At the Code Conference in Beverly Hills earlier this week, Kara Swisher interviewed Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, during which she asked him about his competitors. Swisher was asking specifically about the companies that compete in the field of artificial intelligence (A.I.), but Pichai's answer was a brilliant lesson in how every company should think about competition.
"I have always held the view that you tend to go wrong by focusing too much on competition," Pichai said. "Big companies, particularly, fail because they stumble internally."
Those words may sound harsh, but they're true. Almost every business spends more time worrying about the competition than it should. As a result, they spend less time on the things that matter.
Here's the thing--most companies eventually fail. According to the Small Business Administration, most businesses don't make it past year five. The overwhelming majority of them are very small businesses that aren't able to make a profit for whatever reason and the owner eventually closes the door. We just almost never notice unless it happens to be located on a corner near our home, or happens to be a place we frequent.
But failure isn't unique to small companies. Big companies also fail all the time. They go bankrupt, they lay people off, they close down locations, and sometimes they shut their doors completely. When they do, it's almost never because they were beat by the competition. It's because they made bad decisions, or they couldn't execute.
The interesting thing about Pichai's answer is that he isn't saying you should never look to what your competition is doing. He's not suggesting that your competition is never a threat at all. Instead, he's suggesting that you're more likely to fail because of what's happening inside your company, not because of what's happening outside.
"You want to be aware of everything that is going outside," Pichai continued. "But at the end of the day, your success depends on your execution."
Or, said another way, you'd be naive to not be aware of what's happening around you, but your job is to deliver on whatever it is you do. Focus on doing it better. Focus on how to better serve your customers, and create better experiences. If your competition is doing that already, you should probably take note--and then go back and figure out where you're letting your customers down.
Your job isn't to look at the competition and try to copy whatever they're doing. You'll never be a better version of your competition, so stop trying. Instead, focus on being a better version of yourself. The good news there is that your competition isn't ever going to be better at whatever it is you do--unless you stop making it better.
"Look, I think--the thing about being in tech is competition comes from nowhere," Pichai said. "None of us were talking about TikTok three years ago."
He's right. Competition often comes out of nowhere, which means you don't see it coming. You can't. The thing you'll be competing with in three years might still just be an idea in someone else's mind. Instead of letting that worry you, let it go--you can't control it anyway. Instead, focus on what you can control. That's the best chance you have at success anyway.