“Every year it gets harder for us to compete.”

I hear this problem in discussions with management teams. It is an all-consuming problem for many companies to work harder, stay on top of customers, over-deliver and not give ground to competitors.

I also hear this observation, often disguised as a solution, “We need to be faster, cheaper and at higher volumes to compete.” Thank you, Amazon, Walmart, Zara…. But, they’re not the problem. The real problem is…

… the word “compete.” Why? Competing keeps companies in the game but the distraction of cheaper, faster and more volume makes winning harder every year because there is always another company willing to go lower, faster and higher.

I will share with you how to not just compete but win, with a real, lasting advantage.

A Real Story

A client (representative of a sizeable sample of our client base with similar cases and results) shared their version of the “harder to compete every year” problem with us. Every day in this company someone yelled FIRE! A customer needs something – yesterday! Revise the quote, we’re losing the business! We need to get this done today! This must be our top priority!

It was wearing the company down. Leadership and employee teams were emotionally and physically exhausted. They were in the faster, cheaper, more volume to compete game.

Business was good but not very fulfilling. There was no time to think or celebrate. It was all go and our research showed that the organization was dulling down, losing its advantage. The product was good but not very meaningful. Employees had no time to consider anything beyond quality control and getting it out the door. Customers, in turn, didn’t think about the product either. The product was fast becoming a widget.

Service was good but not very inspiring. Faster, cheaper set expectations and the company delivered. But, nothing more. No delight, nothing memorable.

This was a company going through the motions of competing; doing, producing and servicing at faster, cheaper and higher volumes. They were doing okay but to win they had to do better.

We helped them win, in terms of both top and bottom line growth, new products, new customers and better relationships, by;

  1. Changing the language.
  2. Adopting the principles of human advantage.

Change the language.

Faster, cheaper and more volume are machine words. Turn up the speed, crank out more product. Don’t get me wrong, it’s often the price of entry to the competition and some companies do this work very, very well.

But, for others, like our client, who found faster, cheaper and more volume to be an unsustainable model we had to find a way to win, not just compete. We needed a game-changer.

It started with winning language.

Faster became Urgent.

Cheaper became Responsive.

More became Better.

The change in language was anchored in the Principles of Human Advantage*, pivoting our client from a machine to a human advantage. Principles of Human Advantage

Principle 1

The unlimited capacity of human potential.

There is a sense of importance and seriousness in the language of “urgent” that is not found in “faster”. Faster is a one-dimensional concept. Its focus is efficiency of effort. It is learned by rote, requires no understanding or thinking. It’s perfect for machines.

Urgency shifts the focus to effectiveness of effort. It relies on employee potential or capacity to learn, develop through experience. Urgency requires all employees to discern, to question, to be curious and to invent, in turn, expanding the growth opportunities for the company and the employee.

For our client, a shift from speed to urgency opened the client and its customers to new business opportunities. We combined a talent audit combined with the question;

“Do we understand what needs to be accomplished?”

The result was an organization willing to reach up, to test the boundaries of their capabilities, accomplish more and, in the end, to win, together.

Principle 2

The importance of cultural dynamics.

Cheaper is reductive. It’s a crude and inadequate response to the complex challenges and opportunities of the marketplace.

Responsive is cultural. The complexity of challenges and opportunities requires coordinated and collaborative responsiveness. Often, winning now requires a  

CoT (Culture of Things)

the full weight of your processes, systems, and your values, beliefs and principles brought to bear on the challenges and opportunities facing the organization and its customers. For our client, the human advantage of culture began with the question;

“Do we know how to deliver?”

The answers shifted our client, structurally, to an open, team-based organization. Departments folded into teams. Expertise, problems and wins were shared across the organization.

To win our client had to manage both operational function and team friction – the healthy kind that comes from solving and creating – by embracing diversity of thought, learning styles and work styles.

Responsiveness shifted the company’s energy from creative invoicing to creative ideas. A rejuvenated, responsive culture was now an integral part of their human advantage. Principle 3

The power of ideas and its possibilities for positive change in the world.

More is a blunt instrument. It’s clumsy and it is lazy, content with more of the same. The language of better is competitive, aspiring and elegant because it speaks to our very human nature of wanting to contribute, to leave our mark on our work and the world.

Ideas demolish the status quo, they upend norms and they win because disruption, innovation and change happens when we have needs that are not being addressed.

For our client, changing the world was an outcome of conversations with customers around the question;

“Do we know what is needed?”

Changing the conversation from how much more to how much better led our client away from their product focus and into the new arena of a solutions business. The business became differentiated. The company was winning on its ability to solve, respond with meaningful solutions. It no longer relied solely on logistics, pricing and volume to compete. Post analysis found that the machine advantage in efficiency of effort; speed, pricing and higher volume remains a necessary component of competitiveness. However, winning requires more effort.

Winning required our client to weight their balance in favour of their human advantage in effectiveness of effort; urgency, responsiveness and better solutions.

If competing is expected to be harder next year, consider increasing your effectiveness and opportunities to win with the three Principles of Human Advantage. It could be a game changer.


*The Principles of Human Advantage is the guidance system embedded in SIG’s suite of strategic planning products and services and now part of the operating systems of our clients’ organizations.

The Principles are derived from an extensive study of the Italian Renaissance, the most significant expansion of human advantage in our history to elevate nations and their people, now successfully evolved and iterated for application in 21st C organizations. For more on the Principles and their application for your organization please visit sigunlimited.com.

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