The smaller your world is, the easier it is to be the best at something. Nassim Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, illustrates this point very well. Taleb describes how in the 1800s, there were thousands of opera singers in Italy who performed for weddings and community celebrations. Each region or town had an opera singer who made a good living entertaining their own community and took pride in being the “best” in the land. Then the gramophone was invented. Suddenly, anyone anywhere could listen to the best opera singer in the world, not just their town. And they could listen whenever they wanted at very little expense. Within a few decades, thousands of local opera singers were put out of work.
This “winner takes all” phenomenon continues today. The internet and other forces of globalization are the powerful drivers behind it. Consumers query Google to quickly determine who is providing the best service or product at the lowest cost. Companies can search globally for the best candidates and interview them from halfway across the globe—and if they hire them, they can let them work remotely. Businesses and job seekers alike are increasingly less insulated from competition. The cream has always risen to the top, but now it is happening on a global scale and faster than ever before.
How should individuals respond to this new reality?
Pursuing or holding a job you’re sort of well suited for and marginally passionate about has suddenly become very risky. With the way that the world is headed, it will become ever more important for each of us to find a niche in which we can outperform others. As a coach, I help my clients find their niche by uncovering where their passions and skills are in alignment. Then, together, we explore the opportunities that will best enable them to follow their passions and utilize their unique skills. When you’re plugged into the right role and organization, the competition—whether it is from the other side of the state or the world—begins to feel a lot less intimidating.
How should organizations respond to this new reality?
Unfortunately, the leadership teams of many small and medium-sized businesses have been slow to understand that the days of relying on a customer-base, simply because of proximity or length of relationship, are long gone. Small- and medium-sized businesses are no longer, metaphorically, cruising around on their own private lakes and rivers. Instead, they are on the high seas right along with huge multinational corporations. Setting the cruise control and taking a nap below deck is no longer a sustainable form of leadership. Just as individuals must figure out what they can do better than anyone else and make the necessary course corrections, so must organizations.
It has never been easier for customers and companies to find the best. This means that there is no second place. There are no silver and bronze medals. No consolation prizes. Yet, at the same time, the world has never been more complex, and this means that there are many, many new niches to fill. There is a place for you and your organization. It is simply a matter of finding out where that place is and identifying the skills and passions that will get you there.