Competition Can Push You to Achieve Greater Results

“A Great Rival is Like a Mirror”

The competition between American tennis stars Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi became the dominant rivalry in tennis during the ’90s. With their remarkably different styles and temperaments, the two produced a great number of remarkable games. Between 1989 and 2002, Sampras won 20 of their 34 head-to-head matches, of which Sampras won four of the five Grand Slam finals they played. Sampras also held the world No. 1 spot for a record 286 weeks whereas Agassi held it for 101 weeks.

'Open: An Autobiography' by Andre Agassi (ISBN 0307388409) Asked how his rivalries helped and hurt him in the October 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review, Agassi (who is married to tennis legend Steffi Graf) recollected:

A great rival is like a mirror. You have to look at yourself, acknowledge where you fall short, make adjustments, and nurture the areas where you overachieve. There were times my rivals brought out the best in me; there were times they brought out the worst. They probably helped me win things I never would have otherwise; they also cost me titles. I don’t know how you quantify what it would have been like without a rival like Pete Sampras. I would have won more. But I think I would have been worse without him.

Idea for Impact: The risk of being outdone by a closely matched rival can push you further

A certain amount of competition can be helpful when it motivates you and doesn’t result in stress or hurt your personal relationships.

Push yourself past the familiarity and safety of your comfort zone by pursuing some healthy competition. Leaving your comfort zone helps you grow, transform, and feel stronger from the experience.

Don’t Blatantly Imitate a Hero: Be Yourself

Heroes are very useful—they embody a higher plateau of truth, knowledge, and accomplishment that you can aspire to.

While admiring and drawing inspiration from heroes can be productive, blatantly imitating them is simply foolish.

Lei Jun, the Steve Jobs-mimicking chief of Chinese consumer electronics company Xiaomi

The black turtleneck syndrome

Consider Lei Jun, the Steve Jobs-mimicking chief of Chinese consumer electronics company Xiaomi. Jun has not only made Xiaomi the world’s fourth-largest smartphone maker by copying Apple’s products but also cultivated a blatant Jobsian likeness—right down to wearing dark shirts and jeans in the vein of Steve Jobs and mimicking his presentation style.

Lei Jun is not alone in taking this admiration of Steve Jobs beyond inspiration to blatant imitation. After reading Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, many people started to actually think and act like Steve Jobs. Some have even embraced catchphrases like “one more thing,” the expression Jobs used in his presentations prior to introducing new Apple products.

You aren’t Steve Jobs, your company isn’t Apple, so why try to be Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs-mimicking Lei Jun of Xiaomi Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs was a determined and ambitious leader who created renowned products that transformed many industries. He intuitively understood what makes a compelling product, in both concept and design. He was a visionary and brilliant innovator who integrated insights from diverse disciplines and paid great attention to the design-details of Apple’s products and services. He was intensely focused, committed, confident enough to take risky leaps, and charismatic enough to enlist legions of employees and customers in the inexorable pursuit of his aspirations.

Those are all fine traits in the right context, but simply lifting them from Steve Jobs’s biography and imposing them on your employees will not necessarily yield Jobs-like results. You could sink your business if you blindly use Jobs’s or any other celebrity manager’s leadership style and behaviors in the wrong context, product, strategy, or market.

Imitation will not conjure success

'Winning' by Jack Welch, Suzy Welch (ISBN 0060753943) Long before Steve Jobs was Jack Welch, whom Fortune magazine dubbed “Manager of the Century” in 1999. Between 1981 and 2001, as General Electric’s CEO, Welch became a cult figure among American managers and leaders. By means of intellect, energy, and straight talk, Welch transformed the sleepy giant of General Electric (GE) into an international business powerhouse.

Jack Welch was widely regarded as the transformative manager’s archetype. Managers read his leadership playbook religiously and tried to imitate everything he did at GE—from his 20-70-10 “rank and yank” process to adopting six-sigma methods. These imitators often failed to realize that a number of factors contributed to the success of Welch’s techniques, not the least of which was the strong organizational culture and leadership philosophy he had established at GE. Managers simply will not successfully imitate Welch’s techniques without first establishing the organizational context that allowed for his initiatives’ success.

Idea for Impact: You can learn a lot from your heroes, but don’t emulate it all

Most intellectual, cognitive, and people skills are situational. That is to say that there is a time for Jack Welch’s techniques, another time for Steve Jobs’s techniques, and still other times for others’ techniques. The real skill lies in accumulating many ideas in your “brain attic” and then diagnosing your situations to apply the appropriate technique at the appropriate time.

