№ Q0COMPETE TO BEAT THE PROBLEM, NOT COMPETITIONSun-tzu said:War isA grave affair of state;It is a placeOf life and death,A roadTo survival and extinction,A matterTo be pondered carefully.
For centuries, The Art of War provided leaders around the world with advice in the battlefield. The range of applications for this advice has no boundaries - from actual war to politics, to marketing, to competition in business.
Although the entire book is devoted to acts of Grave Affair, Sun-tzu gives us the warning in the very first paragraph of the book: [because] War is a grave affair…, [it is] a matter to be pondered carefully.
Contemporary book commentators did not understand the meaning of this sensible advice. Their imagination was stuck on the battlefield.
Only Li Quan -- an author of various works on warfare in 8th century -- provides an eye-opening clarification: War is an instrument of ill omen. It brings life and death, survival and extinction. A grave endeavor indeed, an one that men, alas, undertake too lightly.
To comprehend Sun-tzu’s advice beyond the limitations of war affairs, we must also look at the works by other contemporary writers.Sun Bin
-- an alleged descendant of Sun Tzu who served as a military strategist in the Qi state during the Warring States period -- made a similar point in his “Art of War”. ( http://goo.gl/kijnLn
) Chapter 2:war must be pondered carefully. The man who takes pleasure in war will perish. He who benefits from victory incurs dishonor. War is not a thing to be enjoyed. Victory is not something to benefit from Laozi
-- The "Old Master", a record-keeper at the Zhou dynasty court, by whose name the 6th to 4th century B.C. text is known in China -- provides another sensible explanation in his book "The Way and Its Power". ( http://goo.gl/xZaI8S
) Chapter 31: War and its weapons are instruments of misfortune. One who has the Way does not deal with them. They are not the instruments proper to the true gentleman, who uses them only as a last resort, esteeming instead peace and tranquillity. He sees no beauty in victory. To see beauty in victory is to rejoice in the killing of others.
Today, we can apply Sun-tzu's advice within the boundaries of the competition battlefield and attempt to outmaneuver our competitors. OR we can think freely, avoid battling our competitors and explore uncharted business opportunities.COMPETITION FOR THE SAKE WAR
Competition is the modern warfare. Marketing books and lately -- gurus and their blog posts -- teach us to estimate our competitiveness by looking at weaknesses and strengths, opportunities and threats. We are literally conditioned to stay within the template, to battle others, to calculate chances, to struggle.
There are no winners in this war. All short-term gains are annulled in the long run by:
SHORT-SIGHTED SELF-SERVEDNESS. Competition makes businessmen focus entirely and solely on destroying their enemies. Improved products and services are merely a side-effect of trying to stay ahead of their competition. But aren’t businesses supposed to serve their customers?
THE DEBT OF PROMISE. In this war, marketers are forced to excel at the art of cunning. They know exactly what their clients need and design their marketing messages around those needs. But what good is that when their hands are tied up in never ending competitive battles? They can promise but can’t deliver. This debt of promise grows until it spirals out of control. The business flops, leaving their loyal customers scattered in search of another provider.
ONLY ONE SURVIVOR. The economies of scale is not a joke. The bigger the company, the cheaper it is for them to play the game, the more they can achieve. In other words, by destroying one enemy after another, the "chosen" one grows to become a monopoly in their industry. There is not much of a benefit for consumers in having to deal with a monopoly.
We should not be naive. It is entirely possible to be immensely successful by fixating one’s attention at beating the competition. John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller built his empire by purposefully driving his competitors out of business. His methods were cruel but did not lack vision. Indeed, revolutionized the petroleum industry, and ... defined the structure of modern philanthropy
. ( http://goo.gl/Q2w49F
). His name will surely stay in history for centuries to come. The question is, can people forgive their cruelty and look at their true
achievements forgivingly? Or perhaps they were misunderstood?COMPETITION FOR THE SAKE OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM
Human beings are designed to compete. We are born to fight, to take on challenges and seek for advantageous dispositions. The need to destroy is within us. But this same need can benefit us all greatly if we compete to beat the problem, not competition. Cede short-term advantages to your cruel competitors but build your long-term success on these pillars:
FIND AND SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Market is filled with opportunities. Moreover, every opportunity that has been exploited creates even more opportunities because challenges that have been undertaken make us all raise and stand against new problems. Any complex challenge you face likely applies to many others. Seize the opportunity and be the first one to solve a problem.
CREATE YOUR OWN MARKET. When you discover a problem, your true audience is yet to be assembled. It is there, but it’s scattered. Your true audience is formed as your unique product matures. It takes time.
You might be pressured to grow faster, but don’t fall victim to this short-lived desire. Don’t try to capture someone else’s market share. Their customers are not yours truly. Investing heavily into captivating their attention is not in your best interests. Engaging with those who already need your product is.
DELIVER. Serve your true clients and their needs. You will have to start as a niche player. Don’t aim to capture the market share, aim to capture a share of your clients’ love. Rather than fixating your attention at what your competitors are doing, focus on beating that one problem.
Do not bind your actions to deeds of your competitors. Acting in your customers’ best interests is what serves your long-term interests best. It is not your supposedly better marketing message that drives your sales, it is demand for your unique solution that drives both your sales and your marketing message.Google
In 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began their journey with the goal to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library
). As their vision grew larger, the goal transformed to fit the scope. They set off to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful
). It pays to understand that Google’s immense success resulted from comprehension and problem solving, not desire to destroy competition. They weren’t aiming to capture search market share, they built their loyal user base by serving much improved search results.Apple
In 2007 Apple announced a radical change that didn’t seem big at the time. Apple Computers, Inc. became Apple, Inc. because computers were no longer the main focus of the company, which had shifted its emphasis to mobile electronic devices
At that point, the world was ready to go mobile, the technology was there, but the tech giants weren’t ready to serve these needs (probably too tied up in feudal wars). Apple realized the problem and took the challenge. They didn't advertise -- and if they did they would not appeal to -- Blackberry crowd. Instead, they chose to create their own market and engage with customers directly, without intermediaries.
Their strategy was immensely successful. By 2012 Apple grew to surpass Exxon Mobil as the world’s most valuable company ( http://goo.gl/c47KiU
). By 2013 they surpassed Coca-Cola as the world’s most valuable brand ( http://goo.gl/gzonnO
). They didn’t look back at what Blackberry was doing. They looked forward to transforming our lifestyles.Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola was born out of John Pemberton’s search of cure for pain, drug addiction and alcoholism that were public’s (and his) main concern at that time ( http://goo.gl/h6CZaq
). Today, Coca-Cola is still the best consumer brand only surpassed by Apple just a year ago. They didn’t look to their sides to create a “different” product and capture a market share in soft drinks. They looked forward to beating pain and addiction to harmful products.CONCLUSION
Perhaps today’s marketing focuses too much on understanding competition. We use complex metrics and analyses to estimate our position on the market, to find demand and adjust supply, to come up with creative ads and optimize conversions. We strive to rank #1 in search and outpace others in organic reach in social media. We come up with tricks and devour tips.
Way too often marketers strive to find the right message to sell the wrong product.
I am not saying we should focus entirely on creating wonderful products no one really needs. I am saying that SWOT analysis and the like should serve the purpose of finding existing unsolved problems that we are in a position to address better and faster than others.
A few years ago, we chose to compete to beat problems, not competition ( http://goo.gl/OKUj6i
- thought #8 ). What’s your choice?The storyline is inspired by Sun-tzu, The Art of War ( http://goo.gl/5JYZ7z )
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