According to William Taylor, the most successful organisations are no longer the ones that offer the best deals. They’re the ones that champion the most original ideas, and do things other organisations can’t or won’t do. This is how great organisations go from ordinary to extraordinary.
Part 1: Stop Trying to Be the Best; Strive to Be the Only
Everything you do either hurts or helps your brand. Everything. Pay attention to all the tiny details and make your brand the only option for your customers. Success is no longer about price, performance, or features. It’s about passion, emotion and identity. The most successful organisations are the ones the craft the most memorable experiences and recruit the most loyal customers.
Companies that rise above and stand alone, that deliver a one-of-a-kind experience will thrive. Brand strategist Adam Morgan credits what he calls a “lighthouse identity.” This is when brands have a strong point of view, intensity, salience, and are built on a rock – they take a unique stand and stick with it. Organisations with a “lighthouse identity” offer an intense projection of who they are in everything they do.
There is inevitable competitive backlash: if a braver, more clever company succeeds at doing something new, then surely a larger, richer and more established company will mimic the logic and overtake them. However, you’d be surprised about how many big, established organisations are unwilling to learn from the market makers in their field.
It may surprise you to see what your competitors won’t do. Don’t let concerns about imitation stop you from going above and beyond.
For companies and brands that aspire to do something extraordinary, what you believe is as important as what you sell. Leadership is about developing a set of deeply held principles that challenge the norm and help your organisation get to the finish line first.
Great leaders inspire instead of manipulate. Successful entrepreneurs are the ones that are strategic and yearn for meaning and significance as much as financial success.
As a company or an individual, the goal is no longer to be the best. It’s to be the only one who does what you do. Approach your work, your company, and your style of leadership with passion.
There is a fast food restaurant in Kingsport, Tennessee called Pal’s Sudden Service. The average time spent at the drive up window is eighteen seconds and the average time to receive the order is twelve. That’s four times faster than the second quick-serve restaurant in the country. They also only make mistakes once in every 3,600 orders, which is ten times better than the average fast-food restaurant. This results in unparalleled customer loyalty.
The best leaders understand that their behaviour and actions have to match the aspirations they have for their employees. And if a leader thinks differently, they will act differently too.
Being different will set your company or brand apart from the competition. It’s no longer enough to be the best – you need to be the only.
Part 2: Don’t Let What You Know Limit What You Can Imagine
Expertise is great, but sometimes it can get in the way of innovation. Our world is being remade before our eyes, and the leaders that make a big difference are the ones who challenge the logic of their field – and of their own success.
This is evident in the example of Rosanne Haggerty, founder and president of Community Solutions, an organisation that aims to end homelessness. Between 1990 and 2011, she built or renovated three thousand units to serve the homeless population in New York City. But she was frustrated because she realised her properties weren’t helping the ones who needed it most.
So they created an entirely new strategy with the main focus on the population. She set an ambitious goal to reduce chronic homelessness in Times Square by two thirds within three years – and she did it.
Her goals seemed impossible, but they forced her team to disrupt their old way of thinking.
Doing more of the same thing is a bad idea. Do business differently. Think outside the box.
Sometimes, the people and organisations with the most experience and knowledge in a particular field end up being the last ones to see and take advantage of opportunities for something completely new. Often, what we know limits what we can imagine.
Cynthia Barton Rabe, a former innovation strategist at Intel, calls this the “paradox of expertise.” It is the frustrating reality that the more you know about something, the harder it is for you to open your mind to new ideas. Past results can constrain the capacity to visualise the future.
The longer you’ve been looking at something means the longer you’ve been looking at something the same way, which makes it difficult to see new patterns, prospects, or possibilities.
It’s important to be competent – thorough, smart, business-minded and accountable. And it’s also important to be provocative – challenging, surprising, restless, and imaginative.
“Double vision” is the capacity to act with confidence, even as you are questioning, doubting, and probing our assumptions. Creative people have a combination of playfulness and discipline. The duality is important to success. Making a difference will happen when you don’t let what you know limit what you can imagine.
John W. Gardner, a Stanford university professor and the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson, once gave a speech about leadership. He said the best way to be a good leader is to be interested. “Everyone wants to be interesting,” he said, “but the vitalising thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things.”
Part 3: It’s Just as Important to Be Kind as to Be Clever
Organisations that perform at a high level for a long time don’t just think differently from everyone else, they care more than everyone else. In an era of big ideas and disruptive technology, simple acts of connection and compassion are more important than ever.
Much of the business culture is obsessed with big ideas, innovations and strategies for change. But sometimes, the secret to success is simple – creativity and productivity should never come at the cost of empathy and generosity.
