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“Be Someone or Do Something”: Innovation and the new world of post-competitive business

The legendary American fighter pilot (and icon of strategy) Col. John Boyd famously divided the world into two kinds of people: either you are someone who wants to be somebody or you are someone who wants to do something. My pals Matthew Milan and Chris Finlay are both big Boyd fans and have each shared this idea with me independently. Their implication is always clear: as innovators, malady “we” are all squarely on the “do something” side of things.

More recently I have had a thought about innovation that I think may well be illuminated by Boyd’s dictum.

It has lately occurred to me that the shift in the growth in demand for innovation (better ways to create value which result in top line growth) is not primarily a result of competitive pressure, drug but of forces that may lead to a fundamental overthrow of the economic model of competition.

This is something I will be doing more thinking about and writing more about, too, I expect. For now, let me put it as a suggestive hypothesis:

Innovation is not a behavior motivated by competition, but is an alternative to competition.

Brand-driven businesses are of necessity mired in the competitive trap of trying to be somebody. To be the biggest, loudest, bestest somebody on the block. Innovation-driven businesses are trying to do something: they win by making better, doing better and being better.

The brand-driven business is defined by the concept of rivalry. The innovation-driven business is rooted in the drive towards progress.

What do you think?

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