Why trying to be the best … competing like crazy … makes you mediocre
Every few years a book—through a combination of the author’s unique voice, storytelling ability, wit, and insight—simply breaks the mold. Bill Bryson’s A Walk inthe Woods is one example. Richard Feynman’s “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is another.
Now comes Youngme Moon’s Different, a bookfor “people who don’t read business books.” Actually, it’s more like a personal conversation with a friend who has thought deeply about how the world works … and who gets you to see that world in a completely new light.
If there is one strain of conventional wisdom pervading every company in every industry, it’s the absolute importance of “competing like crazy.” Youngme Moon’s message is simply “Get off this treadmill that’s taking you nowhere. Going tit for tat and adding features, augmentations, and gimmicks to beat the competition has the perverse result of making you like everyone else.” Different provides a highly original perspective on what it means to offer something that is meaningfully different—different in a manner that is both fundamental and comprehensive.
Youngme Moon identifies the outliers, the mavericks, the iconoclasts—the players who have thoughtfully rejected orthodoxy in favor of an approach that is more adventurous. Some are even “hostile,” almost daring you to buy what they are selling. The MINI Cooper was launched with fearless abandon: “Worried that this car is too small? Look here. It’s even smaller than you think.”
These are players that strike a genuine chord with even the most jaded consumers. In fact, almost every success story of the past two decades has been an exception to the rule. Simply go to your computer and compare AOL and Yahoo! with Google. The former pile on feature upon feature to their home pages, while Google is like an austere boutique, dominating a category filled with “extras.”
Different shows how to succeed in a world where conformity reigns…but exceptions rule.
“...to give a bullet-point summation of takeaways is to deny the real value of this lovely book.”--Harvard Business Review
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Youngme Moon is the Donald K. David Professor at Harvard Business School. One of HBS’s most popular teachers, Dr. Moon has received the Student Association Faculty Award for teaching excellence on multiple occasions. Dr. Moon’s research focuses on innovative consumer-marketing strategies and her work has been published widely, including in Harvard Business Review.
I have an MBA from Harvard Business School, and to be perfectly honest, I think it was one of the biggest wastes of my time and money. I regularly discourage people from going to business school, telling them that they'll make more "connections" in 2 good years of work in a reputable company, and that anything they NEED to know will be a fraction of what is taught, and is available in categorical business books.
There's one exception to my education at HBS - the part I don't think was a waste. It was the Consumer Marketing class I took with Youngme in my second year.
I am not a marketing person. I have tended to work for technology/internet companies and have a technical/math background. First year Marketing at HBS opened my eyes to the fact that marketing was more than just advertising fluff, but it was Youngme (second year) who really taught me things that I regularly use today to both see the world and shape the products I manage.
I remember when she was able to tell us - *4 YEARS BEFORE THE IPHONE CAME OUT* that the ipod was obviously a stealth way for Apple to get back into the smartphone business after their brand disaster with the Newton. That if they came out with anything that seemed like they were entering the smartphone business, there would be too much baggage. I went back and told my friends (outside of school) "The ipod is Apple's entry into the phone business!!!" and they all thought I was nuts. Apple was too pure for that. Well of course, she was right and in hindsight it seems obvious (but go back and ask people in 2003/2004 what they thought and it wasn't so obvious then ...). The reason I bring this particular example up is because from then on I was able to look at how a company introduced a product and understand what the fundamental strategy might really be, and also how I could understand market dynamics to position a product.
Anyway, by far, Youngme Moon's CoMa class was my favorite class at HBS and the ones where I learned the most. So what does that say about this book? Well, I'll say for one thing, I found a lot of what was in this book to be redundant to what I had learned in her class. I'll consider that a plus for everyone who didn't waste $200k and 2 years on an HBS degree. Read this book and you'll learn pretty much everything (and in some areas a little more and in some a little less) that I learned from my HBS education.
fwiw - I'm not a hater of HBS. If you need it to get ahead in consulting or private equity or investment banking or to switch careers, go ahead. But as far as what I found to be valuable learnings, I'm really not kidding when I say that it's all in this book.
It will change the way you see the world. It will change the way you see markets. It will change the way you see companies. And ... By Example: It will teach you how the market is likely to see you. It will teach you how to position yourself in the market. It will teach you how to play to your strengths.
