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View the world through your competitors eyes

Be a fish, let them be birds Ithink I’ve mentioned this Zen Koan before, but it’s worth remindingourselves of it: the bird and the fish both pursue the same goal inwinter – to stay warm – but they take opposite approaches. The birdflies up while the fish swims down. Similarly, twocompanies can take radically different approaches to achievingidentical goals. Both are pursuing market share and profits, butbecause of their nature, the best way to pursue these may be quitedifferent.

Be a fish, let them be birds

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Ithink I’ve mentioned this Zen Koan before, but it’s worth remindingourselves of it: the bird and the fish both pursue the same goal inwinter – to stay warm – but they take opposite approaches. The birdflies up while the fish swims down.

Similarly, twocompanies can take radically different approaches to achievingidentical goals. Both are pursuing market share and profits, butbecause of their nature, the best way to pursue these may be quitedifferent.

You can play on this fact by asking yourself how a “fish” would approachthis problem and how a “bird” would do it; how a “retailer” would jumpinto this business and how a “software company” would. 

Just today I was having lunch with two executives from Chartis, formerly part of AIG, and we were discussing the value of asking leaders questions like “how would my competitor approach this problem?” or “how would a company from a seemingly unrelated industry get into this business?

Blink is approaching the corporate jet opportunity from a fundamentally different angle than most corporate jet companies. The leaders in the space – NetJets, Bombardier FlexJet,etc. – are seeking to match the luxury of owning a corporate jet withthe economy that comes from shared ownership. They are to jet ownershipwhat luxury timeshares are to real estate.

Blink, in contrast, is seeking to be the Southwest Airlinesof corporate jets. Its DNA, as Blink’s cofounder Peter Leiman put it, this is about “achievinghigh asset utilization” to achieve a significantly lower cost basisthan its competitors. By asking the question, “How would SouthwestAirlines approach this business,” Peter and Jake make thousands ofstrategic choices that seem obvious from their perspective, but wouldseem crazy from a traditional airline company’s perspective.

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Itis these thousands of small decisions – from how they recruit and trainto what type of seats to install in planes – that weave a web ofadvantages that competitors have trouble replicating.

Blink, for example, only uses one type of plane: the Cessna Mustang,just as Southwest operates a single-plane fleet. Blink is the largestowner of Mustangs in the world. This choice runs counter to thestrategy of competitors who want to offer their customers choice.

Try this exercise yourself. Pick a successful competitor who is not in your immediate business space right now and ask yourself the following questions:

1.   How would this company enter my business today?

2.   What new technology or service could it try to attach to my business offerings?

3.   How could my competitors background in another field help him make strides in mine?

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4.   What new products or services can I offer my customers?

5.   How can I encourage my employees to be thinking innovatively about future offerings?

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About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique. Kaihan has delivered business strategy keynote speeches for organizations such as Motorola, Schering‐Plough, Colgate‐Palmolive, Fortune Magazine, Harvard Business Review, the Society of Human Resource Managers, the Entrepreneurs Organization, and The Asia Society

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