You can learn a lot from your heroes, but don’t pattern your lives after them. See if some of the things they did will work for you. Develop your own style by focusing on what matters to you in your context. Don’t become second-rate versions of people you admire; instead be first-rate version of yourself.

Bill Gates and the Browser Wars: A Case Study in Determination and Competitive Ferocity


Competition Drives so much of our World Today

We live in a hypercompetitive age where winning is the outcome, often necessary for survival—in classrooms, sports, trade and commerce or at work. The archetypical successful person is determined, aggressive, and obsessed with winning at everything, sometimes at any cost. Of course, competition is healthy; but, winning may come at a hefty price—always striving to win or being overzealous can be both unnecessary and unproductive. Besides, collaborative or naturally uncompetitive individuals tend to find competitive people somewhat unpleasant.

History provides but a few vivid portraits of intense competition that compare to the mid-90s’ “browser wars,” a narrative characterized by the dogged determination and intense competitive spirit of some of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs.

Bill Gates and Microsoft are legendary for using brute power: whenever a new competitor emerged, Microsoft would muster its financial resources and its smarts to storm into those markets with alternative products that would eventually dominate. Up until the dot-com bust, Microsoft not only out-competed Borland, Lotus Development, Corel, and other rivals that were previously in the lead, but also crushed upstarts such as Netscape.

“The Browser Wars”: Rise and Fall of Netscape

Bill Gates and the Browser Wars At the start of 1995, a new software called Netscape Navigator took the computing world by storm. Unlike primitive browsers, Netscape could display text and graphics on websites. Early web buffs eager to discover the marvel of the nascent internet were no longer restricted to downloading text alone. In addition, Netscape could render web pages on the fly while they were still being downloaded. Users did not need to stare at a blank screen until their dial-up connections loaded text and graphics.

Even more astounding was the fact that the upstart Netscape Communications, Netscape Navigator’s creator, had been co-founded by a 23-year-old programmer just a few months previously and seemed well-positioned to take advantage of the imminent consumer internet revolution. Netscape was on its way to an extraordinary 90% market share amongst internet browsers. What’s more: the company’s spectacular IPO was drawing near and was to start the dot-com boom.

Netscape’s meteoric rise could not escape the attention of the world’s dominant software company. Early in 1995, Microsoft was particularly occupied with finalizing Windows 95. Its launch, scheduled for August 1995, would prove to be the largest, most expensive consumer marketing endeavor in history. Moreover, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) had embarked on an intrusive investigation into claims of unfair business practices as alleged by Microsoft’s competitors.

While Netscape was capturing the Web browser market, Microsoft and Bill Gates had seemingly missed the paradigm shift created by the consumer internet. Financial and technology analysts wondered if Microsoft was destined to lose its supremacy over software. Microsoft could not wait on the sidelines and cede business opportunities in the upcoming consumer internet revolution.

Browser Wars: The Rise and Fall of Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer

Bill Gates and Microsoft Jumped on the “Internet Tidal Wave”

Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and the Microsoft team were not to be trifled with. Microsoft simply could not afford to be the underdog. Its strategy was transformed entirely when, on 26-May-1995, Bill Gates wrote the groundbreaking internal memo, “The Internet Tidal Wave.”

Bill Gates deployed an extraordinary amount of capital and talent to battle for control over consumer internet. Just after the August-1995-release of Windows 95, Microsoft released an inferior Internet Explorer 1.0. In 1996, Version 3.0, matched the features of Netscape Navigator. Finally, in 1997, after bundling Internet Explorer 4.0 into Windows 95, Microsoft started to take a significant market share from Netscape.

In 1998, the DOJ and twenty US states alleged that Microsoft had illegally thwarted competition by abusing its monopoly in personal computers to bundle its Internet Explorer and Windows operating system.

By 1999, Netscape was an inferior web browser and quickly lost its dominance. The software’s market share dropped from 90% in 1996 to a meager 4% by 2002.

In subsequent installments of the browser wars, Netscape Navigator’s open-source successor, Firefox, regained market share from Internet Explorer. More recently, Firefox and Internet Explorer have had to contend with Google’s Chrome, which has grown to be the dominant web browser.

Microsoft Set Out to Destroy Competitor after Competitor

Historically, Microsoft has never been a substantial innovator. Instead, the company’s most famous strategy was to be a “fast follower.” The variety of rivals’ projects made no difference—competitors could pioneer anything from graphical user interfaces (GUI,) pointing devices, spreadsheets, word processors, browsers or gaming consoles and Microsoft would catch up in due course.

