Successwise, you’re better off being good at two complementary skills than being excellent at one. – Scott Adams
In my last post I wrote about the difference between being really good at one thing versus making things happen.
I want to continue on that theme today and see if we can make some progress towards understanding how to make something valuable happen.
The difference between creation and value
I was talking to one of the small people in the house the other day about the difference between creating something and producing something.
There are lots of things you can create – and kids do a lot of that kind of stuff.
Or they used to, when they still went to school.
They’d come back with clay creations, monstrous little dumpy blobs studded with stones and toothpicks.
Of course, no one would buy them or want them to keep.
Even as parents, looking proudly at what they’ve made, we probably would keep a few for the sentimental value but in general most of them will have to go.
The point I’m driving at is that value mostly depends on what other people think about what you create.
Anybody can “create” something – you could create a toy out of the mud in your garden.
But, that thing you make starts to get valuable when someone else thinks it is.
And the idea I was floating with the small person is that creating is open ended – you could go anywhere with it.
But producing is about getting a result, making something happen or making something new.
And the question we’re trying to answer is how do we make that something that we make valuable in the eyes of someone else.
Building value by layering qualities
One way to create value is by being the best at the world at the thing you do.
Or, in any case, being seen as the best out there.
This is the principle behind Google, being first to market and “blowing up” on social media.
Winners take everything in these situations.
But, almost by definition, there can only be a few people or businesses up there at the top, and being in the right place at the right time with a heavy dose of luck plays a big part in getting there.
For the rest of us success is more likely through a simpler and more achievable strategy.
And that’s layering.
For example, let’s say your business is producing videos for other businesses.
If you’re a person with a camera and editing software and access to stock footage – then you’ve made a start.
You could probably pitch for work and get a few gigs, set up a profitable business.
Now, in a Covid 19 world, everyone needs to move to digital marketing – we’re seeing an explosion in home videos from smaller businesses – as tradespeople and personal service businesses realise that they can no longer go out there to knock on doors, sit in living rooms and talk business.
Everyone needs video.
And they’re going to start with a DIY approach.
They’ll use the cameras they have, free or cheap software and little editing.
But eventually, if they do enough, they’ll get better – they’ll start adding animations, transitions, maybe start using some stock footage.
What makes you different from those DIYers?
Well, to start making that difference more visible, you have to tell us about what you do and how the combination of all that creates value.
There’s your experience, of course, your portfolio.
The tips and tricks you’ve learned over your career.
Your ability to craft engaging, compelling storylines.
Your access to a library of curated content material you’ve filmed yourself that you can use in client projects.
The investments you’ve made in high quality cameras and lighting that let you create cinematic style videos with depth of focus.
The automation you’ve put in place to speed up your workflow.
The way you’ve created a proposition that reduces costs for the customer even when compared to DIY.
What? You’ve done some of those things but not all of them, or much much more?
Well, that’s the difference then.
If you do one thing, like point a camera and shoot – everyone with a smart phone can compete with you.
But, when you start doing a few more things, the number of people competing with you falls off dramatically.
It doesn’t take many – in the case of Scott Adams, he’s taken elements that many people can do to some extent.
He draws pictures, and tells stories. About engineering.
And those three circles, when overlapped, created Dilbert – a one of a kind comic series.
And when you start looking you’ll recognise this everywhere.
The people you see on social media putting out content are doing what they do for their core business and one more thing – creating relevant content.
And so, they stand out.
You could do it too, but the vast majority of people don’t.
And so they miss out on an opportunity to create value in the eyes of others.
Making value defensible
One of the things people worry about is what if they do all this and someone copies their idea or business.
This is less of a problem than you might think.
Usually, when someone copies something, they copy one element of it.
If your business is all about that one element then you’re going to have a problem.
But if you’ve layered enough things to create something of value, then it gets harder to take away.
Of course, it’s best when you actually have a barrier to entry – and the best one is a monopoly.
The best example of this is creating content, writing a book or making a video.
That material is protected by copyright – no one else can use it without your permission.
You have a monopoly on its use.
The only way people can take it is by stealing it.
And these days the best defence against that is to drop your protections – give away stuff for free on your website and add value – make it easier for people who want to buy your stuff to get it through other means.
For example, Shawn Coyne created the Story Grid method and I read his stuff for ages on his website – where he told you that you could find much of the stuff in his book.
And eventually I ordered his book because it added value by setting out the material in an easy to read form and in a physical package that I could put on a shelf.
If you don’t have a monopoly the next best thing is to dominate the space, be first to market, be the largest in there, have the most material.
Be the best.
And as we’ve already worked out only a few people get there.
And then, third on the list, is to build value by layering things anyone could do but where few people do all at the same time.
Create combinations of activities that create something people want and do it faster and cheaper than they can get elsewhere.
This is the thinking behind Lean and the Toyota Production System – the kind of approach behind the Japanese economic engine.
Strip out waste from your processes, make things flow better.
It is possible to make thing that last for longer, use better materials and which are cheaper than other options.
You can have quality, deliver fast and reduce costs.
Or at least, some people can, and those people will start to capture market share.
Start thinking in terms of production
The thing to take away from this section is that you should go from thinking about what you create to thinking about how you produce something.
Production is about the process, the steps that take you from start to finish, to the point where you hand something over to someone else.
And you can add value throughout that production line – by adding things that make it better and taking out waste.
Each item you add or subtract sets you further apart from the people who don’t do those things, and it’s amazing how quickly you can start to differentiate between what you do and what others do.
And if what you do is what people want, then you’re on your way to getting started.
It seems simple but it will require time and experimentation on your part to get the mix right for you.
You have to draw the circles that match your situation, your skills, your approach, to get something that’s unique and different about your proposition.
If you just copy what someone else does – they will always be better – because they were first, because they do more, because they’re already well known.
You have to do something that sets you apart even from the people that first inspired and drove you to have a go at your thing.
And once you’ve figured out what those things are, then you need to focus your attention on doing more of them until you do stand out.
We’ll explore some of those ideas in subsequent posts.