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Peter Thiel is an investor, author, and co-founder of Paypal. In his bestselling book, Zero to One, he famously proclaims that “competition is for losers”. I love that line. When Thiel gives interviews, he says that unhappy companies are all the same because even if they are successful for a period of time, they eventually become demoralized by the daily stress of intense competition. Conversely, Theil says that happy companies are all different because each of them has discovered a way to provide a product or service that is extremely valuable – yet so unique that they have no real competition. Mega companies such as Google and Microsoft, as well as hundreds of smaller companies, have figured this out and have found a way to transcend the competitive business world. Companies such as Google that have quasi-monopolies are happier because they are free to think more creatively, build better products, and can focus more on the customer experience precisely because they don’t have to spend all of their time and money fighting price wars and struggling to retain their best employees from being lured away by ruthless competitors.
If you talk to one hundred CEOs, each one will tell you why their company is unique. But in reality, most companies, even successful ones, are only incrementally different from their competitors, and will ultimately be pushed to the brink of failure with their margins impelled to zero. I encourage owner-operators to think differently, in quantum terms. You must either own intellectual property or have a business secret that is 10 times better than anything on the market. I believe achieving this is possible in any field.
The Denver Nuggets won the NBA championship last week. Their star player, Nikola Jokić is a 6’11” Serbian national with below-average athletic skills. While most young players in the U.S. are working on their dunks, Jokić shoots, passes, and rebounds better than almost anyone in the league. Analysts are already calling him a once-in-a-generation big man, who has reinvented his position and perhaps the entire game of basketball. Jokić plays with the patience and temperament of someone who has figured out something about the game that nobody else seems to know. He has clearly spent thousands of hours improving his fundamental skills, but he appears to be miles ahead of everyone else in the way he breaks down the game intellectually. If you follow basketball, you probably know that point guards usually lead their teams in assists and are typically the smallest players on the court. However, Jokić has shown that a big man who can easily see over defenses is actually in a better position to pass the ball to a teammate in a scoring position. This innovative strategy will probably have general managers from around the league re-thinking the skills they look for in their big men. However, by the time the competition can find someone with Jokić’s unique skill set, the big man from Serbia will probably have five championship rings adorning his fingers. After he won the NBA championship and the finals MVP, Jokić was telling reporters that basketball is not the most important thing in his life and that he couldn’t wait to get back to Serbia to be with his family. While 99% of the players in the league will be spending their off-season working on their skills, trying to find the tiniest incremental advantage, Jokić will be in Serbia relaxing and enjoying long walks with his baby daughter. Nikola Jokić is happier because, with supreme innovation and thinking substantively different than anyone who came before him, he has found a way to transcend competition in one of the most competitive sports in the world.
With technology advancements such as AI, the business world will change forever and millions of jobs will disappear. The market will value innovation and original thinking more than ever, and only the most paranoid will survive. The happiest and most successful business people will be the ones who have figured out something that others haven’t even contemplated. Good Luck finding yours!