Competitive Advantage – A Great Reason to Be World Class

Recent article published in ‘Take Time’ Magazine (Issue 4, pages 6-7).

Competitive Advantage; A Great Reason to Be World Class.

Simon Hartley

Be World Class

When I talk about world class-ness, I am referring to those in the top handful on the planet in their field. In some fields, these people and organisations are pretty obvious to recognise. Some have Olympic medals, world rankings or world records? Some are world champions. Others have achieved recognition by gaining awards such as Nobel prizes, Turner prizes or through Michelin stars. In other domains it is more difficult. For example, how would you know the best accountancy firm, or the best bank, or the best legal practice on the planet? They aren’t likely to have a gold medal, a world championship or even a Michelin star. However, there are ways of distinguishing those who are at the very top of their field. Simply put, they better than everyone else.

Becoming world class is no mean feat. As a sport psychologist, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some exceptional athletes during the last 15 years. I have spent a great deal of time with gold medallists, championship winning teams, world record holders and top 5 ranked world players. Experience tells me that you cannot get to the very pinnacle of any field overnight. It doesn’t happen by accident. Often the journey to become world class in any field is tough. It requires many hours, a great deal of effort and often considerable expense. That’s why there are only a very few people that are world class in any field.

If the road to becoming world class is so tough, why would anyone bother? Some might say that it’s for the satisfaction of getting there and the knowledge that you are the best at what you do. However, in business, there is a far more pragmatic and commercial reason to be world class. Being world class offers you a considerable competitive advantage; a commodity that is becoming increasingly valuable. I am sure you are acutely aware of the need to differentiate yourselves from your competition. Although innovation is crucial, I believe that one of the most powerful ways to differentiate is simply to be better that everyone else! Those who are average are vulnerable these days. Size is no guarantee of survival or success. Most businesses are genuinely competing in a global marketplace. Therefore, being world class is a great strategy in business today.

Every high quality business invests in their people and works hard to develop them both professionally and personally. Your competitors will do those things. Most strive to create a culture that is always learning and constantly seeking to improve. Arguably, doing these things help you keep pace with the competition rather than helping you get ahead. If we do the same things as the competition, we’re unlikely to differentiate. So if everyone else is doing these things, what will make you different?

Understanding those things that differentiate world class people and organisations from the rest has intrigued me for years. It prompted me to interview a group of genuinely world class people from a very diverse range of disciplines. My rationale was simple. If there were characteristics that bind world class mountaineers, chefs, baristas, Olympic athletes, Special Forces personnel, adventure racers and leaders of world class organisations, those things are likely to apply to us all. Unsurprisingly, there are commonalities in the way that these people think, make decisions, approach challenges and set-backs, and how they perceive their world. They have a mind-set that separates them from their peers.

I am now very excited about sharing those findings with business leaders. Understanding those subtle but profound differences which separate world class people from the rest, helps us to further our own journey towards being world class.