Striking an effective balance in this area is important, but sometimes it requires an arms-length view to find that right balance.
It is absolutely important to identify what your competition is currently doing – you want to pre-empt their next major move. Knowing what they are going to do places you in a position of knowledge and potential power. How you use this knowledge is just as important – you do not need to follow or are they following you? In fact, sometimes it’s better to be just ahead of the curve, especially if being edgy or innovative is an important business characteristic.
All too often, we can become consumed with what others are doing, so much so that it impacts on your own product range. Falling into this trap sucks all creativity in what you do, it will dull you down until it become your standard operating procedure. As soon as this happens, you become just like them – there is no point of difference. Additionally, you effectively validate what they are doing, and as a consequence empower them to continue to lead you.
There are few quantum leaps in products or services. Most are broadcast well in advance. You just need to look for what is being said in the media, what investor reports are suggesting, what your suppliers mention in conversation. And, as you seek information from, sometimes unlikely sources, you can bet your left nut that the competition is also gathering this information. If something does present as an innovation that will change the world, then you probably missed the subtle clues that are all around you.
Look at the ipod. It revolutionised the way that music is delivered to consumers. Great idea right? Sure was. But it wasn’t Apples idea. Look closely in the patent world and you will find the patent, many years before it was commercialised, and owned by an English individual.
How about the tablet. Fantastic. Another device that revolutionised the human/PC interface. A low cost consumer product that impacted the sales of laptops and desktops. Another innovation from Apple? Not quite, Microsoft released the tablet some years earlier.
I don’t want to sound anti-Apple, far from it. They produce some good quality products. Although Apple may have not “invented” these products, what they did was very accurately read consumer requirements and marketed products accordingly.
Competition is required because it allows you to focus on your goods and services and strive for continuous improvement. Business improvement is not always about having the fastest figbot, or the shiniest telsor, it is about accurately interpreting where the market is heading….and for this, look at your customers first and then at your competition.