The Big Idea: Outsmarting The Competition

Peninsula Team

April 27 2012

I’m a business book junkie. Not necessarily the highfalutin strategy type MBA books - although they have their place, of course – but I love the more accessible ones where you can quickly get some new ideas and tips to take away and put into practice.

I also hoover up biographies of business leaders for the same reason, scribbling down notes as I go and learning why they made such a success of their careers. The beauty of my latest gadget passion – the Amazon Kindle – is that you don’t need to lug heavy tomes around with you, but can dip in and out of as many books as you like, whenever you like, and order more and more at the click of a button. Dangerously addictive - but then again, you can never read enough.

A few hours spent learning about someone else’s approach or world view and I find I come away refreshed and full of new ideas for my own business and sometimes even my own life.

So I thought I’d spend the next few Big Ideas stealing other people’s Big Ideas – or more precisely and less plagiaristically, summarising them – and sharing with you some of my favourite reads and what I’ve taken from them.

A recent read was by an American business guru Jim Champy called “Outsmart!” which, whilst not available in the UK, you can get in hard copy from or download directly to an e-reader. Champy is Chairman of Perot Systems’ consulting practice in the US and their head of strategy. Despite such fearsome credentials, he writes in an incredibly accessible manner comprehensible to the layman and gives top tips and guidelines that are relevant to every business and every industry.

Rather than taking case studies from very well-known, global businesses as so many business gurus do, Champy looks at real, sometimes small town, entrepreneurial success stories and analyses why they’ve outsmarted their competition.

After outlining the story of the company, he then talks through what they did well, where they went wrong, how they learnt from mistakes along the way and what the main differentiating features are of each company, which has allowed them to outsmart their rivals. Absolutely none of this is rocket science and sometimes it even feels like Champy is stating the blindingly obvious.

But that’s exactly why I like this book so much. It reminds us that so much of business is not rocket science but generally about getting the basics right, time after time. It’s about innovating and moving, it’s about vigilance and fundamentally it’s about hard work. By analysing these relatively small but very successful businesses in such detail, Champy helps us to focus on what’s really important and what really will work for our own enterprises.

Some of the areas Champy covers are:

Compete by seeing what others don’t
– spot gaps in the market and find ways to bridge them
Compete by thinking outside the bubble – challenge stereotypes and dated practices to create an entirely new business area where there’s a real need
Compete by using all you know – reinventing an ageing business, making the most of your existing skills and talent base and reinvigorating a tiring workforce and brand.
Compete by changing your frame of reference – keep looking beyond your immediate world to see where else your company could develop, spot new trends and don’t be afraid to move in a different direction if that where’s the market’s moving.
Compete by doing everything yourself – find out what you’re really good at, what makes you distinctive, and how to get and retain the best people so you can keep what you need to in-house and maintain your standards.
Compete by tapping into the success of others – how one company piggy-backed on the success of another, having spotted a gap in what the larger company were making to make a huge success of their own associated product.
Compete by creating order out of chaos – how you can hone your own special resources and skill sets to bring new order to chaotic, dysfunctional or fragmented industries.
Compete by simplifying complexity – how it’s possible to use straight-thinking, a new approach and technology to challenge and streamline supply issues and create new business opportunities.

The other thing I really like about this book, as well as its simplicity, logic and accessibility, is its layout. Along each chapter there are sidebar notes with quotes and comments which make it very easy to dip in and out of and just learn from very quickly. With thoughts from Darwin to Drucker, Champy certainly takes you on an interesting, eclectic and varied journey in his book whilst never lurching into a preachy or overly academic tone. And the summaries at the end of each chapter are brilliant refreshers to remind you of the key points to take away from each case study.

Highly recommended and highly readable, Champy’s book is available from or downloadable on e-readers. Jim Champy – “Outsmart! How to do what your competitors can’t.”

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