There are three “x-factors” we can use to win at anything if we’re just willing to put in the right kind of effort. We can:
1. Work harder,
2. Think harder, or
3. Be more patient than / outlast the competition.
Most likely we’ll need some combination of the three, but there’s an even greater insight here. We just have to look for wherever our competition is leaving the proverbial “door of opportunity” open.
Solve for x. It really does mark the spot.
Some businesses can be out-worked. We can show up more often and provide more services. The key word is “more.” This includes sweat equity and elbow grease.
Some businesses can be out-thought. We can figure out some advantage that allows us to beat them either with a better product, service, or a more profitable delivery. While merely inventing a “better” product or service is obvious (and usually feels impossible), this also includes a wide range of cost-based tactics like utilizing better tech (ex. Slack vs. email) and direct marketing (ex. direct mail driving cheaper client acquisition costs).
Some businesses can be out-lasted. They have too short a time frame, and if we can extend ours we can pick up the pieces when they inevitably collapse or die off. This includes brand marketing strategies (ex. what’s the return on the Coke polar bears? How do you measure positive association, consistency and reliability?).
The name for this out-x’ing is “edge.”
Edge is a gambling term, and it refers to the mathematical advantage one can theoretically have in a game. Capturing an edge is usually done defensively via designing some system of rules (how the casino sets odds so they stay in business) or offensively by applying a rules-based strategy (card counting in Blackjack, i.e. Ed Thorpe’s Beat the Dealer).
Whether we are on the offensive or the defensive, understanding the meaning of edge forces us to recognize that:
A. that it’s probabilistic, and
B. that we’re in competition against someone or something else.
We can’t out-work, out-think, and/or out-last the competition every time, but we can think about how over time we need to repeat some combination of these things to capture our edge. The casino doesn’t just take everyone’s wallet, and the card counter doesn’t just empty the casino’s vault.
In the same way a few snowflakes can be rolled into a snowball, small edges can compound over time. Small opportunities across these categories can lead to massive payoffs, but only if we notice and exploit them.
Once we’ve found an edge, we just have to keep playing the game.