business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Compete, we’re fond of saying at MNB, is a verb. More than that, it’s an active verb, especially when companies embrace it as a way to win.

But winning isn’t easy especially if it feels like the odds are against you in the form of facing larger, financially stronger competition. The truth is that almost every company has some complaint about competition (listen to big companies talk about the challenges of size and public ownership vs. smaller more nimble companies).

That’s why we need to learn from a competitive strategy launched a few years back at small Grinnell College and this year embraced by Lake Braddock High School in Northern Virginia. The strategy is an attempt by both of those schools to turn around their fortunes in basketball.

Lake Braddock - a high school that hardly any of you will know - was recently profiled in the Washington Post for its incredibly unexpected success in basketball this year. Lake Braddock has embraced a helter-skelter style of basketball that calls for relentless defense and a high-speed offense that almost entirely uses long-distance three point shots.

As the team’s coach explained, he was tired of losing games by scores in the 40s and 50s. So he switched his team to a style that best suits his players abilities and frequently results in scores topping 100 points - in high school!

In fact, nearly every bit of evidence of this being done - according to the Post story - stemmed from teams with long losing records that were simply looking for a new way to win. (If memory serves, this up-tempo style of play was first used at the Content Guy’s alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, back in the late 1980s.)

Here’s what it shows us. Frequently the competitive battle does seem unfair because of countless factors. So like these basketball teams, we need to find ways of emphasizing our strengths and exploiting competitors’ weaknesses. That might mean focusing on smaller stores, better service, better fresh products or community ties.

It also means playing offense, and taking the business equivalent of lots of three-point shots.

Essentially, emphasize what you do best, execute relentlessly and remind consumers (those who actually decide winning and losing) why what you are doing is best. What’s more, de-emphasize those areas where you might lose. If you don’t have the best prices in town, talk values beyond price.

As always, there’s a great movie line for this. In the first (and only good) Pirates of the Caribbean movie, our hero Will Turner is constantly beaten in duels by the pirate captain Jack Sparrow. At one point, Turner tells Sparrow, “you’d never beat me in a fair fight,” to which Sparrow responds, “that’s hardly incentive to fight fair.”

Exactly. Look for ways to turn the odds in your favor by emphasizing what you do best. Wage the battle on your terms, not others. Surely it’s not simple, but it’s loads better than losing.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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