Peter Thiel is one of the most influential thinkers in Silicon Valley, and I guess, in the world. Though he has been criticized for his political stand, his ideas are worth listening to and thinking about.
One of those ideas is – competition is for losers.
“How do I become less competitive in order that I can become more successful?”
He explains it well in this Stanford class:
This is taken further by Tom Tunguz. He adds:
For startups, this idea cuts both negatively and positively… Both ideas lead to the same conclusion. You can create a sustainable competitive advantage for your startup by understanding the true axes of competition. And that requires researching the market or knowing it intimately, because these axes often change.
Since it is near impossible to perfectly measure human behavior, most large teams/products pick a proxy metric to measure underlying behavior. For example – ‘clicks’ are a proxy for “did I read this?” and “will I buy this product sometime in the future?”, ‘time spent’ is a proxy for “did I enjoy this content?” and NPS is often a substitute for “do I love this company?”. You convert a nebulous human emotion/behavior to a quantifiable metric you can align execution on and stick on a graph and measure teams on. Engineers and data scientists can’t do anything with “this makes people feel warm and fuzzy”. They can do a lot with “this feature improves metric X by 5% week-over-week”. Figuring out the connection between the two is often the art and science of product management.
This is exactly the same as designing new meanings. Just the language used is different, Product managers use words like ‘axes’ and ‘metrics’, and designers use words like ‘meaning’, the underlying reality is the same.
You have to create something fundamentally new, which the big players can’t compete on. That’s the hard part.