Distinctive Competence or Nothing

By Pragmatic Institute August 09, 2007

In Living on the Fault Line, Geoff Moore argues that time is limited and money is abundant. Think about that: we have myriad sources of capital for the company's ideas but have only a few hours each day to execute these ideas. Developers, executives, managers, sales people and others are all in high demand in our industry. Our time is precious. (And money is not.)

Yet too many companies operate as if the reverse is true. We hoard money and squander time.

We have too many projects, attend too many internal meetings, take too many phone calls, and answer too many emails. All of which prevent us from doing something meaningful with our limited time. How many times have you been in a meeting with others in your company and wondered, 'Why are we here? Why are we not calling customers instead?' Most meetings are a complete waste of time because they focus on internal situations (or focus on not suffering political loss). I prefer to cancel all meetings that are inwardly focused. I've been known to stand up in the middle of a meeting to announce that 'I don't need to be here' and then leave. How often do we let courtesy waste a precious hour that we could use productively elsewhere?

But what meetings should I attend? What projects are important? How do I know which is a waste of time and which is critical to the company?

The answer is: What is your distinctive competence?

What is your company's unique ability to deliver value to a customer? Without knowing our distinctive competence, we are unable to deliver differentiated products to the market. Without distinctive competence, we don't know if should open a restaurant or a gas station.

Why should the customer buy from you instead of your competitor? Perhaps your competitor is the leader. If so, the customer feels safety in your competitor's market strength. Perhaps your competitor is a startup; the customer might feel satisfaction to get the latest technology from a new and nimble player.

What is your distinctive competence?

Jack Trout said it simply; he titled an entire book Differentiate or Die.

Distinctive Competence tells us what business to pursue and what to outsource. Do you host your own web site? Why? There are many reputable web hosting services that run hosting as a business, not a cost center. The content is important but where the contents reside is not. Do you process your own payroll? Why? It's probably not your distinctive competence. It is the distinctive competence of the payroll processing companies. They have the skills and the experience. You don't. So you squander precious management attention (time) on something you don't really care about--on something your customers do not care about.

Answer the question: What is our distinctive competence? It will tell you what business functions to own and which to outsource, which meetings to attend and which to ignore, which products to build and which to buy.


Learn more about Distinctive Competence at Pragmatic Institute's Focus.

Categories: Leadership
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