The idea for this piece took shape during a catch up chat with my friend last week in Perth. We were talking about a recent discussion of his where he’d asked “what are you best in the world at?”.
The question has become somewhat of a business standard thanks to the book Good to Great by Jim Collins and the concept of the hedgehog. In the book Jim notes:
“Every company would like to be the best at something, but few actually understand – will piercing and egoless clarity – what they actually have the potential to be the best at and, just as important, what they cannot be the best at.”
But unless you’re a global behemoth it can seem like an unrealistic concept. For the majority of small businesses the idea of ‘best in the world’ conjures up a gorilla-sized impossibility.
Yet with a small tweak the idea becomes attainable – best in ‘the world’ could be more accurately stated as ‘best in your world’. It’s a small change that makes a world of difference.
To clarify, Collins tells a story about an office building in Boulder, Colorado, he described as best in the world. No detail was too small for the guy who runs the building. He had the skill and the passion to bring what he cared about to life.
The building was beautifully renovated and maintained. He took the time to get to know the businesses that occupied it. He ran events that might interest the occupants and was always on hand in his offices for coffee and a chat.
Were there other best office buildings in other parts of the world? Probably, but this guy was distinctive. He was ‘best in his world’ – the world of offices in Colorado.
A couple of weeks ago I referenced Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. It’s a terrific title and alludes to the same concept with the benefit of no geographical constraint.
“Be so good they can’t ignore you” was first said by Steve Martin when asked how to succeed in the brutal world of stand-up comedy.
Both ‘best in the world’ and “so good they can’t ignore you” tackle the same question, a question that has bedevilled organisations for generations. I don’t know what your “best/so good” answer will be, but I believe identity is a place to start.
What you care about (purpose) and what you believe (values) sits at the very foundation of any answer. The only way you’ll invest the kind of attention needed to be the best in your world is when you’re doing it for something you care about.
It doesn’t have to be global or game changing. It can be world-changing for your world. The guy who ran the offices really cared about the building his offices were in and the people who occupied them. And it showed. It made him best in his world, with a robust resilient brand as a result.
This is an edited version of a story that appeared on SmartCompany. Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.