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Beating the (Dow) Joneses

From an article by Paul Graham on Beating the Averages comes this gem:

If you do everything the way the average startup does it, you should expect average performance. The problem here is, average performance means that you’ll go out of business. The survival rate for startups is way less than fifty percent. So if you’re running a startup, you had better be doing something odd. If not, you’re in trouble.

I’ve worked for many clients and companies who did nothing so well as obsess over what their competitors were doing and how best to do exactly the same. At the same time, there was always a belief that these same competitors were stupid, lazy, slow, wrongheaded, and whatever else they could think to make themselves feel superior in comparision. This contradictory behavior has always been explained to me as careful analysis of the competition with an eye toward borrowing the best and discarding the rest. But it seems to me to be a strategy based on fear and won’t get you very far, relatively speaking. (via eb)