How Different Are We?


Tim-Williams-200x300My guest blogger this week is Tim Williams, founder of the Ignition Consulting Group.Tim, all the way from Utah will be co presenting with Ron Baker in Firm of the Future event being held in Sydney on 17th October 2013. There are still a few seats available if you are interested in seeing Tim live. Click here for program and registration. Tim asks in this post are professional firms really different, or do they simply try and copy each other and then endeavour to do things a little bit better?

I would encourage you in conjunction with your team to undertake Tim's Crossroads Map and the Differentiation Questionnaire- the results might surprise you.

Let me know what you think.


Many firms are convinced that they are different by virtue of being “better.”  But better isn’t different – only different is different.

Apple is widely admired for having “better” products, but that’s not the only thing that what makes them different.  Apple goes out of their way not to operate like other technology companies, and the list of things they do differently is a long one.  Here are just a few:

  • Other computer companies have open platforms; Apple’s is proprietary.
  • Other computer companies routinely discount their products; Apple never does
  • Other computer companies exhibit at a variety of trade shows; Apple exhibits only at their own shows

Does Apple act differently because they are Apple; or are they Apple because they act differently?  The answer is the latter.  You become different by thinking and acting differently, sometimes doing the polar opposite of the rest of the industry.

The crossroads of relevance and differentiation

To get a sense for how differentiated your firm is, make a list of 10-15 things you say to describe yourselves.  Then give each description a rating on a scale of 1-10 on two dimensions: Relevance and Differentiation

Relevant = Degree to which this is considered an important core feature or benefit by the client

Differentiating = Degree to which this makes us different from other direct competitors

1               2              3              4               5               6                7              8               9               10

Poor                                                                                                                                    Excellent

How do we describe ourselves?                                                                                                                                                                                            Relevant? (important)    Differentiating? (Unique)

Differentiation questionnaire

Next, administer the following questionnaire (using one of the popular online survey tools such as SurveyGizmo) to the key people in your organization.  Use a similar 10-point scale to rate yourselves as follows:

1              2              3             4              5               6                7              8               9                10

Strongly Disagree                                                                                                 Strongly Agree


  1. We have identified what we do well -- our strengths and core competencies.
  2. We try to focus on what we do best instead of attempting to offer every possible feature, product, or service.
  3. We have a clear definition of our best customer (clients who want us for what we do best).
  4. We target a specific segment of the market, not the center of the market.
  5. We avoid the promise of “full service,” or “wide range of services.”
  6. We are as concerned with making our firm different as we are making it better.
  7. We believe in the strategic advantages of “narrow and deep” over “broad and shallow.”
  8. We avoid imitating the websites and marketing and of our competitors.
  9. We are willing to stand for something instead of trying to stand for everything.
  10. We are differentiated not only by our capabilities, but also by our point of view.

Remember, a commitment to work hard and do your best is not a positioning strategy.  Chances are the firms you admire not only do good work, but work differently.