The Icing on the Nothing

My brain is wired to always be thinking about how to differentiate a business through adding value. A breakthrough that transforms the entire space would be nice, but often the value-add consists of integrating a very high level of service (with the emphasis on reliability and responsiveness, for starters) around the core product or service. Recently I have observed a number of instances where the value-add is great, but the core service is badly deficient in the minds of customers. Think of it this way: what do you do when you want to put the icing on the cake… and there is no cake? What’s the market for iced nothing? [Beyond college student eating habits, that is, which often include fried nothing and nothing parmigiana.] Right.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a mentor. His perspective was that 70% of people (or organizations) never advance past the core definition of a business, never see the way to add value, and so never make an impact. The next 20% can advance to the next level, but forget or forsake the core of the business and fail any way. Only 10% get to the next level of delivering the core consistently well and take the product or service to the next level.

You can argue with the percentages, but he made a great point. Maslow taught us the concept of a hierarchy of human needs. Businesses have a hierarchy of needs too, and I do mean hierarchy: don’t try to skip over rungs on the ladder or you’ll probably suffer a bad fall. There are lots of me-too businesses that can make money, but they are unlikely to be very successful, nor make an impact, nor create a legacy that endures, unless they differentiate themselves. But better/faster/cheaper has become table stakes in the marketplace.  When you come up with a great idea for the icing, you better be great at baking cakes, too. And if you’re not, fix that fast.