Stop Competing – Start Winning By Innovating
Contrary to popular belief, competing with other individuals or companies is counterproductive. From a business perspective, focusing on your competition instead of focusing on continuous innovation by creating new, must have products, and services, will over time result in you looking and acting more like your competitors, not to mention fighting an escalating battle over shrinking margins. So even when you’re in the lead, eventually someone else will copy what you are doing, which makes you compete with them even more. Unfortunately, the majority of companies are so focused on competing that they’re locked in a losing battle – a vicious cycle of one-upmanship.
A better idea is to seek advantage. That means using Hard Trends (trends that will happen) to redefine and reinvent your company, your products, or your services so you can jump ahead and stay ahead. It’s about moving beyond your competition by nurturing, promoting, and enhancing innovation and original thinking – both individually and within your organization. In other words, you want to become an innovator not an imitator, and go beyond the competers.
What’s the difference between competers and innovators? No, competers is not a misprint. It’s an original term for those who reflexively compete rather than seek to gain a strategic advantage through innovation. Here are some of the distinctions between competers and innovators:
Copy what others are doing
Look for better ways of thinking and acting
Get locked into set patterns
Cultivate a creative mindset, create new patterns
Believe the future will take care of itself if they take care of the present
Focus on their future goals and building a path to get there
See scientific and technological developments as threats to their status quo
Focus on how they can apply new technologies to open up new opportunities
Collect and swim around massive amounts of raw data
Look for ways to translate raw data into actionable knowledge and insights
React to trends
Use Hard Trends (trends that will happen) to predict and even create new trends and profit from them
Have a short-range view of planning and consider it a necessary evil
Take a strategic view of planning and know the value of building change into the plan
Dread change and resist it as long as they can
Seek to remain adaptive and to use change to their advantage
Avoid anything that would cast them as being significantly different from their competitors
Maximize their differential advantage
Try to control and direct their people
Empower their people for positive action
Complain about how unproductive their people are
Realize that people are their most upgradable resource and look for ways to help them be more productive and innovative
Think about how they can use high-technology to cut their work forces and save money
Integrate strategy, technology, and people to create new products and services
Believe in standardized operations that force people to act in predictable ways
Encourage creativity in their people to rapidly solve problems and grow their business
Are annoyed by problems and see them as enemies to progress
Go looking for problems they can turn into opportunities
In short, competers are usually so caught up in meeting their day-to-day challenges and fighting the competition that they fail to see and act on new game-changing opportunities, while innovators see the present only as a stepping-stone they can use to create a bigger and better future.
Which would you rather be?
How to Innovate
If you’re ready to stop being a competer and start being an innovator, here are a few tips that will help.
• Be Future-Oriented
Since you’ll be spending the rest of your life in the future, doesn’t it make sense to think about it and plan it rather than just let it happen? Identify the Hard Trends that will impact your business and industry and then list the opportunities that create the new advantage each represents. Identify the soft trends that might happen and list how you could change them into opportunities to gain new advantage. As you plan your future innovative path, ask yourself these five questions based on the Hard Trends and opportunities you have identified:
1. What path are my competitors on right now?
2. Where are the successful companies most likely to evolve to?
3. What’s the logical progression of the industry?
4. How are my customers changing?
5. What are my customers greatest unmet needs both now and in the near future?
Your answers will enable you to stop competing and start creating by thinking in terms of innovation. They’ll help you open your eyes to the future possibilities so you can stay ahead of the curve rather than simply keep up. Remember: If you want real advantage and innovation, you have to think beyond what you’re doing now and plan your future wisely.
• Do What the Masses Don’t Do
Most businesses copy successful competitors and then wonder why they aren’t further ahead. 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. How many did you pay for? All four-thousand! 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. As you might guess, you could easily substitute Word for all of the different software programs you use. Few people are going beyond what everyone else does in a way that produces any real advantage or leads to innovation.
The key is to dedicate yourself to finding advantage and using it to innovate. Using the word processing program example, ask yourself, “What are the features in Word that my competitors 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.
• Change Your Customer
If you truly can’t find ways to innovate, then ask yourself 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 innovate by customizing 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.
Shaping Your Future
One thing is certain about the future: competition will intensify. So why play that game when you can own the game? Standing out by innovating again and again! Granted, keeping track of what your competitors are doing is a good idea; however, letting what they’re doing dictate your next move is not the best strategy. Instead, focusing on innovation based on the direction Hard Trends are taking all of us in, is the way to go for long-term profits. In fact, when you become an innovator rather than a competer, you’ll be the company that is taking the industry into the future – the company all the others strive to imitate. That’s when you’ll truly be a leader and have the upper hand and the innovative outlook that enables you to turn tomorrow’s opportunities into today’s profits.
DANIEL BURRUS is considered one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, and is the founder and CEO of Burrus Research, a research and consulting firm that monitors global advancements in technology driven trends to help clients understand how technological, social and business forces are converging to create enormous untapped opportunities. He is the author of six books including The New York Times best seller Flash Foresight.
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Here's the first evidence to challenge the "fastest sperm" narrative.
Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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