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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Outthink the Competition by Kaihan Krippendorff



I finished this book in September 2023. I recommend this book 9/10.

You should read this book if you have a strong competitor in your space and are looking for ways to crush or leave them behind. The book will make you think about flanking moves or creating a whole new category out of nothing.

Get your copy here.

Here are my notes and thoughts:

  • P5. In all domains of competition—from business to sports to war—breakthrough success evolves through the same pattern. First, the players fall into a routine, adopting the same practices. They are the "thinkers" who think in the accepted paradigm. Then, outliers emerge—a few innovators who defy the standard practices. We will call them "outthinks" because that's what they do. Outthinks don't outmuscle their competitors or outspend them; they outthink them. The thinkers first dismiss the outthinks. Then, they ridicule them. But eventually, they realize the outthinks have gifted out something new; then they try to copy what they're doing. But if the outthinks play their game right, by then, it's too late. The outthinks have won.

  • P13. You need not think like an outthink to survive. You can work harder and move faster within the old paradigm. But it's like rowing harder while your competitor has put up sail and effortlessly drifted past you, adjusting to the new paradigm. Great armies, athletes, and companies win by seeing new strategic options that adversaries are unable to respond intelligently to. To win, then, you want to:

    • See where the competition has grown rigid.

    • Identify new alternatives.

    • Test and refine the new alternatives to reach one or more that are superior.

    • Slow competitive efforts to react.

  • P29. We are moving from specialists with one to two areas of in-depth expertise to employee talent with multiple areas of competency. This requires a different type of leader and a different strategy for hiring. High-demand skills include critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-management. Remote learning presents new ways to upskill and resell the workforce. The government will also have accountability for investing in supporting workers through job transitions and improving our education and training systems. The responsibility for reselling goes beyond employee offerings. To perform and compete in an accelerated environment, employees will need to take charge of their own learning path.

  • P35. One very significant finding came out of our research. When we categorized the narratives that today's winners and losers use to describe their competitive efforts, we found that the winners tend to repeat the same five narratives. Translated into strategies, these five are:

    • Move early to the next battleground.

    • Coordinate the uncoordinated.

    • Force two-front battles.

    • Be good.

    • Create something out of nothing.

  • P46. Winners are the ones who understand how to turn battleground shifts into an advantage. Sometimes, that means leading. Sometimes, that means following. Sometimes, that means staying out of the next battleground altogether. Sun Tzu outlined specific guidelines for when it's best to occupy a new battleground early or late. Like good generals, jazz musicians, and skilled comedians, outthinks know the key is timing.

  • P48. Winners don't do what everyone else does. They think more cleverly about how to create an advantage through a battleground shift. They know when to be first, when to follow, and when to stick to the current battleground, letting the competitors race forward like a pack of toddlers playing soccer, hovering around the ball up the field, leaving the outthinks with the field to his own. Most importantly, they know how to look out across multiple games simultaneously while their competitors play myopically.

  • P60. She focused on serving the groups her large competitors didn't want. She developed a new digital platform featuring a subscription service and a la carte offerings for small organizations.

  • P70. Zhao was preparing for an attack by Wei, and the people worried they would not be able to survive, so they asked a neighbor, Chi, for help. Chi agreed and prepared its soldiers for battle. But at the last minute, just before Chi's forces began their march to save their ally, an advisor suggested a different, counterintuitive strategy. Rather than help defending Zhao, he argued, the soldiers should attack the aggressor. This would force Wei into a dilemma: Should they continue their march toward Zhao and secure what seemed a likely victory, or should they return home to save the women and children they had left poorly defended? Wei would inevitably return home. By forcing Wei into this dilemma, Chi saved its ally and defeated its enemy in one swift move.

  • P72. This strategic pattern—forcing the competitor into a defensive position by flustering them with a two-front battle—lies at the heart of many thinker's successes. In business, as in war, the key elements of the strategy are the same:

    • Launch a second attack simultaneously with the first.

    • Launching a second attack forces your competitor to defend against that second attack.

    • In defending itself, the competitor makes itself vulnerable to the first attack or at least takes a passive posture.

    • You advance with relative ease.

  • P100. Apple is by no means the only company adept at creating something out of nothing:

    • Gatorade beat Coca-Cola and Pepsi by creating a sports drink category.

    • Nintendo created Mario when they could not license Popeye.

  • P109. We see five key habits that lead outthinks toward seeing and realizing unorthodox solutions:

    • Mental time travel.

    • Attacking the interconnected system.

    • Frame-shifting.

    • Disruptive mindset.

    • Shaping perceptions.

  • P121. The lesson is this: If you attack the obvious parts of the system, the only way to do better than your competition is to execute better. This is riskier and more tiring. If, instead, you step back and look at the entire system, paying attention to the invisible interconnections, you may find a way to win faster and with greater ease.

