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Modernizing Competition

Competition in Business

January 26, 2022

Business school teaches us that establishing a sustainable competitive advantage is a key success metric for any business or organization who wishes to be viable long term. While I agree with that in principle, there are broader considerations that I have noticed a trend in — particularly in the last 10 years or so.

I was reading about the inventors of the game Halo. That game set the standard for that genre of game, as the dominant force — will millions of dollars in sales and different iterations and storylines built out into an entire ecosystem of games, movies — there is even a TV series streaming later in 2022.

The trend I am talking about is the “killer” trend. Every game that was derived from some of the similar characteristics was touted as the ‘Halo-killer’. And my question is — why? Competition does not have to equal a monopoly and this superfluous attitude would seem to dictate the correct answer is that there is only one thing that can exist at a time of any one given type of thing.

Competition + Fear-Based Marketing

There has been a shift in the way products are advertised — it’s almost as though you are doing something “wrong” or haven’t got the latest version of something and that can lead to a catastrophic consequence if it isn’t immediately remedied. Or that’s the impression that you would get from some of the advertising. Rather than providing a healthy comparison or trying to set products apart from one another based on the specific needs — one size does not actually fit all in most cases — there is a rush toward conformity that I would argue is very anti-competitive.

Some products are just good. They don’t need to be “killed.” Fear-based marketing or FOMO (Feeling of Missing Out) leads sometimes to ill-considered decisions or a lack of true innovation. Sometimes this manifests itself as a sort of transactional innovation; i.e. horizontal substitution that acts to refocus a market on a redundant product that brings no new features or functionality. Or worse, they function on a set of poor assumptions or features that are not actually useful, do not add value, or exist in spite of the baseline offering; not for any identified need.

Creating Competition Through New Ideas

True innovation generally comes from the meaningful evolution of an existing product or is a new product entirely. No one should generally set out to “kill” another product unless the product is toxic or harmful in some way. For example, electric cars may indeed “kill” internal combustion engines, but that isn’t the sole reason they were invented — they were trying to see if there was efficiency in using a different type of fuel source. The innovation was based on an idea and a solution to a broader problem, not a need to destroy a different product.

We need to evolve past this phase of “killer” products into a more productive, modern attitude of pursuing innovation for the sake of making better products and enhancing services — based on their own merits. Then we have competition based on ideas, not the fear of losing market share that was not our own to begin with.

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Joseph R. Benesh

Joe Benesh is the president and CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, organizational development and design thinking firm based in Des Moines. He can be reached at joe@ingenuitycompany.com and (305) 450-9120.