In the 21st century, it isn't what you do that matters most. It's how you do it.
If you look at business today, you will notice that very few companies win solely on the basis of what they make or do. When you produce something new (or just something better, faster or cheaper), the competition quickly improves on it and delivers it at the same or even lower price. Customers can instantly compare price, features and quality, effectively rendering them all commodities.
This is not just true of businesses; it also often holds true for the way individuals get ahead and accomplish their goals. Specialized knowledge or expertise may differentiate us for a moment in time, but it's unlikely to carry us through an entire career. Changing jobs, companies and even industries often involves adapting existing knowledge and skills to a new set of conditions. Today, these are proficiencies that people the world over have developed.
Yet the drive for differentiation -- personal, professional and organizational -- lies at the heart of all our business endeavors (and many of our personal ones as well). We all want to stand out, be uniquely valuable and distinguish ourselves from the competition. But in a commoditized world -- where many others do what we do -- we are quickly running out of opportuntities to be unique.
Fortunately, there is still one area where tremendous variation and variability exist. One that, in fact, cannot be commoditized or copied: the realm of human behavior -- how we do what we do.
Think about it. If you make stronger connections and collaborate more intensely with your co-workers, you can win. If you reach out and inspire more people in your global network, your productivity skyrockets. If you keep promises 99% of the time while your competitor does so only eight out of 10 times, you gain critical advantage in the marketplace. If your interactions with others deliver a more meaningful customer experience, you engender a loyalty that brings them back again and again.
When it comes to how you do what you do, there is tremendous variation, and where a broad spectrum of variation exists, there is opportunity. The tapestry of human behavior is so diverse, so rich and so global that it presents a rare opportunity: the opportunity to out-behave the competition.
The revolution in global communication makes behavior a more important factor than ever. The vast networks of information powering the world economy connect and reveal us in ways we have only just begun to comprehend. We find ourselves collaborating with others about whom we often know little and understand even less. Technology has also given us unprecedented power to see through the walls of organizations and evaluate not just what they do but how they do it.
The impact of these changes on the way we live and work motivated me to write
. I found myself in an unique position to share the reasons why organizations and the individuals who work in them should leverage the power of How.
During the first part of my 13-year journey as founder and CEO of LRN Corp., I helped some of the largest companies in the world confront their legal challenges and manage their risk. I soon realized, however, that the core of LRN's efforts lay in helping our partners put out the fires of legal challenges that had already arisen. I soon realized we could better serve them by helping to design and build fireproof buildings, preventing these problems from arising in the first place.
It often felt like we were selling vitamins to companies whose leaders did not realize they could get sick. Then the corporate scandals hit, and we found ourselves in the middle of a global discussion. Suddenly, it was practical to be principled. It was even fashionable.
I saw this as a double-edged sword. Sure, more people acting in a principled way, even if for the wrong reasons (to avoid prosecution, minimize liability or build good PR), still meant more people acting principled, and that was a net good.
Still, I sensed that people lacked a serious understanding of why they should be principled, and more importantly, why they should dedicate energy to
they pursue their goals and interests. Long-term personal success is no longer about what you do; it's about
you do what you do.
While researching the book, I spoke with everyone from business-thought leaders, scholars, CEOs and corporate managers to professional cheerleaders, sports stars and New York City street vendors. I then filtered these conversations through the challenges I face every day: leading a growing company that must actively compete in the market, make the numbers, take care of every customer and strive to get better.
It is from this journey of discovery that I've come to believe that the innovations of the 21st century will come not just in new products, services or business models and strategies but in new ways to create value and differentiation -- innovations in
Now, more than ever,
we do anything means everything.
Dov Seidman is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of LRN, Inc., and is the author of "How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything ... in Business (and in Life)."