We all know who the competition is. Well, we really don’t. Or at least we don’t all agree even when the context is set. I often run an exercise where members of a board are asked to write down the top 5 competitors. The top 5 competitors often becomes a list of eight or twelve because most organizations don’t purposefully reinforce their targets.
And as competition remain vague in many corners, it is also changing and becoming more complex. We are no longer constrained by commercial competitors who are trying to take away market share. Commercial software companies face competition from free software that approximates an experience at zero cost to the end user. Some commercial software companies give away some software in order to compete with this good will market. But that is close to traditional in that a set of features or price points compete for a limited resource, in most cases money. The commercial companies continue to sell core products because the free competitive software is often a bit less polished, and is usually well behind in features, especially those features that build on a suite of capabilities, as you would find with Microsoft Office, its Unified Communications products and SharePoint. Any piece of those has strong competitors, as a suite of integrated capabilities, no one comes close. Free software from commercial firms enhances their value proposition and shores up their lock on the market because it doesn’t work with anything but their tools.
But competition isn’t just about things or stuff or bits any more. It is also about attention. It is about time. People are time and attention starved, which is why experience has become such a big competitive tool. The experience needs to be unique in order to gain the attention of the individual, or have them spend their time. Volunteer organizations compete for time and attention. American’s are said to have short attention spans. After a disaster American’s are the most generous people on earth, but they also have short attention spans and the coverage and engagement with world events wanes over time because other things compete for time and attention.
This is an important element when it comes to the future of education. Learning needs to be an experience that engages attention and provides a motivation to spend time. I hear teenagers all of the time, with tons of reading and mathematics homework looming over them complain not that they are overwhelmed, but that they are bored.
It isn’t strategy to say that the customer doesn’t get it and to continue to cater to those that do (well, that is a strategy, but a loosing one over time – but it may create a momentary niche) – a better strategy is to learn from customers and create products and services that meet their needs, even if your own experiences or needs don’t reflect the changing market. Strong companies learn and adapt, and most of those that do, start with listening, observing and synthesizing. No firm really knows, and those who claim they do, really don’t, they are just lucky occasionally, looking prescient while their luck holds.