The desire to beat the competition can lead a company astray--or drive it to even greater heights. Here's how to avoid the former and achieve the latter.
1. Know thyself. Before you can drive your competition crazy, you have to understand what your company stands for. For example, Apple Inc. stands for cool technology. It will never represent an "enterprise software company," a chief investment officer's safe bet, or service and support.
2. Know thy customer. The second step is to truly understand what your customer wants from you--and doesn't want from you. Your customer seldom wants to help you drive your competition crazy. That's in your head, not your customer's. A good company listens to what its customers say they want. A great company anticipates what its customers need--even before they know they need it.
3. Know thine enemy. You cannot drive your competition crazy unless you understand their strengths and weaknesses. To do that, become your competitors' customer by buying their products and services. I never truly understood what it was like to be a customer of Microsoft until I bought a Sony Vaio and used Windows.
4. Focus on the customer. The best way to drive your competition crazy is not by doing something to them. Rather, the best way is for you to succeed. Your success, more than any action, will drive your competition crazy. And the way you succeed is by figuring out not what you can do to the competition, but what you can do for the customer. You succeed at doing things for the customer by using the knowledge that you have gained in the first three steps: understanding what your company does, knowing what your customer wants and needs, and finding what your competition doesn't do.
5. Turn customers into evangelists. There are few things that drive a competitor crazier than an unpaid, thunderlizard group of customers who become evangelists for a company. Create a great product or service, put it out there ("let a hundred flowers blossom"), see who falls in love with it, open up your arms to them (they will come running to you), and then take care of them. It's that simple.
6. Make good by doing good. Sometimes you can make good and do good at the same time. For example, if you own a chain of hardware stores, you can help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. You are bound to get lots of free publicity as well as create bonds with the community. This will drive your competition crazy.
7. Turn competitors into allies. My favorite children's book, The Knight and the Dragon by Tomie dePaola, is the story of a knight and a dragon who train to slay each other. Smashingly unsuccessful at doing battle, they decide to go into business together instead. With the dragon's fire-breathing ability and the knight's salesmanship, they create the K & D Bar-B-Q.
If a Home Depot opens up next to your hardware store, let it sell the gas barbecues while you refill people's propane tanks.
8. Play with their minds. If you're doing all this positive stuff, it's OK to play with your competitors' minds. Consider the pizza company that ran a promotion offering two pizzas for the price of one if customers brought in the torn-out Yellow Pages ad of its competition.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-founder of Alltop, a managing director at VC firm Garage Technology Ventures, former chief evangelist for Apple Inc. and author of eight books--most recently The Art of the Start. Visit his company's site, alltop.com.