David Young, in his Branding Blog, takes issue with the suggestion that small start-ups can learn the most from their competitiors by hanging out with them at the places they “schmooze,” like industry trade shows. In this post, titled, “When you seek differentiation and innovation, don’t expect to find it by sniffing around at your competitors,” David writes:
Don’t expect to find ideas for innovation or differentiation from people who are attempting to do the same thing as you. If you copy from them, are you differentiating? No. Are you likely to get fresh ideas? No. The best you can hope for is for some ideas on processes and practices that might make you more efficient. But, ideas to make you stand apart from your competition? Forget it. They won’t be shared.
You’d be much better off seeking the convention of an entirely different industry that shares some characteristics with your own. If you’re a chiropractor, look for a service industry that shares some characteristics with yours. How about a plumber’s convention? We only call plumbers (and chiropractors) when we need them. Most of the time we need to see them right away. And the plumbers will be delighted to share information with you, because you are NOT a competitor.
Henry Ford did not get the idea for the assembly line from visiting with other automobile manufacturers. He visited a meat processing facility and witnessed an un-assembly line.
David’s final piece of advice:
If you’re a small, entrepreneurial business looking to differentiate yourself from the competition, focus on the ONE asset you have that NONE of your competitors have: YOU! Do YOUR best. Be the greatest YOU can be. And, make sure your customers know that you care about them. Let the butt-sniffing dogs have their meetings.
I think David’s advice is right on. Model your practice on your competitors’ if you want to work just like they do. If you want to grow and innovate, look outside of the legal profession to find out what others are doing well. Who is the most successful accountant in your town? What is the most popular restaurant? Who runs that little store you love to shop in? Take them to lunch. Learn from them. They will be willing to share their secrets of success with you and may even end up hiring you as their attorney.