One-track mind

Amy Williams: Olympic Gold Medalist for Skeleton

On 6th August, Nick and I were at a Bank of Scotland Corporate event where Amy Williams, gold medalist for the women’s skeleton at the 2010 Winter Olympics was one of the key speakers. She gave a very interesting and enthusiastic account of her journey to the gold medal and though more effort could have been made to link between sustainable business and training for Olympic achievement, the analogy between competing for sporting success and competing for commercial is an interesting one.

Competing in a sport is about achieving your own goals, overcoming your own limitations and optimising personal performance. After all if you’re too focussed on beating someone else, you might miss the fundamental signals from your own body and yet in business, so many companies seem to be preoccupied with watching the moves of their competitors.

Recently, I’d been tasked with having a look at the competitive landscape for a couple of financial services companies and whilst I understand the importance of this research, I also think competitive landscape reviews can be a bit of a red herring (after a certain point anyway):

  • The UK financial services industry is hardly radiating innovative planning, though admittedly a few companies are at least aware they should be heading in this direction. Most of the exciting online, social and mobile projects are happening Stateside (or are start-up projects) and some UK institutes don’t see this as competition .
  • The standard response to acknowledging a need for innovation, seems to be to check out the competition…. it’s like watching a group of swimmers review unfamiliar waters, each having the opportunity to dive in, but waiting for someone else to do it first. Watching people watching other people isn’t particularly exciting.
  • If you look at the more innovative providers like Fidelity (US & UK), their digital adventures seem to be both progressive and customer-centric. There’s nothing outrageous in the mix, but they seem to have grasped the fact that digital marketing is less about “innovation” and merely a fantastic opportunity to keep close to customers and therefore keep customers close to you.
  • Rather than looking at what’s going on outside the company, surely it makes more sense by trying to at least open a dialogue with your customers and ask them directly what they’d find useful?

Even considering the wider competitive landscape, where do you start or even keep up? I have RSS feeds, Google Alerts… I’m on Twitter (reluctantly), LinkedIn and Facebook; I have numerous email subscriptions and then there are my inter-network forwards from friends, colleagues and family. As I’ve said before it’s exhausting, I’m just treading information water and every time I log on to Twitter (or alternative Twitter platform) to tap into the collective creative IP, it’s also time out from really focussing on the uniqueness of my client(s). Such is my discomfort on Twitter and its power to distract that I liken it to an attention deficit disorder. True, it’s important to acknowledge how people (and groups of people) are pushing the boundaries, but every time I see awesome digital content I get the following two-phase reaction: 1) “man, that’s awesome” 2) “I wish we’d thought of that”. When I read someone else’s blog, read someone else’s tweet, it’s time away from developing original thought.

Fashion is important, having an awareness of what goes on around us is important, but ultimately business survival, sustainability and style is about what suits our own enterprise. The solution for our business isn’t necessarily found in the visible behaviours of others.