Have you ever noticed that most people like to live life in an either/or world? Either we buy a sports car or a minivan. Either we go to the beach or the mountains for vacation this year. Either we locate in a busy location or an isolated one. Either we focus on one product or a slew of products. Either we focus on one niche or on everyone.
The problem, of course, with an either/or world is that it rarely reflects reality because life is rarely that clean. Rather it’s full of contradictions and surprises. One of which is that originality and commonality go hand in hand together.
In an either/or world that doesn’t make sense. Either you’re original or your common. But, in the real world, being completely original isn’t an easy road to success. Just ask the creator of the first fax machine (Bain, 1843) or first cell phone or first anything. It’s not that easy to create an entirely new market.
When people read books like, “Blue Ocean Strategy,” they tend to think that the key to success is to come up with an entirely new idea (a new blue ocean). But if you take a look at the examples in the book you’ll notice they weren’t entirely new at all.
Cirque du Soleil wasn’t the first circus. Southwest wasn’t the first airplane company. Curves wasn’t the first health fitness facility. Etc.
All three of those examples are part of huge industries. The entertainment industry is huge. It’s common. But Cirque du Soleil’s genius was to do something original in a big market (i.e. a circus for adults with one ring vs. three and no live animals).
Southwest’s genius was to do point-to-point (i.e. non-hub), fun, no frills flights to tier two cities. Curves’ genius was to do a women’s only club with minimal equipment in a circle (a low-cost, quick, gender specific workout).
In other words, rather than look where there wasn’t a lot of competition, they looked for a very competitive market (the common part) and then looked for an uncommon way/original way to meet the needs of that market.
So, if you’re in a town full of pizza joints, that doesn’t mean you can’t start another pizza joint. Maybe you should start a gourmet one (if there isn’t one yet). Or maybe the people in you town just love fast food. If that’s the case, you might want to start a different kind of fast food restaurant (maybe BBQ wings). Or maybe your market simply loves Italian food. In that case, you could start a northern or southern Italian or even a sicilian restaurant. Etc.
Ultimately, it comes down to buyers. And what do they want? In general, they usually want something similar to what they already like/have–just a little different. This is not to downplay new and disruptive technologies. Just an observation about what fast growth companies do.
As a twenty-five year fan of Apple, I’ve drunk the kool-aid. But most of Apple’s successes haven’t come from being the first at something. The iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player. And the iPhone certainly wasn’t the first cell phone. But Apple, usually referred to as, “the most innovative company on the planet,” usually has winners when it looks at what people already want and then makes something original in that field.
So, if you want to build a wildly successful company, you might want to look where there’s a lot of competition (the common part) and then come up with a unique solution to that market’s wants and needs (the original part). It’s not an either/or, but rather a both/and that usually wins in the real world. So do your best to eliminate either/or thinking in your company. Both/and thinking is a much better route to go! Originality and commonality are a powerful one-two punch when used correctly.
To your accelerated success!