The fastest runners in the world run between 12-14mph (19-23kph). The average bear runs between 30-40mph (48-64kph). That means if a bear decides to give chase, even Usain Bolt, the world record sprinter, could not outrun it.
But there is an adage: to get away from a bear you don’t have to be the fastest runner in the world, you just have to be faster than the guy behind you.
The same is true in business.
It is amazing how many businesses, big and small, like to present themselves as “the best.” I once met an optometrist, for example, who bragged to me that her store had “the best service in the industry.” A claim that is simply untrue – or at least there is no way to actually measure if it even if it is true. At the end of the day, there is no way for any business to say they offer the best of anything – service, quality or features. There are no standard metrics and most companies have no idea who all their competitors are.
The good news is, you don’t need to be the best. You need to be better. “The best” is an impossible standard that lacks credibility. But “better” is a realistic claim and a much easier comparison to make. The optometrist I met should have told me that she was “driven to offer better service than any of the other stores in the area and, more importantly, to outdo her own great service every year.” To her this seemingly lower claim is actually much more realistic, much more believable and much more appealing.
The standard of “better” also keeps you on your toes. Like being chased by a bear, you always have to be one step ahead not to get eaten. Thinking you’re better means you have to keep pushing, learning and improving because there is still room for improvement (not to mention there is a huge bear running behind you). Being the best offers only a short-term advantage.
Once you’re the best, there is no incentive to push any harder and laziness or hubris start to set in (think about any big company that made it to the top of their industry only to be bashed from all sides by every competitor…bashed by everyone working to be better). And for all those “bests” out there who believe their incentive is to stay the best, they are fooling themselves. Just as there is much more of an incentive to lose a few pounds than to stay the same weight, just as there is much more of an incentive to run your next race faster than to run it at the same pace, the incentive to improve is always more powerful than the false incentive to stay in one place, even if it’s the best.
Any great athlete, company or leader that is actually capable of staying ahead of the pack for any significant period of time is able to do so not because they think they are the best, but because they show up every day to do better than their most important competitor of all: themselves.
Pushing yourself and those around you to be the best is unsustainable. Pushing yourself and those around you to be better is the only way to best the best…and outrun the bear.