Designing over the competition

What industries are analogous to ours, and what can we learn from them?

No matter what business we are in, we are all fighting essentially the same fight—designing a product that a customer will prefer over that of our competitor. To do this, we need to constantly be aware of how our business environment is evolving, how our customers are changing, and what we need to modify in order to keep our product relevant and desirable.

If you’re in the business of making widgets, don’t just look to other widget makers to get a sense of how you are faring in the global business space. Look at other businesses that have similar key elements in common with you. I find the airline industry endlessly fascinating. It, like the tech industry, has gradually found ways to make its core products less expensive and more accessible to the general public. However, in return, their customers have had to accept a vast reduction in services and expectations. It’s an interesting seesaw between what the customer truly wants and what they are willing to give up in order to get it. In the center are the core essentials: a safe, convenient flight at a low fare. Everything else falls away in relevance as long as the core criteria are met. What are the fundamentals that have to be in place in order to maintain an ongoing and happy relationship between you and your customer?

Suppose you were the head of operations at a megachurch. Perhaps Chicago’s Willow Creek, or Joel Osteen’s church in Houston. Osteen’s church seats almost 16,000 people, and runs four worship services plus various meeting groups every Sunday, which means that there are up to 64,000 people—and the cars they are driving—coming in and out of the church parking lot in one day. The sheer number of congregants means that the odds of getting into fender-benders, gridlock, and potentially dangerous traffic in the church’s parking lot increases as one congregation departs and the next one arrives. So what do you do? Where do you go to learn the mechanics of moving that number of vehicles, and that number of human beings, in an efficient and safe manner?

If you’re serious about solving this problem, you go to the Disney Academy at Disney World. Now, entertaining legions of small children with animatronic animals and teacup rides doesn’t have much in common with preaching about God. But sixty years of crowd management has made Disney operations the undisputed champion of event control and coordination. By working with Disney, these churches could learn a few things about integrating their system of traffic flow and parking. Fender-benders would go down, customer satisfaction would go up, and everybody would be happy.

 

Sparking Points

  • What industries or businesses that are unrelated to yours are dealing with issues similar to yours? For example, issues of production, customer segments, or marketing.
  • What are the lessons learned in terms of the push and pull between where those businesses are succeeding and where they are failing?
  • What are some nonbusiness examples with similar issues to yours (such as foreign governments or a nongovernment agency like the Red Cross)?
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