Setting Yourself Apart — Book Review of Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon (Crown Business, 2010)

Youngme Moon, a Harvard professor who has published some of the bestselling business case studies in the world, argues that a company can be successful by defying the norm and the expected.

But this book moves beyond the cliché “Be different.” Moon suggests that differentiating yourself from the competition isn’t about the “new and improved,” because that involves embracing “product evolution” (pgs. 3–8; 26–34; 52–56; 61–65). Instead, it’s about saying “no” as much as you say “yes.”

When airlines everywhere were providing free meals, Jet Blue chose to charge for meals. They said no where everyone else said yes. And then they said yes to things other airlines hadn’t even considered: Leather, reclining seats and a guarantee that customers would not be bumped by staff members (pgs. 111–112). IKEA is another example. They say no to delivery, pre-assembly and a sales force. But they say yes to inexpensive furniture, food in their shopping complex, and free child care for shoppers. We would expect IKEA shoppers to be angry after assembling their own, cheap furniture. But instead, IKEA has almost a cult following of people who refuse to shop for furniture anywhere else (pgs. 117–122). Moon says it’s because they provide an experience: “retailtainment.” But this approach can also move beyond just a cult following; juxtapose Yahoo! and Google. Google is simple, easy and it works. Yahoo! overloads us with information (pg. 112). Who was second on the scene and is now number one?

It’s cases like this that result in Moon saying: We “have gotten stuck in a self-defeating cycle of competition. Or, to put it more forcefully, our competitive competence is killing us” (pg. 211).

My only critique is of Moon’s approach: She says her book is “diary like” (pg. 17). But the diary like stories about people like a grandmother she spoke with don’t add anything (e.g., pgs. 180–82). I regularly found myself thinking, “Why is she telling me this again?” That stuff was “different,” though. And so is this whole book, all the way down to the old-school page cuts, nice typesetting and hand drawings. 4 stars.


(I read this book as part of Logos Bible Software’s Read for Cash program. The publisher and/or author did not influence my review in any way, but the link to the book above is an affiliate link and thus I receive a very small amount back when you purchase the title via that link.)

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