  • P124. Study the overall system. Figure out what depends on what, then build out the web until you clearly see the fronts of your battle and the levers you must turn to realize your vision.

  • P134. The higher up an organization you go, I have found, the more you hear leaders thinking about the competition.

  • P171. As a fun example, pretend that you and your team have decided that you want to rob a bank. In the center of your page, draw a square, and in that square, write "rob a bank." Then, ask yourself what needs to be true in order to successfully achieve this near-term vision. You may decide on four things:

    • You need to get to the bank.

    • You need to get into the bank.

    • You need to get the money.

    • You need to get home safely without being caught.

  • P195. Marketers and innovation experts have long embraced the idea of an adoption curve consisting of a tail (the first to adopt your idea), followed by the top of the bell (a big majority in the middle), followed by another tail (a small group at the end who will resist your idea). A similar model applies to your effort to build support for your idea. Auster and Hillenbrand have found you should consider six types of stakeholders:

    • Sponsor: Leaders and colleagues who will be responsive to the idea, give it credibility, and offer resources.

    • Promoters: influential people who can generate a buzz.

    • Indifferent fence-sitters: People are not yet ready to embrace your idea because they are too busy to get their heads around what you are proposing.

    • Cautious fence-sitters: People who think your idea does not quite "feel" right but are not sure why, and people who are hesitant because their friends are not supportive of the idea.

    • Positive skeptics: People who have well-thought- through, justifiable reasons to question your idea because, for example, they are worried about the potential impact on the organization. They are skeptical for a very good reasons that you should want to hear.

    • Negative skeptics: People who will resist your idea because they fear it will hurt their department, challenge their power, or require skills they do not think they have. The key manning team is to listen to them and to try to understand the emotions that are triggering this skepticism.

  • P196. Do this political work before you pitch your idea, and you will map out a much smoother path to your goal.

    • Goal: What do you want to achieve?

    • Audience: Whom do you need to influence or get input from?

    • Message: What do you want to say?

    • Engagement: How will you deliver the message?

  • P202. The Exercise:

    • Plot key stakeholders on a power-influence matrix. Complete your stakeholder map by thinking about what key stakeholders will be involved in making the decision on whether to accept or reject your idea. Map all stakeholders on the matrix below; think about:

      • How much power each one has over the acceptance of your idea.

      • How easy it is for you to influence them.

      • What their current disposition is to your idea.

    • Develop your contact strategy. Decide how you will shape the Power-Disposition matrix (e.g. who do you want to build more influence with, and whose power do you want to increase or decrease); then, decide what stakeholder you want to approach first.

    • Define your influence "GAME." Now that you know which stakeholder to approach first, it's time to plan for influencing that occasion. Answer the following four questions:

      • What is my Goal? What is my intended outcome, and what do I want this stakeholder to do or believe?

      • What do I know about my Audience (my key stakeholder)?

      • What Message will encourage the audience to do or believe what I want them to do or believe?

      • How can I Engage my audience in my message? (Do not automatically turn to a PowerPoint presentation—think more creatively.) Can you create a prototype? Can you take them on a visit?

  • P209. For example, Airbnb revolutionized the hospitality industry by introducing for points of differentiation—position (travelers who want one-of-a-kind experiences), product (short-term home rentals), price (quality stays at more affordable rates than hotels offer), and place/disruption (accommodation outside of major tourist hubs, distributed via sharing economy). Today's outthinks often use four, five, or even six points of differentiation to set themselves apart from the competition:

    • Position

    • Product

    • Promotion

    • Price

    • Placement

    • Physical Experience

    • Process

    • People

  • P210. I was taught a strategy is a set of decisions. If you look at other words with the same roof as "decide"—like homicide, suicide, genocide—you see that when you make a decision, you are killing something off. You are making a choice to go along in one direction and kill off the path to a different direction. A good strategy is not a "this AND that" statement; a good strategy is a "this AND Not that" statement. This is important because by making clear decisions, you are choosing a strategy that forces the competition to also kill off something if they want to follow you. You are forcing them to make a choice—copy us and kill off something you value, or just let us be.

  • P223. you need to pick a few critical lenses from which to analyze your competitor. The bigger the team you have working on this, the more lenses you can pick. Consider the following:

    • Organization structure

    • Recruitment

    • Talent development

    • Culture

    • Financial structure

    • Investor base

    • R&D process

    • New product launch process

    • Marketing

    • Pricing strategy

    • Geographical reach

    • Sales

    • Merger and acquisition history

    • Strategic Partnership

    • Logistic and sourcing

    • Operation management

    • Related companies (e.g., affiliates)

  • P245. The 36 Stratagems.


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