Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd (Google eBook)
Why trying to be the best … competing like crazy … makes you mediocre
Every few years a book—through a combination of the author’s unique voice, storytelling ability, wit, and insight—simply breaks the mold. Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is one example. Richard Feynman’s “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is another.
Now comes Youngme Moon’s Different, a book for “people who don’t read business books.” Actually, it’s more like a personal conversation with a friend who has thought deeply about how the world works … and who gets you to see that world in a completely new light.
If there is one strain of conventional wisdom pervading every company in every industry, it’s the absolute importance of “competing like crazy.” Youngme Moon’s message is simply “Get off this treadmill that’s taking you nowhere. Going tit for tat and adding features, augmentations, and gimmicks to beat the competition has the perverse result of making you like everyone else.” Different provides a highly original perspective on what it means to offer something that is meaningfully different—different in a manner that is both fundamental and comprehensive.
Youngme Moon identifies the outliers, the mavericks, the iconoclasts—the players who have thoughtfully rejected orthodoxy in favor of an approach that is more adventurous. Some are even “hostile,” almost daring you to buy what they are selling. The MINI Cooper was launched with fearless abandon: “Worried that this car is too small? Look here. It’s even smaller than you think.”
These are players that strike a genuine chord with even the most jaded consumers. In fact, almost every success story of the past two decades has been an exception to the rule. Simply go to your computer and compare AOL and Yahoo! with Google. The former pile on feature upon feature to their home pages, while Google is like an austere boutique, dominating a category filled with “extras.”
Different shows how to succeed in a world where conformity reigns…but exceptions rule.
From the Hardcover edition.
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An Indictment of Sameness
I was inspired to read Dr. Moon's book after attending a seminar she presented at a recent marketing conference. Hands down, her presentation towered over everyone else's, substantially & stylistically. Almost effortlessly, like a talented story teller, she effectively deflated America's obsession with competitiveness by fingering the outcome - banal sameness. Her book builds on the dialectic, detailing how our obsessive, almost retributive behavior of responding to each & every competitor's thrust with a defensive parry results in a patchwork quilt of ubiquitous sameness. Almost all of us, she observes, are swirling down the same sinkhole. Hardly, she intones whimsically, the space where a fierce competitor wants to end up. Naturally, as in any good story there are heroes that rise above this staggering wall of mediocrity. And while not necessarily enamored with any particular heroic organization nor their expressed marketplace viewpoint, she applauds their success at distancing themselves from the herd, creating a unique & overall winning formula. And really, isn't that what the American experience is supposed to be all about, the individual (or lone company) that climbs above it all, winning the game on her own terms.
First part a bit of a slow, academic read. The second part really gets interesting though when she dives into specific case studies. Great insight and powerful prose.