Creative Competition

You can go head to head in a competition. But it can be better to be creative and come up with a new product or method that no one else has and possibly get a monopoly on it.

Fosbury Flop

A sports example is the Fosbury Flop. Dick Fosbury was a high jumper who came up with a new way of doing it. Up until that point everyone went facing the bar and threw their leg up and turned sideways and rolled over the bar. Although he started using it in 1965, everyone became aware of it when he won gold in the 1968 Olympics. No one could compete with him because they all used the older style that was less efficient. Now all high jumpers use the Fosbury Flop.

Post-It Notes – A Flop?

3M’s Post-It Notes has a similar story. It pays for companies to allow creativity and to take advantage of unintended consequences. A 3M researcher, Dr. Silver, was trying to create a super strong glue. Ironically, on one of his attempts he came up with a glue that wasn’t very sticky at all. It is called a low tack glue because it isn’t very tacky or sticky.

You may think that 3M immediately capitalized on this discovery but you would be wrong. No one could figure out what to do with it at first. In fact for five years, Dr. Silver kept talking about it at various company meetings. He felt like there was something worthwhile to be made with it but couldn’t figure out what.

A Light Bulb Goes Off But a Market Flop

Finally, another 3Mer, Art Fry, thought it would be great to use on a book mark so the bookmark wouldn’t fall out of the page it was supposed to be marking. So they came out with the first Post-It Note but it was called Press n Peel. It flopped in the few stores they tried it in because no one had ever heard of it and didn’t know what to do with it.

New Solution Results in Flip Flop

So they put on their thinking caps to come up with a solution. They did a test market in Boise, Idaho and instead of putting it in stores, they gave them direct to consumers to try out. Almost everyone liked them and said they would buy more. Thus, a product was born. It was relaunched as Post-It Notes and this time was a success.

Lessons Learned

There are several things to note in this story. First, Dr. Silver realized the failed glue had potential even though it didn’t have the properties he was looking for. He didn’t give up on it for years. Then when it initially flopped in the market, they didn’t give up on it, they figured out a different way to introduce it which was successful. And 3M was smart enough to allow its employees to work on side projects like this that were not part of the jobs they were doing day to day. They have created many new products this way, although few as successful as Post-It Notes.

So 3M got a unique product that was protected by patents and they basically had a monopoly on it for the life of the patent and had no competition. Much nicer than competing with another company and only having small margins because of that.

Go For It

This isn’t really about competition but can easily be applied to competition. It is a skiing story and is about our writer SJ. In fact, he will tell it.

At the time I was living in Boston and a group of friends and I went up to New Hampshire to go skiing. Don’t ask what ski slope because I don’t remember at this point. In any case, it was Ron, Jeff and Jeff’s little brother who was a hotshot skier. Ron and Jeff were average skiers so they headed off together and I went with the younger brother. We will call him Tom since I can’t remember his name offhand.

Mogul Run 1

We went down a couple of slopes to get warmed up and then decided to hit a slope with moguls. Tom went down a ways and then stopped and waited for me. My heart was in my throat a bit but I wasn’t going to be deterred. I started down the hill and did OK briefly but quickly had problems and fell. Tom waited patiently as I skied and fell down the slope.

Mogul Run 2

We went up to do it again. Tom told me and I had heard other people tell me that you need to attack the mountain and lean into it. Leaning downhill can be scary. The natural thing to do is lean back. But that lifts the tips and you lose control and you tend to go faster. If you are leaning forward, you can carve your turns and control yourself and slow down. Well, the second mogul run was almost as bad as the first.

Mogul Run 3

Tom begged off and said he was going to go try some other runs. I went back up for a third time. I was absolutely determined to lick this hill. This time I absolutely attacked the hill. Most people have heard athlete’s talk about the Zone. Well, I had the privilege of experiencing it. Everything seemed to slow down  and be super clear. I nailed the run, not falling once. What a feeling.

I then went in to meet everyone for lunch at the agreed time and place. We chatted and shared experiences but I didn’t say anything about my last run except I did better because I wanted to surprise Tom. After lunch I asked if he would do the mogul run again with me. You could see that he was not very excited but was polite and said yes.

Mogul Run 4

We got to the top and I told him to go first. He went down a bit and fell. As he was getting up, I blew past him, still in the Zone, and skiing like a bat out of hell. The look on his face was priceless.

Who are you competing with?

You might say I was competing with Tom, but not really, he was actually a better skier. I was competing with myself. Don’t focus on other people, focus on yourself and what you can do to get better. Only focus on other people to learn from them, not to grade yourself against them.

Welcome to Waterford Badminton

Welcome to our blog, Waterford Badminton. We will be talking about competition, from sports to business or wherever. Seems like a strange name. Waterford is kind of random, but badminton is not. Most people think badminton is a wimpy sport where you dink a birdie over the net. Wrong.

One of our writers went on a date to play squash. All the courts were filled, so while they were waiting she suggested they play badminton because the court was free. She ran his ass off. The official net isn’t as high as most people set it up so you can drive the birdie and not dink it. Turns out she was on the varsity badminton team in college. When they then went to play squash it actually seemed slow compared to badminton. It was then that he realized that any sport played well is really difficult and requires a lot of skill even if it at first seems silly and simple.

So here is to the world of competition and performing at high levels.