Play to your obsession
Have you noticed how many well-known entrepreneurs have obsessions?
Larry Page at Google has always been obsessed with speed. Steve Jobs at Apple was obsessed with simplicity. Tony Hsieh of Zappos is obsessed with customer service.
These guys demonstrate real obsession. Not just a skill, competence or good intention, but an all-out obsession. Their thoughts and work are dominated by the persistent idea of speed/simplicity/service.
I don't think you can manufacture an obsession. I think it's inherent within us. This means that there's nothing to be gained by copying someone else's obsession because they will always be better at it than you.
So, in that respect, just because a particular obsession has worked for a famous success story doesn't mean it will work for you.
But that's fine, because many of us have our own obsessions.
If we have an obsession we should play to it, in the same way that we are encouraged to play to our strengths. The trouble is, though, that we often think our own obsessions are a bit weird, so we try to keep them hidden. In fact we're often so busy pretending to have a popular obsession ("customer service") that we don't allow our real ones airtime.
If you're the founder/CEO then while your business probably reflects a little of your obsession, it's likely that your team don't really get it. This can make life very frustrating for you (if you have an obsession you'll know exactly what I mean by this) and a lost opportunity for the business.
Real obsessions can be a real winner for a small or medium-sized business. If they play to their (founder's) obsessions they can propel themselves into a different league.
I know of one business with a great reputation for customer and supplier service earned simply because the CEO is obsessed with phone calls being answered within two rings.
Another business in the storage industry is a little quirky because of the CEO's obsession with cleanliness, and a business in the logistics industry had a CEO so obsessed with doing the impossible that they ended up exiting the easy work and specialising in only the complex – a very profitable move.
So if you have an obsession, articulate it, explain it to your team and then centre your business on it. Get it right and your business will start to become famous for the benefits your obsession provides. You'll be happier and you'll have a business with a sustainable differentiation, rather than a half-baked attempt at someone else's.
Julia Bickerstaff's expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has an economics degree from The London School of Economics (London University).