Keeping Up is a Fool’s Game:
Seek Advantage Instead

By Daniel Burrus

Keeping up—with technology, with competitors, with anything in business or life—is a fool’s game. Think about it…When you’re keeping up, what’s the advantage? In reality, there is no advantage to keeping up, because all you’re doing is making yourself just like everyone else. You’re finding out who the best is and then you’re copying the best. But by the time you get as good as the best, the best has already moved on to something better, and you’re still far behind.

Realize that “benchmarking” is just a fancy way of saying “keeping up.” When you benchmark you’re simply identifying the best practices of what others do well and then striving to imitate them. Again, once you reach the benchmarked standards, the company or person that set the benchmark has already moved on to achieve higher standards.

So how do you gain advantage and truly stand out from the crowd? The key is to forget about keeping up and set a new standard for yourself and your company. Consider the following suggestions:

Look to the Future: Rather than keeping up, smart businesspeople benchmark in a way that looks to the future. When they plan their future growth, they ask themselves three key questions:

1. Where are the successful companies evolving to?

2. What path are my competitors on right now?

3. What’s the logical progression of the industry?

Asking these questions enables you to go beyond your competition and get off the treadmill of keeping up. It opens your eyes to future possibilities—to stay ahead of the pack instead of side-by-side with them. Remember: Only when you go beyond your competition will you find advantage—and the financial rewards competitive advantage brings.

Do What the Masses Don’t Do: Most businesses do exactly the same thing as their competitors and then wonder why they don’t have the upper hand. 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 percent. 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. The point is that everyone is keeping up, but few people are doing so in a way that produces any real advantage.

The key is to dedicate yourself to finding advantage and using it. Using the word processing program example, to go beyond keeping up you would ask yourself, “What are the features in Word that people 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.

If you can’t find anything different to do, then analyze to determine 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 customize 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.

Go Beyond Competing on Price: There are many ways to compete, yet most companies tend to focus their strategies on only a few of the many ways to gain a competitive advantage. This limits their ability to create and sustain true competitive advantages. In order to have a lasting competitive advantage, you need to go beyond pricing and develop a competitive strategy that includes a wide spectrum of techniques.

What’s wrong with competing on price to keep up? The main problem with competing on price is that it means lower margins, meaning you need high volume to make up for it. If your intent is to be a competitor of price, then fine. Just realize you have many more options. In addition to competing on price, you can compete on

  • Time

  • Reputation

  • Values

  • Technology

  • Image

  • Experience

  • Service

  • Design

  • Innovation

  • Quality

  • Information

  • Knowledge

  • Consultative value

  • Loyalty

  • Process

To get away from keeping up with your competition, review the list of different ways to compete and ask yourself, “Do I have a strategy for every one of those different ways of competing?” Most companies compete in only one or two areas and have a detailed strategy for both. But few compete in all areas. To gain an advantage, you want a strategy for every area. Detail how you are different in each area so you can go beyond keeping up and truly stand out.

Don’t Imitate—Innovate: In the future, competition will intensify. Therefore, in order to gain advantage, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. And while it is good to keep track of the competition, far too many organizations focus more attention on “keeping up” than on internal innovation.

Perhaps there was a time when it made sense to play the one-upmanship game of keeping up with the competition. But the dramatic changes spawned by science and technology have made that a perilous game for the present and a formula for disaster for the future. Those who merely “keep up” are usually so caught up in meeting their day-to-day challenges that they can only worry about the future, while the real business innovators see the present as a stepping stone they can use to get to a bigger and better future.

A new world is taking shape before our eyes, and no company can afford to hide out in the old familiar places. While it’s important to stay abreast of changes and update your company as new technologies and developments unfold, it’s just as crucial to distance yourself from the competition and embrace a forward thinking mindset that will enable you to turn tomorrow’s opportunities into today’s profits.

Read other articles and learn more about Daniel Burrus.

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