Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Over the last several days, I’ve reviewed an up-and-coming company, PetMD. To listen to my full interview with CEO Kim Schinnerer, please click here. Today I want to show yet another way to look at PetMD’s strategy of offering commissioned content written by expert veterinarians. This is pattern number 27: embrace what others abandoned.

You see, your competitors are like sheep. They follow each other around, each looking for the next new thing, each adopting the latest fad, technology or approach. But what most people don’t realize is that sometimes the best approaches have already been abandoned. If your adversaries have abandoned it and only you use it, then you can convert this uniqueness into power.

A few of weeks ago I profiled Kumon, a tutoring company that has built an $800 million business. Much of Kumon’s success is due to its ability to avoid the temptation of adopting the latest fad.

For instance, let’s take the hype around user-generated content. Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek, and McKinsey Quarterly are stocked with cool-sounding schemes in which companies leverage the power of consumers to generate content and give input into R&D. And it seems like all venture capitalists and investors can talk about is the holy grail of information – consumer-based knowledge.

Indeed, over the past five years much of the innovation debate has shifted to "open innovation" and "innovation networks." These buzz words drive us to want to open our shops and collaborate with users.

Now, I’m not saying that open innovation is bad. But I am saying that following it blindly cannot be good. For advantage comes not by doing the NEW thing; it comes only from doing something DIFFERENT. And if everyone is doing the new thing, following them gives you no advantage.

So PetMD’s decision to resist the herd, resist the temptation to fill its content with user-generated articles, is classic outthinker behavior. This pattern of embracing what others abandon has triggered the success of innumerable innovative companies including Research in Motion and Hindustan Unilever.

Instead of following the pack of Wikipedia users, PetMD is sticking with diligent research, study and analysis developed by experts. This might cost more in the short run, but the reliability of information will pay off in the end with increased user loyalty and trust.

I can’t say for certain that PetMD will be the success it plans to be. But I can say that it has crafted a potentially disruptive strategy, and has devised an approach that competitors seem unwilling to copy.

Ask yourself the following questions to see how you can apply this strategy today.

1. What has my competition abandoned?

2. What would happen if I adopted this forgotten technology, idea or process?