Are You Out-Learning the Competition?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On May 28, 2014

A friend once told me about the software company he once worked at. The company—though having enjoyed past success—was struggling and was losing market share to competitors. The board brought in a new CEO to inject some new enthusiasm and direction into the company.

When this new CEO addressed the employees, he acknowledged the realities of the space they were in. But he didn’t make any excuses. He acknowledged that some of their competitors were out-smarting them. Some were out-spending them in areas of research and development and marketing. Some competitors were simply out-producing them.

Then he made them a promise, that even though they were being out-done in those areas, that nobody would out-learn them or out-work them.

That CEO knew that there were things that he and his team couldn’t control. They couldn’t affect what other companies spent. They couldn’t control the personnel decisions other companies made. They couldn’t control market conditions. But they could control what they did—specifically with regard to learning and effort.

That’s true for most of us. We may not be able to compete with the R&D budgets of larger competitors. We may not be able to compete with the marketing budgets of others in our space. But we can compete in the area of learning. We can stay abreast of what’s happening—and maybe even get ahead of the curve.

But it doesn’t just happen. You have to plan for it. You have to discipline yourself to make it happen. Here are two simple questions that can help you outlearn the competition.

1. What’s on your reading list? While there’s nothing wrong with reading the Wall Street Journal or whatever publication tracks movers and shakers in your industry, it’s not enough. And it’s not enough just to read how-to books devoted to your industry. Besides, by the time they’re published, your competitors are probably implementing those strategies anyway. What are the three or four titles you have on your list to read that challenge your thinking and make you take a new look at your industry in particular and at business in general?

2. What’s your plan for reading them? So many of us have “when I get around to it” plans. There are important things we know we should do, but we never get to them because there is always something clamoring for our attention. What’s your specific plan (and I mean a regular time, place, and duration) for educating yourself? If you think it’s going to happen right before you drift off to sleep at night, you’re fooling yourself. Educating yourself needs to have the same priority as other essential tasks you perform.

We’ve all seen the commercials that ask, “What’s in your wallet?” I’d ask, “What’s on your to-read list?” And if your share your list with me, I’ll share mine with you!