Should You Be The Best?

This sounds like a silly question as it sounds like a question where the answer should always be a resounding yes, but a recent Harvard Business Review blog that said you should stop competing to be the best, which made some good points, makes you think about it.

The blog, which quotes the current thought leadership of Michael Porter, known for his five force analysis, says that “may the best X win” is absolutely the wrong way to think about competition, because it’s practically a guarantee of mediocre performance. Why? First of all, in the vast majority of businesses, there is simply no such thing as “the best”, so this would make the competition-to-be-the-best mindset completely wrong.

This is because many consumers in a market segment have different needs and wants. Some just want functionality. Others want style. Some want goods with average durability. Others want goods that can can take extreme abuse. Some want basic designs. Others want luxury. How can you define best when there are so many market needs?

Business, despite the claims of those who promote Sun Tzu’s Art of War as the ultimate business strategy rulebook, is not war and, in many markets, there can be more than one winner that can thrive. Consider retail. As the blog points out, both WalMart and Target co-exist and thrive and win in their market segment by offering different types of value to their customers.

And when rivals all pursue the “one best way” to compete, they find themselves on a collision course, trapped in a destructive, zero-sum competition that no one can win. Eventually all products and practices become almost indistinguishable, leading to pure price wars, which leads to a deterioration of profitability. This isn’t good for anyone.

The real way to win, according to Porter, is to compete to be unique. Innovate and deliver superior value to your chosen customer segment, not market segment. Make price only one factor in a multi-factor consideration. In doing so, generate positive sum competition and grow the industry — and, in the mean time, earn sustainable returns from the value generated.