The flipside of diminishing returns: being the best

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Bolton FairVery often, when we talk about diminishing returns, they’re something to be avoided. If you’re looking for total return on investment, the moment your returns diminish below a certain point, you’re better off innovating rather than trying to optimize. There’s one exception to this rule, however:

Diminishing returns are largely irrelevant if you want to be the very best of the best.

For the average person pursuing performance in, say, the local baseball league, a certain amount of working out and training will yield large returns. After a certain point, too much will yield too little in return. For the exceptional Olympic athlete, working out and training is done until the very edge of self injury in order to squeeze out every last performance gain, however minor.

For the average Warcraft player, most gear is good enough. You’ll get to play most of the game, succeed a reasonable amount of time, and have fun with it. For a hardcore, heroic-mode raider, there’s virtually no limit to the efforts you’ll make to get the very best gear, perfect your abilities and skills, and eke out a 0.1% DPS gain because you want to be the best in the world.

For the average marketer, ranking for various search terms is important, whether via organic search or pay per click. After a certain point, the amount you spend on SEO and PPC will outweigh any profit you could earn. For a few select terms, however, you might accept a negative ROI in order to dominate those listings, such as your company name. To be #1 requires investment beyond average.

For the average company, saying you’re the best on your marketing collateral is easy. Demonstrating it is much, much harder. If you’re truly the best at something, you invest a disproportionate amount of resources in that area of focus. If you’ve got the best quality, you spend the lion’s share of your reinvested profits on quality control. If you’ve got the best service, you invest far beyond minimum wage and minimum effort employees to get people who actually care about the customer. You get customer service representatives making decisions on behalf of the company that may not be in the best short term interests of the company, choosing the relationship with the customer over a financial gain. If you’ve got the best product, you spend all your money on R&D so that you continue to make incredible things.

Best is expensive. Best is intensive. Best is not what most people and companies are, and if you want to truly be the best at something, be prepared for an all-or-nothing effort.

Question for you: if you want to be the best at something, as a person or as an organization, are you truly making an insane, all-out effort?

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One response to “The flipside of diminishing returns: being the best”

  1. All-out effort? Yes – Insane? Not to me, but I’m sure to others it’s a bit odd –

    This is an excellent post, as I am reminded that we often go 99% of the way, but only those who truly “Want It” go to 100. Like you said, these are the people who are willing to lose to win, willing to give both time and money to become the very best at something.

    It’s also funny that most of our society will look at some with praise – i.e. the Athlete who wins the goal medal. While, we’ll look at others who fail to succeed with disappointment – i.e. the Athlete who comes in fourth.

    They both have paid a huge price in time, money, relationships, (the list goes on), yet if they don’t become number 1, it was all a waste – something totally untrue

    Thanks for the post,


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