We Are Not Grading on a Curve

Have you ever noticed how often people assess themselves, their company, their products or their services by comparing them to something else — usually something nearby and similar?

Ask a rod manufacturer about his products and he might say something like “We feel we’re top five in the industry,” or “We’ll put them up against anything at our price point.”

Talk to a tackle shop owner about business and he’ll say “Well, we’re not a big box, but we do OK,” or “We’re one of the most popular dealers in the tri-state area.”

When a parent starts talking about a child, they’ll often say something like, “She’s third in her class” or “He’s the best pitcher on the team.”

That sort of thinking prevails in the world today — as it has for millennia — but more and more I feel it may be old-fashioned and destined for the scrap heap. My perspective may be strange and unfamiliar, but hear me out.

Thinking like that — dealing in comparisons with things that are familiar and close — is like grading on a curve. We’re hoping to get points just because we’re competitive with the industry or the neighborhood or our peers.

Unfortunately, the world works less and less like that. The world is no longer grading on a curve with a small universe of comparisons — your class, your league, your field. More and more we’re being compared to other people, other companies, other industries at large. Being a standout in your neighborhood, your classroom or at your price point is not enough.

We need to expand the way we think of ourselves, our products and our services because the world is doing just that … whether we like it or not.

There was a time — a hundred or more years ago — when it was enough to offer the best thing on the block because that was about as far as anyone would go to get that thing. Then transportation took a big step forward, every family had a car and it was easy to expand the scope of life.

Today, of course, we are being compared to the rest of the world … and why not? The world is at our fingertips through the telephone and the internet. We carry in our pockets and purses a device of previously unfathomable power.

If you run a brick and mortar store, you’re not being compared to others in your immediate area. You’re being compared to BassPro.com and TackleWarehouse.com.

If you offer eCommerce, you’re not being compared with just Bass Pro Shops and Tackle Warehouse, but also to Zappos and Amazon.

Technology has made the world smaller and more accessible, but it’s simultaneously made it larger and more competitive, too.

Be careful who you compare yourself to these days. The world no longer grades on a curve, and those you identify as your comparisons and competitors will go a long way to determining your success or failure.