Any act that connects people to an organisation will go a long way.
A few years ago, there was a young man visiting his ill grandmother in the hospital. She was about to undergo another set of treatment, and desperately wanted a bowl of clam chowder soup. Panera Bread only sells clam chowder on Fridays, but the boy explained the situation to the manager, and they whipped up a fresh batch for his grandmother and included some cookies and a get well soon note.
The boy was so thankful and touched that he posted about it on Facebook. The story generated nearly 810,000 likes and more than 35,000 comments. And Panera got recognition that could never be achieved with advertising.
Our world is shaped by technology. So many people crave small gestures of kindness that remind us what it means to be human. Customers are normal people. They tend to remember gestures of concern, compassion and kindness. Civility is not the enemy of productivity, although many companies act as if it were.
Instead, go the extra mile to show kindness. Even small things, such as a smile or a greeting, will accomplish big gains.
Pret A Manger is a very popular sandwich shop headquarted in London. The name is French for “ready to eat,” and the shop offers lots of premade sandwiches and salads that customers can grab and pay for in a minute as they rush to get on with their busy life.
However, even though customers are only in the store for a few moments, those moments are always filled with positive energy and genuine human connection.
The company has a rigorous training program to teach employees to treat customers as if they are guests in their own home. They also require employees to give away a certain amount of free products each week. They can choose a person that looks like they’re having a bad day, or even someone that they find attractive, and give them a free drink or sandwich. It’s a nice, unique way of showing the customers they care.
Yes, the most effective leaders urge their employees to embrace new technology and seek out new ideas. But they also make sure that the drive doesn’t come at the expense of the individual. Don’t let big aspirations get in the way of the small things that make such a big impression inside and outside of the organisation.
The little things matter, both in terms of creating more meaningful experiences and building more compelling organisations. The most successful companies care more than everyone else – internally and externally. You can’t be exceptional in the marketplace unless you create something exceptional in the workplace.
Having a good company culture does three things: it distinguishes you from competitors, it supports the persistence of critical operating values, and it identifies and retains employees who fit the mission.
Part 4: The Allies You Enlist Matter More Than the Power You Exert
Organisations that make the most dramatic progress are the ones that invite ordinary people to make extraordinary contributions, and whose leaders are as humble as they are hungry.
Making strategy is no longer about filling binders with five-year plans. It is about enabling serendipity and running with the momentum. Humans learn from other humans, so the more people around us, the more we will learn.
That’s why the Zappos headquarters is designed in a way that encourages collisions and run-ins among employees. These collisions provide opportunities to meet people, connect people, listen to pitches, learn about trends, learn about anything, create new ideas and everything in between.
In fact, over the past few years, these encounters have turned into a variety of new businesses. One day, the Zappos CEO ran into an aspiring restaurateur at a coffee shop. He helped get her funding for the idea, and soon she opened Eat, one of the busiest restaurants in the area. Eat became so successful that American Express featured it in a TV ad during the 2015 Academy Awards.
Organisations with the most impressive results are the ones driven by the most original ideas. But it doesn’t matter what individual comes up with the best ideas. Successful businesses are the ones in which generating and evaluating ideas is everyone’s job. That’s why it is the leaders with the most allies, not the ones that issue the most commands, that exert the most power.
The best ideas come when everyone has the opportunity to pitch it small pieces of a larger creative puzzle.
One example of this is with a gold miner named Rob McEwen. His company GoldCorp had acquired a property that had promise of gold. McEwen didn’t know where to drill, so he posted fifty years’ worth of geological data about his mine on the Internet, along with software to help people analyse it. He offered prize money to award to the best proposals. He made allies with hundreds of geologists and engineers across the globe.
The company received more than 140 detailed drilling plans. It transformed the company into one of the world’s most valuable mining companies, because the leader recruited as many allies as he could.
He also showed humility. Leaders should show that they are human, that they make mistakes, and that they are not perfect. Humility and ambition need not be at odds. In fact, humility in the service of ambition is the most effective mind-set for leaders who aspire to do big things in a world with huge unknowns. A leader does not have to know all of the answers. And they should ask for help when they need it.
Run your business like you own it. When you trust people to solve problems and make decisions, and then let them go, wonderful things will happen. The energy and drive that leaders show matters just as much as the actual work.
The organisations that inspire the deepest sense of commitment are the ones whose members receive a fair share of the value they help to create. Create more value than you capture.
What’s Your Story?
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Do work that rewrites the story of success for a new era of business and leadership.