Success Means Redefining the Race

Opinion: Doing something a little better than your competitors doesn't get you anywhere in the long run, writes Ziff Davis Internet columnist Jeff Angus. You can win only if you "compete" by offering things your rivals can't.

In the last column, I discussed one of those rare authors who produces business books that provide actionable information that is still useful years later, and whose range covers many subject areas. I said Id cover another of Edward de Bonos books, one very different from the last.

"Sur/Petition" (HarperBusiness, 1992) is a real classic, despite its clumsy title. There are two things that make it special. The first is its contrarian subject, but the other is completely separate from the authors intent when he wrote it. Ill get to that inadvertent value at the end of this discussion.

De Bono wrote it in response to the pop books of the time that were pushing their ideas of "competition," most notably those of Harvard Universitys Michael Porter and his followers.

Without hammering Porter directly, de Bono suggested that people who read the books and thought they were following the proper path were falling short, perhaps fatally.

"The paradox," he said, "is that you cannot truly be competitive if you seek to be competitive."

He asserts that Porter-esque competitive efforts aim to assure survival, and thats a solid first step, but a first step only. These kinds of efforts keep your focus on current things: environments, customers, products, messages. The contrast, "sur/petition," that de Bono argues for is more like changing the elements on which competition is based.

The objective he advocates is creating a "value monopoly," a place that normal competitive behavior or brand development cant reach successfully.

He believes the likeliest paths to sur/petition are "integrated value," research and development for generating concepts, and creativity. The book attempts to describe the underpinnings of each enough that a C-level executive without a lot of applied imagination could possibly generate some innovations by using de Bonos concepts as patterns to follow.

He piles on real examples, some of which were events around the time he was writing his book but also some proposals of his own. Like most people who are creative, he tends to be a little more in love with his ideas than others will be, but they are eminently solid and worthwhile.

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