (quick - hide the maintenance bills!) and a very personal statement of identity (I'm a customer of Ducati, therefore I'm individual, and other nonsense. Except it works!)

So you don't actually have to be better than your competition - your competition just has to be a little worse than you! It's not the same thing, although it seems that way. Think about it in terms of military strategy: "your" soldiers can be better trained, but if they're not better led - "you" will lose. (I offer the American Revolution as an example, and the Boer War, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, and so on and so forth.

Apple looks like it's getting complacent, again. Steve Jobs is dismissing ideas he really shouldn't be. But their main competition - MS - is actually (at this point) a little worse than Apple. The Apple ad campaign has been a bit lackluster of late; instead of emphasizing how "cool" you'll be with the Mac, it's taken to a not very subtle "bling" - my laptop is thinner (and therefore cooler) than yours! Etcetera. Instead of being a date with a supermodel at Starbucks, or the tool of the genius, it's, well - suburban. (Not very innovative, mostly the same, homogenous, David Byrne pointing to an endless line of garages and asking "who's to say that isn't beautiful?" - Me. I can say it isn't! - and so on.)

The new thin MacBook isn't innovation - it's a continuation of a theme. It's bling, but in a pseudo-sophisticated tux. The guy trying to develop a heads-up display that works as a contact lens? That's innovative.

Carolyn Ann

PS Sorry, I'm tired, so this rambles a bit...

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