Comparison versus Innovation

Am I the only one this happens to? I can be having the best possible day—my business’s sales numbers are high, my kids all made their beds, my jeans are fitting loose—and then boom, I see perfect her, (whoever she happens to be at the moment), on a scroll through my Instagram feed and my awesomeness shrinks to nothingness, right before my eyes. “I was on cloud nine, like, six minutes ago!” I think to myself. “How did I wind up down here?”

In the world of business, a solid brand-strategy map always includes a section on something called “comparables.” There is a consumer pie, all business owners are reminded, and our slice is defined by how much space our competitors already occupy. When I first started Noonday, I had zero competition. I mean, I’m sure I did have competition, but I never gave those competitors any thought. I was too busy saving the world—or that’s how I saw it, anyway. My focus was not on the comparison, but rather on innovation, on creating something distinctive in the marketplace—namely, a social selling business with an impact model based on dignified job creation through artisan-made goods.

Now, in case you’ve ever wondered why Amazon is absolutely killing it in the marketplace, your itch is about to get scratched. As it relates to comparison versus innovation, Jeff Bezos is all about innovation too. “If you’re competitor-focused,” Bezos says, “then you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something before you can act. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”

At Noonday, we’ve been about pioneering from the beginning. We are obsessed with creating ethically crafted styles that don’t feel gift-shoppy or stuck in the 1990s, (not that I don’t love a good ‘90s accessory throw-back). Rather than selling in stores, we wanted to harness a network of passionate women across the country to sell our goods using storytelling and fabulous style. And we wanted give women a reason to get dressed up, come together in person, and rediscover the beauty of community. With all this innovating to keep me busy, then, I had little time to fret about what anyone else was doing.

If only I’d held fast to this approach.

As Noonday grew, and more consumer brands crowded the artisan-made space, instead of focusing on building our future, I compared our present to theirs. Soon enough, I became obsessed with that good, ol’ consumer pie. As these other artisan businesses popped up, I’d troll their social-media pages, angling for insider scoop. “Market research,” I’d rationalize to myself, even as that was miles away from the truth. What I was actually doing was assessing, comparing, numbering, drawing conclusions, and asking, “Do we still measure up?”

Here is the thing about focus. Despite that we have two eyes, we can focus on only one thing at a time.

As it relates to your business, you can either focus on your competition, or you can focus on building something valuable for your stakeholders, but you can’t focus on both at once.

When I recognized how much of my precious energy I was spending on comparison instead of on innovation, I knew that I would have to reset my priorities if I was going to keep leading those Noonday pioneers.

The key here for you and me both is this: regardless how we’re called to spend our days—leading, mothering, organizing, serving, championing, solving, producing, and more—we can arrest that deadly spiral that leaves us comparing and coming up short. Instead, we can focus our efforts on creating something beautiful, something distinctive, something that makes your competitors swoon.