Competition is hard. Try bluing your ocean instead.

By » Fri, May 4 2012
ants 450x450 Competition is hard. Try bluing your ocean instead.

Macro ant photography is a beautiful blue ocean. (img by Andrey Pavlov)

Andrey Pavlov is a photographer. The only reason you’ve heard of him is because of his subject matter: incredibly well-staged macro photos of live ants doing cool shit. Who the hell does that? Just him, and that’s the point.

Lots of people, especially creative people in books, music, movies, and photography, are wondering about how they’ll compete in the swiftly democratizing world of content creation. The short answer is that you can’t compete. You have to change the game. The longer answer comes from Peter Thiel, who got outcompeted for a Supreme Court clerkship, so went off and founded PayPal.

One of [Thiel's] core points is that we tend to confuse capitalism with competition. We tend to think that whoever competes best comes out ahead. In the race to be more competitive, we sometimes confuse what is hard with what is valuable. The intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value.

In fact, Thiel argues, we often shouldn’t seek to be really good competitors. We should seek to be really good monopolists. Instead of being slightly better than everybody else in a crowded and established field, it’s often more valuable to create a new market and totally dominate it.

This isn’t a new idea. I’ve heard it most commonly called the Blue Ocean Strategy, and companies like Apple and Nintendo have used it to top their markets. Google+ is more “red ocean”, and that’s why people love to think it’s a dumb idea.

Competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But remember: competition shapes its participants far more than its participants shape it. The next time you find yourself figuring out how to work really hard to eke out a tiny advantage, remember to at least think about bluing your ocean before going all in.

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