Consequently, the most important Microsoft products started essentially as copies of existing products made by competitors or upstarts that Microsoft was able to purchase early. MS-DOS evolved from QDOS, which itself derived from CP/M. Microsoft Windows was inspired by Apple’s Macintosh, which, in turn, had been inspired by a prototype mouse-driven graphical user interface that Steve Jobs had seen at Xerox PARC. Microsoft Excel borrowed from VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3. In addition to riding the coattails of bona fide innovators, Microsoft excelled in smart integration—it combined nifty functions and features into a single product or into a suite of easy-to-use tools such as its Office productivity software.

Microsoft’s Once-Invincible Strategy of Being a “Fast Follower” Wasn’t Sustainable

Alas, in the last 15 years, Microsoft’s “fast follower” competitive strategy has proven unsustainable. As its dominance in the enterprise world grew, Microsoft’s impressive financial performance relied mostly on its “old faithful” franchises. In fiscal 2014, the Windows operating system, Office productivity suite, and servers/cloud businesses contributed 78% of Microsoft’s revenue and almost all of the gross profit.

Despite the competitive ferocity of Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and others at the company’s helm, Microsoft has been unable to return to its domineering ways in the internet’s recent mobile- and social-computing trends. In fact, Microsoft stumbled in category after category of consumer computing and technology, including search, social networking, phones, music players, and tablets. Google, Facebook, Apple—lead by entrepreneurs just as intensely competitive as Bill Gates—have soared ahead, altering the social-media-tech consumer experience.

Recommended Reading: If you like business history and entrepreneurial success stories, read ‘Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time’, Daniel Gross’s engaging profiles of twenty great American entrepreneurs: Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris, McDonald’s ‘founder’ Roy Kroc, Walt Disney, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, et al. For more stories of Bill Gates’s fierce competitive instincts, read Stephen Manes’s “Gates”.

Looking for Important Skills to Develop?

Looking for Important Skills to Develop

Whether you need to take on a new challenge, prepare yourself to become promotable, or enhance your performance at work, undertaking learning and development can help. You must continually be on the lookout for new talents to add to the vast fund of knowledge you’ve accumulated over the years and add to the reservoir of experiences from which to draw.

Some skills are critical to your success throughout your career and life. Chris Anderson recently suggested a set of vital topics that must be taught in school. Anderson is the founder and curator of the Ideas-Worth-Spreading TED conferences.

TED’s Chris Anderson propunds a “Syllabus of the Future”

  • How to nurture your curiosity.
  • How to Google intelligently and skeptically.
  • How to manage your money.
  • How to manage your time.
  • How to present your ideas.
  • How to make a compelling online video.
  • The secret life of a girl.
  • The secret life of a boy.
  • How to build a healthy relationship.
  • How to listen.
  • How to calm an argument.
  • Who do you want to be?
  • How to train your brain to be what you want to be.
  • 100 role models for the career you hadn’t thought of.
  • How to think like a scientist.
  • Why history matters.
  • Books that changed the world.
  • Why personal discipline is key to future success.
  • How your reflective self can manage your instinctual self.
  • How to defend the rights of people you care about.
  • 10 hours with a kid on the other side of the world.
  • The keys to a healthy diet.
  • Why exercise matters.
  • How generosity creates happiness.
  • How immersion in nature eases stress.
  • What are the questions no one knows the answer to?

Use his “Syllabus of the Future” list to evaluate your needs in development and educate yourself in a few selected topics. Design a development plan involving regular discussions, reading articles and books, watching instructional videos, attending courses offered by a professional association, and observing and apprenticing with a mentor proficient in the skill you seek.

51 Practical Lessons for a Lifetime

Practical Lessons for a Lifetime

One of my coaching clients recently turned 51 and, upon my encouragement, prepared a list of lessons he’d learned in the “school of hard knocks.” With his permission, I present below a distillation of his wisdom.

