An idea like the following should be enough to convince anyone that Seth Godin is a particularly astute observer of what’s what and what isn’t:
“The folks who invented the Mini (or the Hummer, for that matter) didn’t benchmark their way to the cutting edge. Comparisons to other cars would never have brought about these fashionable exceptions. What really works is not having every little thing be up to the usual standards—what works is everything being good enough, and one or two elements of a product or service being amazing.”
I must admit that I had to read that passage more than once to realize that he’s absolutely correct. Getting everything right is sufficient. But it isn’t the recipe for what really makes someone want to buy or have something. You don’t create zealots for products by just filling in the Excel fields correctly. There has to be something special about the product. And the examples of the Mini and the Hummer are exactly appropriate examples. The Mini has rear seat leg room that’s appropriate for no one other than infants in car seats. The Hummer—certainly those other than the H3 models—is about as aerodynamic as a brick and consequently not what you’d consider to be “fuel efficient” unless you own your own refinery. Both of these products are the sort of thing that people talk about, and having remarkable products is one of the things that Godin has been promoting in his books, including his latest, Small Is the New Big.
Or consider this one:
“The reason Carly Fiorina had so much trouble at Hewlett-Packard is that HP was competing too hard with Dell. If you’re going to be the standard, you need to be boring. If you’re boring, you’ve got to be cheap. Cheap and standard is what Dell does best, and I don’t see how you can beat them at that game.
“As the choices available to businesses and consumers become increasingly clear and easily comparable, you’ve got to either be different. . .or cheaper. You will fail if you try to do both—or neither.”
The question that companies need to ask themselves—whether they’re making computers or cars or camshafts—is what they are doing to be sufficiently different to the market so that they’ll be more valuable in the market. Does anyone think that it is possible, for example, to compete with a Chinese manufacturer on a commodity product (even one that may not be boring)?
At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, the fact is, the status quo isn’t what it used to be. Godin can provide the necessary nudges—or full-contact body-blows—that can help move you to where it’s going before it gets there.—GSV