You don’t win by being on a par with the competition, but by being the competition.

Maybe the most sinister of all rules we encounter is the body bag full of social mores that translate into what is called “peer pressure.” No set of control sticks are more imbedded in the pantheon of rules that are intended to assume power over our potential than “peer group pressure” rules.

The homogenizing pressure to be like others starts almost as soon as we are able to recognize that we have peers in this world. We see kids who dress alike, talk alike, eat the same food, and smoke the same (whatever) because there’s peer pressure to be “part of the crowd.”

In a peer group, success is defined by mediocrity. By following peer pressure rules, the lowest common denominator, rather than the highest measure of achievement, becomes the benchmark for performance since (as the quote goes) “mediocre minds usually dismiss anything that reaches beyond their own understanding.

It amazes me to see this idea so prevalent in business today. Companies and management are obsessed with comparing themselves to others. The result of such endless and idiotic comparisons is to foster a despicable uniformity within the marketplace that often leads to bad decisions and the death of many businesses. Everyone looks the same, acts the same and does the same. Businesses become a “herd of crowds” and no one knows whether the herd or the crowd is doing the right thing or the wrong thing because everyone is doing the same thing.

It’s always good to know what your competition is doing, but that’s so you can beat their brains out – not for judging the effectiveness of your own performance. Trying to determine what you should be doing by shadowing what others are doing is a bad idea. Instead, measure yourself based upon your own accomplishments and those of your company. Winners create their own peer pressure by constantly improving over past performance. Forget what others are doing. Cheat on peer group rules by asking this question: Are we better off today than we were last year? Does this seem too simple? It’s not. It’s the type of peer pressure that can’t be manipulated and is the honest kind of peer pressure to motivate you. It’s you against you.

I understand the argument made by the “management gurus” that it is foolish to be blind to the competition. I am not suggesting that we operate in a vacuum – but close to it. Understand that you have to make decisions and take actions based on your resources, capabilities and experiences – not those of your competitors.

Traditional rules tell us to learn from the leader. Learning from the leader means you always follow the leader. These peer group rules are in place – at all levels of application – to keep the leaders leading and the followers following. To have any chance of surpassing the peer group requires exhibiting the audacity to cheat on the peer group rules and be as different from these companies as they are trying to be like each other. In effect, we have to make these companies compete against us.

Let me reiterate. It’s important to be aware of what your competition is doing, if for no other reason than to avoid some of their stupid mistakes. Just make sure to observe your competition with a jaundiced eye so as not to be pressured into doing the wrong thing simply because others are doing it. The ultimate effect of following peer group pressure is to inhibit your ability to exceed group performance. This can lead to an even greater disaster – and that is to follow the peer group into disaster. Peer group pressure is a quicksand for suckers. Get lured into that quagmire and you’ll get sucked down.

The way to avoid the trap is to become your own peer pressure. It takes a certain amount of courage (or arrogance) to say, “I do not care what the rest of the companies are doing. I know we are doing the right thing and we are going to keep doing the right thing.” In the end, you have to believe that doing the right thing is going to work.

Ultimate winning is not being intimidated or pressured; it’s knowing the right thing to do, being willing to do the right thing, and sticking with it even when your are getting beat up as others seem to be advancing faster than you. Be strong enough to recognize that the best path for you is to do what you do best; if you try to copy what others do – especially when they are not doing the right thing – you will end up losing anyway. If you are going to lose, lose doing what you know is the right think to do.

C.C. Colton, the fellow who coined the familiar saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” got it half-right. If someone is doing something that is successful, everyone runs in and copies it. I’m all for imitation, as long as the other guy is the one doing the imitating. In other words, the key to sustained winning is not to run in and copy the products of others or to chase them in the marketplace, but to create a new and different marketplace.

And the moral of the story is …

When you’re in business the easiest and yet the hardest thing is to do is the right thing. And that means keeping your own counsel. Be a congenitally bad listener when it comes to comparing your business to others. If you have studied your market, considered what is right and what is wrong, if you have put all the major players in your business scenario on a parallel course, then the easiest thing is to do the right thing – not the same thing. But you have to have the patience to believe in yourself. A lot of people do not know what the right thing is; the right thing sometimes takes time to play out. Compare the progress you make with your potential and effort. If you do so, soon you will be the comparison by which others compare themselves. You will have defeated peer pressure by creating peer pressure for others.    Send article as PDF   

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