Lessons on being unique

Last week I was cleaning my bathroom and skanking to the sounds of Madness. My height necessitates a bit of jumping when doing housework and yes I am an 80s ska child.

For some reason they’ve covered “Lola” (L-O-L-A Lola) on one of their more recent albums.

Everyone seems to have covered this song.

It got me wondering. Sure, it is a cute song. But probably a bit like The Crying Game - best appreciated when you’re not aware of the ending.

I asked myself why does everybody cover this song? Are they out of ideas? Is it still a better idea than any they’ve had recently (despite everybody already knowing the key twist), does it just sound good, what?

It struck a chord with me and business. While there isn’t much new under the sun, why do so many people in business worry about what everyone else is doing?

It got me thinking about what I’ve heard and learnt over the years.

There seem to be several main ideas around keeping an eye on what your competition does.

There’s the “you have to know what your competition are up to” theory which, quite frankly, to me sounds like too much hard work on someone else’s business. There’s a lot of competition out there. Just how close an eye am I to keep on them? You know what is wrong with your business.

A little more inward focus and time spent fixing those things may be a better idea.

There’s the “identify what your competition do well/bad and then copy/avoid that” theory. That one sounds quite boring but it can certainly give your new business a kick-start. I remember watching Dick Smith on television many years ago. He was asked how he’d set up a new business. The reporter was surprised to hear him say “I’d find one I like and set up the same thing next door”.

When asked why he said “because all my customers are already there and I just have to be better than the other guy” or words to that effect. It was a long time ago for my memory to be word perfect but the theory stuck with me.

And then there’s my favourite theory “don’t give a damn about what your competition are up to”.

Be it good or bad why would you want to do the same thing as your competition? How does that differentiate you from them? It doesn’t that’s how!

“Niche” is supposedly where “it” is at.

When it comes to being unique this makes sense. Besides, having the competitions’ mode of operation floating around in your head means that, like it or not, you’ll unknowingly start heading down the same path as them.

Besides, I don’t believe in competition. There’s plenty out there for everyone so why fight over scraps?

I’ve found being unique easiest when I’ve not been thinking too hard about it. When I am just being me and running my business my way, going with my gut and being playful.

Often that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure I have to obey some rules and if I am smart avoid some traps with judicious research, but on the whole I’ve found NOT “doing what everyone else does” much more satisfying.

I think I’ll start a band! No, everybody does that.



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