I’m somewhere between amused and annoyed at the media coverage of the opening weekend of the Olympics. The commentators were shocked when four other great athletes beat Bode Miller down the hill. They could not understand how Anton Apollo Ohno could possibly fall–even though several other world class competitors had fallen. It’s as if people have lost sight of the fact that the Olympics are a sporting event and not a stage-managed spectacle. Everyone in an Olympic uniform deserves to be there and most have a chance to win (or lose) depending on chance and circumstance. That’s why they actually play the games.
So what does that have to do with business? Actually quite a bit. There are plenty of situations in business where the outcome was supposedly foredestined–but no one told the company that was supposed to lose. Two of my favorite examples come off the resume of AllBusiness’s CFO, Jim Cook.Intuit and Netflix
According to the conventional wisdom, Netlfix and Intuit should both be roadkill in someone else’s success story. “Everyone” knew that Microsoft would crush Intuit with Microsoft Money just as they had crushed other application vendors including Lotus, WordPerfect, and Novell. And certainly NetFlix could not possibly stand up to the onslaught of first Blockbuster and then (horrors) Walmart. But funny thing, the script didn’t turn out the way that it was supposed to. Both Intuit and Netflix continued to prosper. Microsoft Money still hangs on but Quicken is the leader. Netflix actually chased Walmart back out of the DVD by mail business.
Make them play the whole game
Why did these companies succeed in defending their core franchise when others have failed? Primarily because they were doing a great job. It sounds so simple doesn’t it. Just do a good job and nothing bad will happen. Of course nothing is ever that simple. But that’s the core concept. Netflix and Intuit have succeeded because they did not treat their franchise as an entitlement. They constantly invested in knowing and serving their customers better and better. In essence the defense started long before their competitors even thought about coming into their segment.
As at the Olympics, make your competitors earn their victories. Make them show up with their “A Game” and play the whole way. You may win. You may lose. But approaching your business from a mindset of continual improvement is your best long-term strategy.