Your business isn’t unique

By | 2013/08/09

Alien AbductionAs a consultant, one of the phrases I hear periodically from companies is:

Our business needs are unique.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: No they’re not.

Typically when someone at a business says: “our needs are unique”, what they really mean is:

We’re resistant to change.

By and large there are very few unique businesses when it comes to process or technology needs. 99% of the time (or more), a person who utters, “we’re unique” is either directly uncomfortable with changing how things are done, or is acutely aware that institutionally the business is.

There’s a reason why businesses are grouped by governments, vendors and suppliers into verticals. (Health, Defence, Government, Information Technology, Telecommunications, etc.) The reason is that businesses in the same vertical will have very similar requirements, methods of operating and financial/legal restrictions. Indeed, some of those will run across multiple industry segments rather than just along an industry vertical.

The way to tell if your business is unique is to see whether you sit outside all industry verticals. In reality, that’s only going to happen in one of the three following scenarios:

  • Your core product or service is so unique that no-one else in the world offers it;
  • Your supplier requirements cannot be met by any existing supplier on the planet;
  • Your business model is flawed.

There’s very few businesses in the world that fit into the first category. A company offering insurance contracts for real, legitimate alien abductions might, just might fall into that category. Yet typically if you are that unique, you won’t be for very long.

The second category usually only belongs to the biggest companies in the world – and I don’t just mean financially biggest. (In fact, they’re usually not in that category.) I’m talking companies that are so large in their requirements in a particular area that they need to “roll their own”. Take companies like Facebook and Google – the sheer number of servers they have to run has resulted in them building their own compute paradigms. Is your business Facebook or Google? No? Then it’s likely not unique on that front, either.

Finally, your business might be unique if the business model is flawed. But if that’s the case, you’ve got bigger fish to fry than whether or not you can get a supplier to meet your requirements.

Except in the most extreme, specific of situations, management (and employees alike) should hear warning klaxons howling when people start uttering “our needs are unique”, and they should start firing people (or running to for the exit) when that attitude becomes entrenched.

We’re unique … no, you’re change resistant, and that’s one of the least unique things about companies.