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The Art Of Remaining Sane

Originally published: 04.01.07 by Guy Kawasaki


Don’t let your competition drive you crazy, and if you do, don’t show it.

This is the flip side to The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy. It’s meant to help you avoid being driven crazy by your competition. This isn’t a top 10. Because the key to maintaining your sanity is to keep things simple, it’s only a top five.

1. Delight your customer. As the old saying goes, “The best defense is a good offense.” If you continue to delight your customer, it’s unlikely that your competition can get to you. There are two reasons this is true. First, you’ll be successful at driving your competition crazy, and not vice versa. Second, you’ll be so busy that you won’t have the time to worry about the mundanity (mundane + insanity) of what your competition is trying to do to you.

2. Don’t assume that “perfect information” exists. It was bad enough before Google alerts and other news-gathering services, but companies have begun to assume a world of perfect information as a result of such technology. They think that the minute the competition announces a new feature, service, or partnership, the entire marketplace is aware of it — and buys it. In

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reality, only you, your competition, and Google know what was announced. By overreacting, you may inadvertently increase awareness and exacerbate the problem.

3. Take a chill pill. Never let your competition see you sweat. Instead, keep focusing on delighting your customer. Certainly, you shouldn’t lash out and inflame hostilities because you’ll probably do something stupid. In the story of Sinbad, there is an episode where his sailors threw stones at monkeys in coconut trees in order to provoke the monkeys into throwing coconuts back at them. That’s exactly what the hungry and thirsty sailors wanted the monkeys to do.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore your competition. You should know as much as you can about them. If your competition beats you to the punch, you should take it personally and then furiously out-innovate and out-implement them. You just shouldn’t let your competition see you sweat because they will gain strength and confidence from your nervousness. I also believe noticing that you’re sweating will make you sweat more.

There is one more case when you should take a chill pill: when your competition has beaten you to the punch, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. In this case, as my mother often told me, “Don’t worry about things you can’t change. Focus on things that you can.”

4. Hang a negative on your competition. Here’s an illustrative story: When F. W. Woolworth opened his first store, a competitor that had served the community for years hung out a sign that said: “This same spot for fifty years.” Nice shot, huh? Except that Woolworth then put up a sign that said, “A week old. No old stock.” The lesson is to try to find a crucial negative that you can hang onto your competition. Then maybe they will leave you alone next time.

5. Act like a maniac. Yes, this is an apparent contradiction to taking a chill pill. What can I say? I’m a complex person. To continue the theme of making your competition leave you alone, one effective strategy is to convince the competition not to attack you because you might do something really crazy. Virgin Airlines personifies this behavior. Who would want to get in a battle with an airline that offers free motorcycle and limousine rides to the airport, in-flight massages and manicures, and accepts the frequent-flyer miles of its competition? Most rational companies would conclude that it’s smart to not engage a maniacal competitor.

The bottom line on remaining sane is that it you don’t let your competition play with your mind. All this takes is mental toughness and a focus on the customer:

“My way of fighting the competition is the positive approach. Stress your own strengths, emphasize quality, service, cleanliness, and value, and the competition will wear itself out trying to keep up.” —Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s

Guy Kawasaki is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Forbes.com. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer Inc., where he was one of the individuals responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer. He is the author of eight books, including his most recent, The Art of the Start, which can be found atwww.guykawasaki.com


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