Breaking From the Competitive Herd

Harvard Professor Youngme Moon visited Lynn U. last week.

Harvard Professor Youngme Moon visited Lynn U. last week. Her book is a seminal study of how companies can break from the competitive herd.

Harvard Business School Professor Youngme Moon wrote one of the best  business books in recent times. The kind of book you keep going back to because it contains amazing insights and information.

“Different” is an elegantly written treatise on how to break away from the competitive herd and build a company that is different and meaningful.

Last week, thanks to President Dr. Kevin Ross of Lynn University I had a chance to meet Professor Moon and listen to her wow the crowd at the “Dively Lecture Series” at the magnificent Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn.

In an engaging talk that covered “different” companies such as Ikea, Twitter, Google and “the Mini” Cooper, Dr. Moon laid out a compelling case for why we long for brands and experiences that are different and meaningful not stale and boring.

Too many brands are of the “me too” variety touting qualities such as “new and improved” or “cheaper and faster”; for the consumer it’s all a blur.

But the outliers, the companies that truly stick out, have an attitude that makes them stand out  and break away from the herd.

Can you imagine pitching an idea for a furniture store that would only feature one type of design (Scandinavian), would offer stores with virtually no sales associates and force you to build the furniture yourself?

On top of that, the furniture would be the opposite of durable; in fact, it would be borderline flimsy.  It would be like opening a restaurant without waiters and asking customers to cook their own food.

But that model describes IKEA which has become a global brand and an immensely popular destination for shoppers.

Ikea is different.

Dr. Moon says brands that are different say yes to things that nobody else says yes to and no to things that nobody else before them said no to. They flip conventional wisdom on its head.

At first, many of these ideas seem crazy and or wrong. A social network limited to 140 characters? A car that is so small that it can fit inside an SUV? How about an internet portal with a lot of white space that offers nothing but search? No ads, no sports scores, no weather, no news. And by the way, what is a Google?

Often times, different brands focus on the negative characteristics of their products. Remember the first Mini ads…a bill board that said this: XL, X, M, S and Mini…smaller than small. The car, with no brand awareness in the states and a limited ad budget in a crowded field of trucks and SUVs sold like hot cakes.

As CEO of a hot sauce company (Tabanero) and as someone involved with a beverage brand (Celsius) –both ridiculously crowded categories– Dr. Moon provides both inspiration and a challenge: how to be different?

But it’s really more than a challenge isn’t it? It’s more of a mandate. It’s be different or fail.

And so I thought a lot about Dr. Moon’s theories and I’ve concluded hat her thinking is apropos for a whole lot of endeavors.

Lynn University gets “different”. Dr. Ross and his team have innovated with curriculum, campus design and technology and they’ve created value and an experience for students and faculty that is different and constantly improving.

Cities too have to be “different” or succumb to the mind numbing sameness of the 21st Century landscape.

Dr. Ross introduced me to Professor Moon and in our conversation he described Delray as a different kind of place, an innovative city. He’s right, of course.

And being “different” is a journey not a defined destination, you have to constantly iterate and evolve. You have to think and not allow success, fear, change or complacency stop you from being different.

Different stands out. Different create value. Different is what we are looking for.