How to win at business (and life)

All the significant success stories that I am aware of – including firsthand – have one thing in common.

If you look at Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Tesla…

They did nothing radically new. Apple didn’t invent the mp3 player, the personal computer, the tablet or the touch-screen phone. It was just the first company to make ones that didn’t suck.

Google came long after Yahoo and Altavista and a slew of early others, but it won because it was the first search engine that fetched relevant results as a matter of reliable course.

Facebook demolished MySpace by sucking slightly less out of the door (and progressively less as time goes by).

Microsoft didn’t invent operating systems, it just stole a shit ton from Apple and went on a rampage of unethical business practices made a slightly less sucky one than what was available at the time.

Tesla didn’t invent the electric car. In fact, there were several in the 19th century. It just made the first one that you’re not embarassed to be seen in.

Elon Musk realised that mass appeal will not happen by trying to convert the mass market to weirdbeard aged-hippieism, and instead freed up electric cars from ideological baggage and adapted them to the mass market. Just removed suck.

In each case, the success was due to the removal of flaws more than the addition of anything.

The cosmically unfair and inevitable fact that radical innovators usually succumb to second-generation imitators who troubleshoot the thing and do it slightly better should be reassuring if you’re an entrepreneur currently depressed about the fact you can’t seem to come by a world-shattering idea.  You don’t need to. Just find something you have the skills for and there’s room for improvement, and do that.

This is practically a rule of the universe:

The absence of deal-breaking flaws is more important than the presence of any extras.

You don’t need anything special to succeed. You just need to do the essentials properly.

This is also why there is no such thing as a saturated market. Unless the average quality is superb (which it never is), there’s a virtual monopoly for you if you do it marginally better/less badly.

When you do the fundamentals well, THEN AND ONLY THEN can you start to worry about differentiation and making yourself memorable.

It doesn’t work the other way around.

Bonus features are just that – bonus. They can’t make up for fundamental deficiency.

The substance of what you’re doing must not be just “That’ll do”. It must be spotless, and this is a matter of discipline, consistency and non-laziness more than talent or circumstances or fundamental difficulty.

Erase “That’ll do” from your dictionary. Be an obsessive perfectionist about the fundamentals (and only the fundamentals) of what you’re doing.

Failure to do the basics properly is why so many businesses (and people) hang in a precarious balance of trying to provide enough fluff to outweigh their shortcomings. That’s a sucker’s game, because in people’s minds one minus point counts for ten plus points. Which means you improve your balance dramatically by fixing the tiniest flaws.

Don’t be the restaurant with the designer decor and bad food.

Don’t be the startup with twenty million in funding and nothing remotely approaching an useful product.

Don’t be the hairdresser with the glossiest magazines and bad haircuts.

Don’t own the car with the loudest exhaust and most colorful LEDs that then does twenty when there’s a favorable breeze.

You can probably get away with it in the short run if you’re really good at being an asshole, but do you want to get by, or do you want to really succeed?

Stay humble and focus on the fucking fundamentals.

Fuck Frills, Focus on Fundamentals. The rule of four F’s.

It would seem almost banal and common sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that half of the time I buy anything – be it product or service – the rule is violated, and substantial deficiencies are being glossed over by red herring extras.

By the way, this is one of the many similarities between the market market and the love/sex/mate market. The absence of red flags counts for much more than the presence of any “extras”, and most people don’t want a Brad Pitt with a degree from Cambridge and four-run edition Lamborghini, or a Scarlett Johansson who is a gourmet cook and likes anal (although that never hurts…actually it probably hurts every time, but you know what I mean). They just want a guy or girl without horrible personality defects, who is reasonably good company and reasonably attractive. That’s enough 99% of the cases, and resorting to gimmicks and obvious overcompensation is a red flag in itself, in that it indicates that there are other hitherto undiscovered flaws.

Before buying a fancy car to impress the ladies and learning hypnosis, fix your personality and hit the gym.

Before offering customers free massages to make up for sucky product, fix the product.

In both markets, there is dreadfully little that doesn’t suck and is, on balance, at least a zero.

Address weaknesses first. THEN you can worry about aiming for the stars.

And it will be easier. You’ll be building on a solid foundation.

The opposite would be building frantically on the outer side of the leaning tower of Pisa to shift the balance instead of fixing the foundation.

This is a rule well known in developmental psychology – when there’s a problem in one of the deep layers of personality, you can’t build effectively on top of it, and must remove/mitigate the problem before you build stable structures on the “higher” levels. Otherwise you’re a Ferrari with a flat tire.

Fuck Frills, Focus on Fundamentals.

Enjoying the reading? Consider buying us a coffee on Patreon.