February 18, 2020 /
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Be like Mike, or Obama

When are we personally successful? Do we have to be like the titans, like Obama, Jordan, Microsoft, Amazon? What do I benchmark my comparatively small mystery shopping company against?

When is our business a success?

What should we measure ourselves against?
“Be Like Mike” became a meme after it first appeared as a Gatorade commercial in 1992. See it here.

The aspirational ad tried to link drinking Gatorade to being like Michael Jordan, one of the best athletes to have lived.

  • We try to do the same in business.
  • What are my competitors doing?
  • What’s happening in other industries? What is the best salesperson doing?

All the while, we ignore the main metric, the internal one.

External measurements

Any external comparison is a comparison of apples and oranges.

When comparing to anything external, we need to ask:

  • Do we have different time horizons?
  • Do we have historical impediments?
  • Do we have different customers?
  • Do we have the same innate skills? (I can’t jump)
  • Do we have the same exit/end point?

There are hundreds of questions we could ask. So why compare?

The benchmark cannot be external because all external things are ultimately uncontrollable.

We can’t control the ultimate attainment of externalities, regardless of how hard we work. I know I can’t.

  • An Olympic sprinter all of a sudden pulls a hamstring.
  • A puff of wind blows an arrow off course.
  • Politicians could change a law that decimates my core business.

Admiration

I admire behaviour of a skilled politician staying calm under a barrage of questions in the middle of a scandal. 

I don’t aspire to be that person because I’m sure they’ve got their own dark spaces and I don’t know anything about their lives. But I can aspire to certain behaviours that are an indicator of a higher level.

Be like Obama?

It’s not about the person. I don’t want to be like Obama but I ‘do’ want to be as calm as him under pressure or to be able to speak like him regardless of political persuasion.

I’d like to be able to give a keynote like Obama, but Obama does Obama. Even if we were equally skilled (and we are not), he will get paid $1,000,000.00 to my $3,000.00.  He also has history. He’s one of the 4 living ex-Presidents in the world. I can never be that.

All I can do is take those aspirational people to be my personal guides, but I should never measure myself against them.

I may want to speak like Obama but I’ll never measure myself against him. I’m doomed to fail. But it can make me better. And if I do my best within my set of skills, then all the better.

We know nothing about others

I must be content with my best and the tranquility that derives from it.
The same occurs in business measurement and benchmarking. You know nothing about the other company.

Someone outperformed you last year? So what? You know nothing about their time horizon.

Microsoft didn’t pay its first dividend until 2019. As of 2020 Amazon still had not paid a dividend, nor Tesla.

So if you measured on dividends, they’d be massive losers. But they are building for the long term (hardly losers).

Ferrari DNA

Enzo Ferrari started selling cars to finance his racing team. His two parts factories were bombed during the war, so his Accountants begged him to start selling street carts to fund the racing team. He reluctantly obliged.

The company was created with a very different purpose to others, and that lives on today in their Mission statement.

We build cars, symbols of Italian excellence the world over, and we do so to win on both road and track

Ferrari mission statement

No car company can compare to that. Admire them? Sure. Cherry pick the good bits?  Sure.  But to measure against them is a tragic mistake.

Ferrari call this ‘Ferrari DNA’. That says it all. It’s unique. It’s DNA.
Don’t compare your career or company to others. Be selective. Take the good bits.

Two things close to my core come to play here.

  • Purpose – your DNA, and
  • Measurement – internal improvement

My mystery shopping company sets internal benchmarks allowing companies to see how they compare to themselves.

Time is a great yardstick. Sometimes I encourage them to borrow from other companies, but certainly not to compare directly.

Be Like Mike, but don’t try to ‘be’ Mike.