"Everyone can be super. And when everyone's super, no one will be." - The Incredibles

Last year, I visited my fiancée’s parents in Puerto Rico. Just our luck: we arrived during Hurricane Irene and had to spend a couple of days indoors: We stocked up on necessities, gallons of water and bolted metal hurricane shutters into the window frames (hurricanes are serious business over there). Then, at the mercy of nature, we waited… (sometimes in the dark without electricity)… while the sky howled and the palm trees flexed as demonic winds thrashed their leaves sideways.

My fiancée’s dad’s name is Jose. He loves nature. He bought a farm, and on it, he built his house (by himself). It didn’t have electricity (by choice). You see, Jose never liked technology. He still listens to his favorite Beatles songs on his record player (the things with a needle and turntable).

As I was chatting with him, he reminded me of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. So I asked him if he’d read “Walden”. When he said he hadn’t— as if it was a perfectly commonplace thing to do —I pulled out my phone, showed him excerpts from the book, introduced him to Wikipedia, played him a few “never seen before” YouTube clips of Beatles (his favorite band), then showed him the blog we made for our son where we’ve been posting videos and pictures almost every day. He wondered how we managed all that, so I pointed to the camera lens on the back of my phone.

At this point Jose was speechless. When he recovered, he smiled at me and said with a chuckle above the frame of his glasses, “If you showed this to someone a century ago, they would’ve burned you at the stake.”

Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy

This video pretty much sums it up:

It’s funny because it’s true.

What’s this mean for your business?

Nothing will ever be remarkable anymore. With the democratization of technology (and globalization), there will be increasingly lower barriers for someone to create something remarkable. Anyone can be “super”.

And when everyone’s super, no one will be.

It’s not enough to create a purple cow, because first, that invites comparisons with regular cows — a purple cow is only incrementally better (it is still a cow). More critically, while a purple cow is temporarily unusual, it will not be long before someone else creates a purple cow with yellow polka-dots, a pink cow, or a two-headed pink cow.

Being remarkable is not a sustainable advantage.

So if your strategy is to add features, add widgets, add services, lower your prices, or even create something “no one has seen before”… beware: In these modern times, anything successful quickly gets replicated (and sold for cheaper). Almost everything has become a commodity (and even advanced technical jobs are outsourced).

Sustainable advantage comes from creating something valuable that cannot easily be duplicated.

But what could such a thing be? What else is there? What’s unique and cannot be duplicated?


Next: the human element