It's also an easy read - the chapters are well organized and insights are quick and intuitive once you're led to them. I think this is an important point - business books are often a pain to read because they tend to be dense and say in 10 paragraphs what could have been conveyed in 2. This is a fun and easy read that will leave you thinking about the world ... well ... differently.Read more ›
Youngme Moon is not only one of the most popular professors at Harvard Business School and the recipient of the student association award for teaching excellence, she has insights into business and life that are unlike anything I've ever experienced. She is the author of Different, the new book called that will blow you away.
Differentmay well break into the business vernacular as powerfully as Jim Collins' Good to Great and Built to Last and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Outliers. Her insights are just as powerful and counter-intuitive and her storytelling and language are breathtaking. What I love about Different is that it's like two books interwoven into one coherent narrative. One is a brisk marketing strategy volume that any CEO and marketing officer should read if they want to understand, perhaps for the first time, why despite their best efforts and 24x7 pace they often feel that are running so hard just to stay in place. The second book, though, is interlaced throughout, and is for me personally, even more impactful. Youngme offers the clearest explanation I've seen of the world we live in and why we often feel numb by all the dazzling technology, abundance, and utter convenience with which we find ourselves. Or why, as parents it's hard to understand how it is that our kids don't appreciate "how lucky they are." Youngme says aptly that Different is "a book for people who don't read business books."
Here are just a few of the gems offered up in Different:
* There will always be a place for brands, or people, or things that are hard to come by. "Restraint," she writes, "can be the new desire." Value is created by being mindful of what we have in abundance and then offering something that is scarce. She implores businesses to offer a break from that which is profuse.
* Apple, Harley Davidson, and other iconic brands lack internal consistency, which is what gives them such resonance. "They defy reductionist logic," she explains, "the same way as we do, the way our own internal lives are marked by multiple and contradictory truths that clash and combine, creating asymmetries in every direction."
* Human behavior is complicated and studying or writing about it doesn't make it any less so. The "truth" can be elusive. "People are hungry for familiarity. No, sometimes they're starved for change. Yes, people are impatient for progress; no wait, sometimes they yearn for the simplicity of the past. Yes, people are desirous of more, no wait a minute, what they actually want is less."
* Monotony can be just as sapping as over-exertion. "The secret to cheating old age," she quotes one of the subjects in her book, "is to stay a moving target." Stillness seems to have the effect of easing the senses until it dulls them. We need some stability and motion. "We need activity to help us feel our synapses firing again."
Youngme Moon's Different will show you how differentiation is much more than a marketing tactic, it is a way of thinking. It is a fundamental mind-set and a way of living that derives from respecting, observing, and absorbing people and the world around you.Read more ›
The core concept of Different, that unfocused and short-sighted competition breeds sameness that ultimately hurts all parties involved, is so elegantly simple that it's easy to take Youngme Moon's work for granted. Different is very approachable and written in a colloquial manner instead of what might be expected in a traditional business text, and thus appeals to a broad audience. It assumes very little about the reader's business knowledge and instead relies on familiar brands such as Harley Davidson, IKEA, Red Bull, etc. to drive the point. Even if some of the brands are unfamiliar, Youngme is very good at identifying particular traits and extracting a brand's essence. For me, one of the most compelling comparisons was the parallel between companies deadlocked in competition and the autonomous self-organizing and directional behavior of migrating birds.
From the beginning, the author says that Different is the start of a conversation and not a how-to. It is successful from that perspective, but at the same time, since it never really gets in-depth, I found myself unsatisfied and wanting more. Each of the discussed brands justifies its own in-depth analysis, and Different only really scratches the surface. While the Harvard Business School case study numbers are provided for further reading and these reports do go in depth, they are not free.
I decided to buy this book after reading about it and watching the animated trailer. I honestly learned a lot and thought the fresh take on brands I was already familiar with was intriguing. I also appreciated the advice about how to nurture the creative process. When I finished though, I couldn't help feeling a bit frustrated because the book principally revolved around marketing to consumers and generally forgoes traditional analysis and avoids discussion of branding failures. I think the scope is too narrow and that the book is of only limited value to those already combating hyper-maturity. As it stands, I enjoyed the book and learned something, but wish Different was more substantial.Read more ›