The Olympics are the perfect example of the difference between champions who win gold, silver or bronze, and everyone else who goes home empty handed. The winner could be winning by just one ten thousandths of a second.
Why do you think you or I are any different in our work – if we could improve our performance just a couple percentage points, we’d stand out from the masses clear as day.
Steve Jobs was genius at nuance, the subtle improvement that could cause massively asymmetric outcomes in favor of Apple. Thirty companies had MP3 products delivering hardware, software and content for streaming music. The category was done. Then along came the iPod. Not major changes, but so much better!
We are now so used to instant delight, transparency, and responsiveness that poor company performance stands out. I ordered a gift for my daughter’s birthday to be delivered to her dorm room. I won’t say the name of this floral delivery company 800FLOWERS but the point is: they were not able to make the delivery. That is not a fatal flaw. What was fatal were the weeks and weeks of calls from them – but still no flower delivery.
Jim Gray created a juggernaut at OptionsExpress, going from zero to $300M in value fast. He said “we like to do a lot of littles” meaning that if they could tweak and improve – not worry about massive change but just master improvement better than everyone else – they knew they’d win.
When we wrote the book How They Did It, a series of interviews with champion company founders, we told retailers (at the time there were retailers) it was a book about entrepreneurs from the Midwest. Snore. Bore. Eyes…closing. Then we changed our pitch. We said instead: they are from the heartland. The heart of America. Ding ding ding! Jackpot! Barnes & Noble took us national.
There’s a 5 degree shift for each of us, that once found, leads on to Olympic Gold. Wasted, it leads on to 800FLOWERS.