Where Best Out-Cycles First

UK media this week furiously debates why one of its greatest ever sportsmen appears so unloved.

Surmount cycling’s Everest to win the Tour de France, not once, but now four times surely makes any rider one of the all-time greats across all of sport.

Yet this weekend’s coronation on the Champs-Elysées of victor Chris Froome apparently registers a mere murmur.

There’s various bizarrerie put forward. His Kenyan birth. Saffer upbringing and wife. Monaco domicile. Team for which he rides being so mechanical. Attraction secondary to other events culminating the same time (golf – really – and cricket).

Yet perhaps the killer blow is actually that he is the not the first.

After waiting over a century for any success, Britain finally secured a winner in 2012. Bradley Wiggins’ triumph became a national (Olympian) celebration.

His silky style, everyman fashionista appeal and such charm that even our French cousins called him Le Gentlemen were, we are told, a mountain away from the current champion.

One theory goes that he’ll never quite capture the nation’s heart because he follows so soon after King Wiggo.

A touch bewildered by this, I recalled Jim Collins and one of the central pillars of his Good To Great 2001 business blockbuster.

Best Beats First.

He boldly stated.

He listed a slew of industries that had been made by one innovator, yet subsequently owned by the second (or later) entrant.

I distinctly remember when I read the book myself. Much of the data I felt was open to alternative interpretation, founded on flawed foundations such as stock market performance and liable to see his elevated ‘eleven truly great’ firms suffer the fall from grace that befell Peters & Waterman’s similarly lauded In Search Of Excellence dozen two decades prior. (On this score, you have to chuckle reading his millennium-rise hope for AOL.)

That’s not to say it wasn’t a decent read. I recall enjoying chunks of it, determined to press a pointer or two into action in my own work.

Yet this follower-becomes-leader trope irked me. Jim begins his formative (pre-smartphone, note) article with a delicious premise;

Of all the new economy’s supposed “rules,” the notion that nothing is as important as being first to reach scale may be the most widely accepted. It’s also wrong.

Then I remembered the inarguable thoughts of Peter Drucker.

It is that construct of ‘scale’ that is critical, I feel.

“except in rare cases, best beats first, even if it takes a long time”

There’s his lovely dismissal of naysayers as a “greek chorus” of people claiming ‘today is different’. When he suggests it is not nor ever has been.

“It doesn’t really matter who gets there first, so long as you figure out a way to produce a better solution, doggedly persist in bringing that solution to the world, and continually improve.”

Athletes are not tech startups. Even so, I also couldn’t help but admire one analogy put forward. That of Armstrong & Buzz. Even the fact that the first’s surname goes with the second’s first gives a wide hint. One small step for Neil Armstrong looks like the gaint leap of Buzz Aldrin, given time. The moon-landing pioneer withdrew, increasingly worn by his feat, whereas second down the ladder revelled in it all.

I’ve sold both first-in and copycat arrivals. The key to prevailing is not in the pitching of how you see your place, but in how the prospect feels most comfortable sitting.

Positioned right, and you can come through from either stall.

Yes, I’ve always loved Appropriation. Innovation that decides not to simply imitate, but improve, the first-in’s offering. Especially when that market-shaper has primed the prospect space.

But I’ve also had results being number one. Although this is much more tricky. Not everyone will commit their cash to a lone pathfinding creator.

Even so, nestled behind the crest of the wave is often the best sales angle.

If it is the case that the trailblazer “rarely” takes control, then the trick is to still be like Froome. Then your new product can too sparkle long in its own Buzz.

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