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Weekly 3: Make your competition irrelevant

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 21 · Issue #183 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Being aware of your competition is useful. Even more important is making your competition irrelevant. This issue presents three ideas to help put more of the focus on you, not them.
(~3 min read)

#1. Focus on what comes easily to you
Cancer researcher Lewis Cantley offers the following career advice to those who are about to start college: “Choose a profession that is really easy for you to do and that allows you to be creative.”
If you focus on work that is relatively easy for you to do, but difficult for your peers, then you won’t have to work too hard to be successful and you’ll have more time to enjoy your life.
You’ll also then have spare time to put in extra hours to “blow out the competition” when necessary. Alternatively, if you have to work long hours all the time just to remain competitive, then you’ll likely burn out and won’t enjoy life.
Cantley’s recommendation is just as useful for people who are further along in their careers: What kind of work is easy for you to do, but relatively difficult for your colleagues and competitors?
#2. Position yourself above the “line of super-credibility”
Entrepreneur and investor Peter Diamandis writes in his book Bold that we all have a line of credibility in our minds. When we hear a new idea, we automatically place it above or below this threshold.
If an idea is above this line, we’re willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. We’ll follow it over time, assigning further judgements along the way.
But if it falls below, we’re likely to “dismiss it immediately, often as ridiculous.”
Diamandis points out that we also have a line of super-credibility. At this level, we immediately accept the idea as fact and think: Wow, that’s great! How can I get involved?
To make the launch of your next business or project super-credible, he recommends three steps: 
1. Familiarity matters. The best people to help you with your next project are those who helped you with your last one, or have watched you succeed in the past. If you don’t have a track record, start making one.
2. Trust matters. Diamandis suggests slowing down and building credibility. Don’t mistake a little initial traction for inevitable success. Real traction requires a lot of trust: “Investors love ideas, but they fund execution.”
3. Messaging matters. Who presents your idea may matter even more than the quality of the idea itself. Find the most authoritative and credible person possible to position your business or project – even if that’s not you.
Diamandis himself aimed for the line of super-credibility when he launched the Ansari XPRIZE: a $10 million dollar incentive competition to put the first privately-developed vehicle into space.
Initially, Diamandis didn’t have $10 million dollars to fund the prize, or even a team. But he did have a network of high-profile contacts in the space industry, based on his years of organizing space conferences, promoting space travel through foundations, and going to graduate school.
When Diamandis finally announced the Ansari XPRIZE, he surrounded himself with some of the most credible and influential people in the industry: Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, the first person to make a solo transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean; 20 astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon; and Dan Goldin, the Administrator of NASA at the time.
Without their support, Diamandis acknowledges that the project would have been ignored.
#3. Redefine your terms
Marketing guru Seth Godin writes on his blog that it’s easy to identify what you’re competing for: a new job, a sale, an investment.
But in a “hypercompetitive world” you also need to pay attention to what you’re competing on.
Here are some examples: 
  • If you’re competing on price, then you’ll spend most of your time counting pennies.
  • If you’re competing on smarts, then you’ll spend most of your time getting smarter.
  • If you’re competing on who you know, then you’ll spend most of your time networking. 
  • If you’re competing on being innovative, then you’ll spend your time being curious and shipping things that might not work.
  • If you’re competing on trust, you’ll spend most of the time keeping the promises you make.
Quote of the week
“Americans mythologize competition and credit it with saving us from socialist bread lines. Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: if you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.”
- Entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel in his book Zero to One
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