Are you outperforming your competition? If an avalanche of excuses is the first thing that comes to mind, then the answer is most likely no. When it comes to market share, revenue, profits, new sales, or other key metrics, at some point your level of competitiveness must be honestly assessed.

A Wall Street Journal article reported cellphone maker Nokia’s quarterly profit dropped 21% from a year earlier. Chief Executive Stephen Elop acknowledged, “We have a fundamental competitiveness problem overall.” Mr. Elop went on to say, “The game has changed from a battle of devices to a war of eco-systems and competitive eco-systems are gaining momentum and share…We must build, catalyze or join a competitive eco-system.”

Let’s first give a round of applause to the straight-shooting Mr. Elop. Unlike many of his spineless counterparts, he refused to blame the economy for Nokia’s poor performance. He must have also read the research by Olson, van Bever and Verry that states only 4% of a company’s poor performance can be attributed to the overall economy.

Second, he called out his team to step up and start developing risk-bearing strategic initiatives to close the gap in competitiveness. It’s a rare moment when senior leadership acknowledges that they are getting beat. It’s much more common to hear first-line management make that concession because they see it on a daily basis.

Finally, there are several questions we can ask ourselves to begin exploring the issue of competitiveness in earnest:

  1. What are the three most important measures of our performance versus the competition?
  2. How have we performed on those metrics versus the competition over the past 18 months?
  3. Why have we succeeded/failed?

It’s difficult to admit getting beaten. To outperform your competition, you must first outthink them. What new questions, tools and frameworks are you using to outthink your competition?

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