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Mind Games

When your competitors try to rile you up, sanity is the best policy.

This is the flip side to last month's column on driving your competition crazy. It's meant to help you avoid being driven crazy by your competition. This isn't a top 10 list--it's only a top five, because the key to maintaining your sanity is to keep things simple.

1. Delight your customer. As the old saying goes, "The best defense is a good offense." If you continue to delight your customer, it's unlikely that your competition will get to you. There are two reasons this is true: First, you'll be successful at driving your competition crazy and not vice versa. Second, you'll be so busy that you won't have time to worry about the mundanity ("mundane" plus "insanity") of what your competition is trying to do to you.

2. Don't assume that perfect information exists. It was bad enough before Google Alerts and other news gathering services, but companies have begun to assume a world of perfect information as a result of such technology. They think the minute the competition announces a new feature, service or partnership, the entire marketplace is aware of it--and buys it. In reality, only you, your competition and Google know what was announced. By overreacting, you may inadvertently increase awareness and exacerbate the problem.

3. Take a chill pill. Never let your competition see you sweat. You shouldn't lash out and inflame hostilities, because you will probably end up doing something stupid. There's a Sinbad episode where his sailors throw stones at monkeys in coconut trees to provoke the monkeys into throwing coconuts back at them. Of course, that's exactly what the hungry and thirsty sailors wanted the monkeys to do.

This doesn't mean you should ignore your competition. You should find out as much as you can about them. If your competition beats you to the punch, you should take it personally. Just don't let your competition see you sweat, because they will gain strength and confidence from your nervousness. Instead, furiously out-innovate and out-implement them.

There's one more case when you should take a chill pill: when your competition has beaten you to the punch and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. In this case, as my mother often told me, "Don't worry about things you can't change. Focus on things you can."

4. Hang a negative on your competition. When F.W. Woolworth opened his first store, a competitor that had served the community for years hung out a sign that said, "This same spot for 50 years." Nice shot, huh? Except Woolworth then put up a sign that said, "A week old. No old stock." The lesson is to try to find a crucial negative you can hang on your competition; maybe they'll leave you alone next time.

5. Act like a maniac. Yes, this is an apparent contradiction to taking a chill pill. What can I say? I'm a complex person. To make your competition leave you alone, one effective strategy is to convince competitiors not to attack you because you might do something really crazy. Virgin Airlines personifies this behavior. Who would want to get in a battle with an airline that offers free motorcycle and limousine rides to the airport, provides in-flight massages and manicures, and accepts the frequent-flier miles of its competition? Most rational companies would conclude it's smart not to engage a maniacal competitor.

The bottom line on remaining sane: Don't let your competition play with your mind. All this takes is mental toughness and a focus on the customer. McDonald's entrepreneur Ray Kroc said it best: "My way of fighting the competition is the positive approach: Stress your own strengths and emphasize quality, service, cleanliness and value, and the competition will wear itself out trying to keep up."


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.

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This article was originally published in the December 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mind Games.

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