I feel really bad for Bruno Mars because he's stuck in the middle of one of these stupid, click-bait driven, social media debates about whether he's grateful enough and vocal enough about the influences that "black" music has had on his own work. Apparently, no matter how much or how often you say "thank you" these days and prostrate yourself to the memories of those gone before, it's never sufficient for the trolls and the haters. So, we're subjected to a 140-character debate about cultural appropriation by a bunch of know-nothings and two-thumb typers who can barely spell, much less understand what they're talking about. I'm just glad that Mick and JT have never had to go through this kind of knee-jerk noise. And Elvis would be rolling in his grave if there was room enough in the casket for him to move that bloated body around.

However, these people aren't entirely worthless because they can always serve as a bad example - a stirring demonstration of exactly what not to do. You can learn a lot from Luddites. The important lesson for entrepreneurs is buried deep in the trivial and utterly immaterial observations of these critics. It's about how quickly and easily concepts, ideas, language, thoughts-; and especially expectations-; can jump around from person to person, place to place, and industry to industry in today's hyper-connected and high-speed digital world.

My takeaway is all about customers and competition. We see this same kind of behavior in every kind of competition. Many years ago, every high jumper laughed at a guy named Dick Fosbury and his crazy Fosbury Flop technique-- until he won gold at the 1968 Olympics with a record-setting leap. Then everyone jumped in and copied his technique.

 I always say that the expectations of customers are "perpetually progressive," which simply means that they (we) can't help themselves from continually raising the bar. Which means that you've got to keep getting better and better in your business (product, service, support, speed, etc.) all the time because what was yesterday's miracle is tomorrow's "so what?" 

Like it or not, we're all living in a "what have you done for me lately?" world. And to make things even worse, your competition never sleeps; they're ready, willing, and able to step right up and grab any unhappy customers if you lose a step or two or start taking anything or anybody for granted. No one owns the customer today; switching costs are minimal; people's choices are virtually unlimited; and locked-in and loyal consumers are a sure thing only as long as you keep delivering the goods. But the new news is that the state of the competition has changed and you need to make sure that you aren't spending too much of your time looking through the rear-view mirror or trying to measure your performance and success against the wrong bars (traditional and too low) and the wrong ball players (too few and too narrow a view).

The most important competition today for the time, attention and dollars of your customers isn't in your own backyard. It's not in your silo or limited to the set of standard competitors that you have always benchmarked your business against because that's simply too low a bar and too modest a target. The competition today for the hearts and minds of your customers -;listen closely -;is the last great experience (sales or service) that they've had, whenever and wherever that took place. Whether or not it has anything directly to do with you or your business doesn't matter. That's simply how the consumer keeps score today.

You need a new mindset and it starts with a simple acknowledgement. In today's one-stop world, you're competing against the likes of Amazon even if they aren't yet selling the same stuff or services that you are -;if that's even possible anymore given that they have virtually everything at the Everything Store. You're competing against the most trusted brand in America and you're competing with the ways (every way) that Amazon does business. Speed, access and convenience trump everything else. Once we experience this hyper-speed anywhere in our lives, we immediately bump up the bar, raise our expectations, and apply the same new standards to everything else in our lives. This is a case of appropriation uber alles and every one of us is guilty of it because that's basic human nature. Who doesn't want more and better anything and everything? Amazon isn't alone in setting the curve in the "right now" economy. You can get an on-demand flu shot at Walgreens in 15 minutes these days at your convenience. Why would you ever again beg some receptionist for an appointment to go see your internist in three weeks, then take 3 hours out of your day and spend several hundred bucks to accomplish essentially the same thing. And you'll probably catch the flu before you get around to the date of your appointment anyway.

The bottom line: if you treat your customers as if it's business as usual, they won't be back or be your customers much longer. So, my advice is to "Be like Bruno" (with apologies to Michael Jordan). Change up your game constantly, get out of your comfort zone, look beyond your own four walls and your own marketplace, see who's hit it out of the park (last week or last century), rip them off politely, and then do it better than they ever did.

Good artists copy; great artists steal.

Published on: Mar 16, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.