Be Bad at Something
Be bad at something, perhaps a few things. Consider being downright awful at one thing. Why be bad at something? Simply put: So you can be great at the things that matter.
Consider Amazon. It isn't great at "in-person" customer service, even though it is great at customer service. In fact, it offers some of the best customer service in the business. Yet, it makes it nearly impossible to speak to a live person.
Amazon does not offer live chat. Amazon doesn't publish a customer service phone number. Amazon does not make it easy for you to talk to them. Yet, it is outstanding at providing service. How? Because it is really bad at "speaking to a human" when you need service.
Supporting "real-time human" customer service would no doubt cost Amazon more, and yet it would not make Amazon better. It would, most likely, reduce our overall satisfaction with Amazon because the service received on live chat/phone would require much more time and attention. In short, Amazon set expectations differently and has beat those expectations.
To be great at customer service, Amazon chose to be bad at classic customer service. It recognized the challenge of being great at all things. Instead, it focused on being the best at "online" service. This allows them to differentiate themselves.
There are many other examples of companies that choose or chose to be bad at something. One of the best examples is Commerce Bank (eventually bought by TD). Commerce Bank focused on personalized service, including long hours that most other banks would not match. Commerce Bank was known for its service and great branch locations. Yet, it also paid some of the lowest rates for deposits in the industry. It chose to be bad at paying for money and excelled by offering unmatched service. (Side note: TD expected to be able to cut costs on the wasted service and increase profits, but it didn't turn out the way TD expected since service was the core differentiator for Commerce).
Choosing to be bad at something is very hard. We don't like to be bad at anything. Being great is so much more fun. However, unless we choose something to be bad at, it's really hard to be differentiatingly (yes, I just made that word up) good.
Here is a simple way to figure out what you should be bad at. List three to six of your personal priorities that you want to be known for in order of importance. Then, ask your clients or prospective clients (not in a survey, ask them in meetings) what matters to them. Identify the most important things your clients tell you, and find the commonalities with your priorities. Carefully rearrange your priorities to best support your goals and your clients (or realize you may be going after different clients). Then, focus on your top priorities so much that you become bad at your bottom one or two priorities.
Remember, Amazon is still incredible at service despite being bad at in-person-type service. So be sure to break out your priorities well enough that you aren't caught up in a false choice of having to provide bad service.
Next time you see me, or in the comments below, tell me what you are going to be really bad at.