  1. Measure twice, cut once
  2. Learn to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.
  3. Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.
  4. The best vengeance is living life well.
  5. Don’t smoke. Don’t abuse alcohol. Don’t do drugs.
  6. Love your country and fellowman.
  7. Don’t let misfortune steal your dreams.
  8. Things could always be worse.
  9. Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep in mind that mistakes are stepping stones to triumph.
  10. Don’t worry. Everything eventually works out.
  11. Don’t be resentful. Don’t take anything personally.
  12. You can always get more money, but you can’t get more time.
  13. Ask not for an easy life. Ask for the vigor to endure a difficult one and persevere.
  14. If you risk nothing, you risk even more.
  15. Never underestimate yourself or take your abilities too lightly.
  16. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  17. Never say die. Never say never.
  18. Don’t worry about what people think, they don’t do it very often.
  19. Live within your means.
  20. Give people the benefit of doubt.
  21. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
  22. Clean up your own mess.
  23. Develop a healthy cynicism.
  24. If everyone says you’re out of your mind, you just might be onto something.
  25. If you have extra, give.
  26. With sorrow comes the opportunity for growth.
  27. Don’t let time pass. Grab hold of it and make your mark.
  28. Don’t overestimate or overstate your ability to influence.
  29. There’s nothing wrong with being mediocre in something as long as you become an expert at something else.
  30. If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say it at all.
  31. You are not that good, they are not that bad.
  32. Hold your head high and look the world straight in the eye.
  33. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are of your own.
  34. Believe in yourself
  35. Have a good time. All of the time.
  36. Believe that everybody has the power to change the world.
  37. Do something that they don’t expect you to do.
  38. Friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on.
  39. Don’t be reckless with other people’s emotions.
  40. Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults.
  41. Speak the truth in love.
  42. Learn something new every day.
  43. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. Find it.
  44. Never underrate the power of accessibility.
  45. Acknowledge those who have helped you.
  46. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.
  47. Pardon your enemies, don’t forget their names.
  48. Just start. Just take that first step and get started.
  49. Don’t expect of others what you don’t demand of yourself
  50. Don’t expect anyone else to support you.
  51. Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.

Learn from the Top Performers in Every Field [Skills for Success]

Learn from the Top Performers in Every Field

During Q & A at a career-planning workshop that I led recently, a member of the audience asked me, “Where could I get the best education in life?” This article elaborates my response.

You learn best from imitating the techniques of the successful

“What the outstanding person does, others will try to do. The standards such people create will be followed by the whole world.”
* The Bhagavad Gita

The best way to educate yourself is by observing the top performers in every field and by identifying and applying their effectiveness techniques to your circumstances. Your inspiration may be somebody you interact with, somebody you can hear about in the media or a fictional character from a novel or movie.

Try to imitate the best performers in a discipline to be successful in that discipline. Study their educational and professional backgrounds, their work style, successes, and failures. Identify how they go about conducting their everyday affairs. Try to copy the stock picking and capital allocation skills of Warren Buffett to become a successful investor. Piggyback on the thinking of the best mutual fund managers; replicate their portfolios to benefit from their stock selection process.

Read about the techniques of Sherlock Holmes to improve your reasoning and problem-solving skills. Impersonate your favorite stand-up comedian ahead of a presentation or public speech to improve your delivery. Study the footprints of the leaders in your organization if you want to follow their lead.

Imitate different attributes of people you encounter every day: the cheerfulness of an administrative assistant, the persuasion skills of a seasoned negotiator, the resourcefulness of a car mechanic, and the dexterity of a customer service agent.

Role models are inspirational

Role models are inspirational

Looking up to others is rather instinctive. As kids, you looked up to your siblings, parents, or family members. At work, you learn from observing your colleagues and bosses.

When we learn of role models, read their stories or watch of them on TV or in the movies, we identify in them a part of ourselves; we associate with their struggles and victories, their hopes and despairs.

When we identify with a role model who has accomplished what we seek yourselves, we not only learn from them but also become more confident in our abilities.

This technique has its limitations

Naturally, the influence of role models is neither always practical nor necessarily productive. Your perception of popular role models (sportsmen, artists, businesspeople and other celebrities) is often incomplete and based on cursory assessments of them. Media accounts of their trappings of wealth, fame, and success or their unseemly lifestyles can just as easily turn them into negative role models. Excesses and faults are as common in everyday life as they are in the news. Exercise judgment in what you identify and implement. Hence the corollary: Learn from the shortcomings of the unsuccessful.

Call for action

  • When people make a positive impression on you, reflect on what they did and how they did to impress you. Explore what you can learn from them.
  • Identify the top performers in your field. Seek to understand and adopt their techniques. Improve or tailor them to your personal circumstances and improve yourselves.
  • Study the biographies and memoirs of your favorite historical leaders. Read news stories and case studies of people you admire. Learn their techniques.
  • Think of personal and professional skills that you would like to improve upon. Identify one or two people in your organization who are especially skilled in these areas. Observe them or ask them for advice.

Learn everything you can from others, implement what appeals to you, and discard the rest.