Posted by: kevinliebl | September 9, 2009

Follow the Herd or Follow the Puck?

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant Gathering a Rebound

My two sons (5th and 6th grade) love to play basketball.  Recently, we got into a discussion about rebounding.  Why are some NBA players so good at rebounding, when others seem to always be in the wrong place?  I reminded them of Wayne Gretzky’s quote on why he is such a good hockey player – “A good hockey player plays where the puck is.  A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”  Great NBA rebounders play the same way.  They have an uncanny way of knowing where the ball will rebound.  Human nature is to run to the hoop, but if you watch Kobe Bryant, he often stands outside the crowd and somehow knows the ball will rebound directly to him.

Business leadership is the same way.  It is easy to follow the herd and emulate the competition.  Most companies spend a lot of time on competitive analysis to anticipate and often copy their competitor’s products.  We create websites that match our favorite competitor.  We copy their campaigns and trade show booth designs.  We build products that are very similar to theirs.  This type of “herd mentality” creates excellent second-place players.  However, none of us want to be in second place.

What is difficult is to stand alone on the court with conviction that the ball will come to us.  Identifying where the ball will go – or in this case where the market will go takes vision, but positioning your company in that direction when everyone else is moving in the other direction is counter-intuitive.  It is difficult to build a product that is unique and unexpected by the market.  It is difficult to create a website that stands out from the others.  It is difficult to create a new and untried channel of distribution or sales promotion.  However, this is how first place players are created.  To be fair, the “first to market” often fails and the “second to market” often learns from the failures of the first, to create a cheaper, better, faster version that ultimately becomes successful.  However, the 20 or so other players who stayed in the safe mature market simply emulating the leader, or making small incremental improvements over the prior version, rarely become cover page successes.

The bottom line is that it takes conviction, passion, nerve and just a little bit of insanity to step outside our comfort zones to take the risk.  However, once in a while, it is well worth it.  The following video is a humorous look at a real world example of leadership.  One person steps out from the crowd and makes a fool of himself.  After a while a few others decide to join him.  Finally, there is a tipping point where everyone wants to be a part of the action.  This is how most leaders start out.  Take a chance.  Think differently.  It may pay off!

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

—  Theodore Roosevelt

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Responses

  1. I think most people follow others because they believe its safe. They figure their competition is profitable, therefore if they just follow what their competition does then they can also be profitable on a smaller scale. I agree with you, it takes some serious guts to get out there and push your brand in a creative direction different from what the industry is expecting. Nice article on not playing it safe 🙂

  2. Marc,

    Agreed. It is difficult to step out of the crowd. Honestly, it is difficult for a good reason. Most/many people fail. However, if done correctly and successfully, the benefits are well worth it.

    – Kevin

  3. Kevin – what a great video! It says it all. Keep up the interesting blog postings.

  4. Like they say – a picture’s worth a thousand words – great post and point excellently illustrated!

  5. Absolutely! You are correct in that there is a lot of competition out there competing in the same market for the same (or similar) products or service.s In order to stand out and lead it DOES take courage, however, I believe that people will follow those who also have tenacity, ethics, integrity and an INSANE customer service mentality.

    What I see in my space are companies that do not set themselves apart, or “do the right thing”; it’s all about the numbers. While numbers are important, not at the expense of a long-standing business relationship. IMHO this is how it’s done.


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