“Because you guys don’t come across as too commercialised…"
This was one of the main reasons why prospects chose us as their NLP training providers back then when I was marketing the business.
Most competition out there usually focused on the specific niches such as teaching people how to grow their wealth, advance their career or to multiple their business. Nothing wrong with those.
As I started probing deeper into what the clients meant, it revealed to me that what they were looking for are the fundamental bolts and nuts of the modality itself - the unabridged version.
At first glance, it isn’t attractive or sexy. In fact, most compelling unfair advantage isn’t. If it is attractive or fanciful, be careful with those as there are usually pitfalls hidden in plain sight.
To give you a sense of what I mean, the practitioners program we offered is 12 days. It is the longest amount of days involved compared to the competition that is usually less than 10 days in the local context. Not only that, it is the most demanding program in the NLP industry. Though these factors may seem like a disadvantage, it is actually part of the unfair advantage for people who cares about developing true mastery.
In practice, it actually demands the business to stay true to the course of delivering the highest value with authenticity. It demands us to present the nuances, lay the foundation and do the grind work.
It is a test for us to focus less on the tempting opportunities and market of audiences who are looking for fast solutions and more on serving those who want to strengthen the foundations for themselves by doing the work that matters. And by doing so, serving this segment of people extraordinarily, it gets them to advance their path with us, recommend people to us and to grow our tribe.
A true unfair advantage is often counterintuitive, sometimes absurd or crazy to the uninitiated minds. It makes your competition think twice or thrice before playing at that level because there is this fear of alienating or upsetting a large segment of potential customers. To reach that capacity, it can take years to develop since if it can be done cheaply, easily and quickly, it provides little or no competitive advantage.
And this is precisely what highly profitable and successful companies do.
Apple's "closed architecture” is the source of their phenomenal profitability.
It also serves as a powerful blocking strategy, since Google and Microsoft would never be able to close their open systems. Most people don’t find the trade-off worth it, but that hasn't kept Apple from being the world's most valuable company.
IKEA's business model is based on "flat packed furniture."
Considering the need for assembly after the purchase and other inconveniences shopping at IKEA, it's crazy to think anyone would shop at IKEA. And a lot of people don't.
But since IKEA doesn't have to ship or warehouse air, its costs are considerably lower than their competitor, giving it a huge price advantage.
Coupled with a flair for design and the best Swedish meatballs, you have three brand promises that outweigh all the things people hate about IKEA, which is a long list!
Yet, it is a market leader in their field or category, being the world's largest and most profitable furniture chain!
Gary Vaynerchuk, an investor, serial entrepreneur, social media personality, often known as the Hustle man, differentiated himself on an unfair advantage - scale the unscalable.
He means it when he says he cares about his audiences by being available for others’ questions, which means hundreds of thousands of one-on-one messages sent including 109,000+ on Twitter alone.
In the world where efficiency and scalability become a rising objective these days, this approach seems insane and counterintuitive.
Yet, nothing beats the depth of connection and relationship building where everyone else is seeking for the shortcuts to success and wants it NOW.
And this one-on-one deep relationship is what scales his reputation and personal brand because it is exponential. People are more likely to be loyal, share their experiences and advocacy publicly through their social media. Even though there are also people who dislike him, he stood out so much more because of his passion, energy and being blatantly honest about growth and success in the entrepreneurial space, enabling him to win over true fans.
Developing your own unfair advantage is not the same as creating a USP.
It is about expanding your capacity, more than just capability or skill set, above and beyond your competition.
This often requires a shift of your paradigm.
The unfair paradigm
There are two principles I found useful and highly powerful in enabling us to develop and to step into our unfair advantage.
The first one is first principle approach, practiced and adopted by Elon Musk.
From an interview with Kevin Rose:
“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”
And why aren’t many people practicing this?
Because it demands a lot of mental energy, as what Elon Musk warned.
And on top of that, it requires a lot of unsexy work behind the scene.
This is the approach master chef Jiro adopts in his life.
Mastery and finesse came from his relentless attention to the fundamentals of each details in the sushi making, from ingredients, timing, skills, process to presentation. To him, it is an art and he is always striving to push beyond where is he to the next level.
A “minimalist, simple” sushi so profound in sensory experience, found in his sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station, awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review and having sushi lovers around the world needing to call months in advance and to shell out top dollars to get a seat at his sushi bar!
The second principle is The Canvas Strategy by Ryan Holiday.
From a metaphorical meaning, it is finding canvases for other people to paint on, without needing to take credit.
In his words...
"Instead it’s finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.
In other words, discover opportunities to promote their creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It is a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy."
Why is this unfair?
That’s because what’s stopping people to develop their highest advantage is their own ego. Our ego tends to prevent us from looking at areas where we weren't usually looking, to discover the unfair advantage.
When you are so passionate about serving others and creating true value for them and to get yourself out of the way, you are already positioning yourself in a blue ocean whereas everyone else is preoccupied with their thing and status.
And Seth Godin said this so well:
“Real leaders don't care [about receiving credit]. If it's about your mission, about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit...There's no record of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn't the point. Change is.”
By channeling your attention to meet the needs/wants of a small but fanatical group of audience and dare to be exceptionally great in that area, you’ll leapfrog everyone else who tried to be best in everything and ended up as average players in the field.
Are you willing to do what it takes to develop your unfair advantage and step fully into it?