Volume 2, Number 10 - October 5, 2004

“We’re unique.” “That won’t work here.” “We’re different.” Everyone wants to feel special, and every company is. In fact, for your company to succeed the market must see your products/service as a better value than your competitors’. They must see a winning combination of great product/service, speed, technology, quality, reliability, and price. But in the development and delivery of that winning combination, some organizations focus so intently on their uniqueness that they forget that most of the challenges they face are the same as those faced by their neighbor down the street. We can learn from others, even when they are different from us.

In my experience, Pareto’s 80/20 applies when looking across industries as well as within them. Businesses are 80% analogous, and 20% different. In the early ‘80’s, I left Stouffer’s frozen food division and accepted a position with TRW’s aircraft components group. The transition was easy because the similarities were more widespread than the dissimilarities.

By all means, there were differences. Metallurgists and ceramists have distinctly different expertise than do food scientists. Making a component to order from a drawing someone else controls for assembly with parts from other manufacturers is different from making a box of macaroni and cheese for inventory.

But the business and operational process differences are not that hard to see, nor to understand. Both industries face government agency, market, supply chain, technology, process, logistics, financial, and people challenges. Sure, TRW dealt with the FAA while Stouffers dealt with the FDA, but dealings with government agencies have more similarities than differences. In working with numerous industries and companies over a 28-year career, I have seen Pareto’s work confirmed over and over. There are more similarities than differences among industries and among companies.

The 20% is important and must be kept in sight. But to focus on it to the exclusion of the 80% can keep a company struggling with survival instead of spring boarding to success. Don’t let your uniqueness limit
your company.

I recently saw The Corporation, a documentary examining the changing role of the corporation over time. As I see it, the movie offers 3 major themes: (1) corporations, not governments, run the world, (2) corporations single-mindedly pursue profits and financial return for shareholders at the expense of stakeholders, and (3) some things, like water and the genes of various genomes, should be publicly and not privately owned, although court interpretations are trending toward the opposite.

While too long (2.5 hours), the movie is at least worth an “early bird” price of admission. Agree or disagree with the presentation, it offers food for thought.

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