I remember the sudden uneasiness that settled one day in the small, city fruit shop where I had my first job. A nearby deli had added a few fruits and veggies to their selection. My employers frowned constantly from that day forward, their faces showing the strain of worry. A month later, they announced their strategy: spying.
Today, competition is not only on the next street corner, it is on every computer screen in the world. When exposure opportunities are multiplied exponentially, is it possible to also multiply one’s competitive edge exponentially? More importantly, is it sane? What of the human factor, or rather human value? Is this not a crucial selling point?
Businesses spend thousands of dollars and much effort toward pushing the competition off the search engine top rung. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website. The higher and most frequently a site appears at the top of online search results, the more visible it becomes to a wider audience of potential clients and customers.
Those for whom this area of expertise is their joy and passion immediately see the possibilities and grasp the challenge. It is a game of words and wit requiring the analytical ability of the general who must plan the next move on the battlefield, foresee the next hurdle and envision the next goal all at once.
Meanwhile, business at street level remains rather simple. Meanwhile, also, business at street level often suffers. By “street level” I mean the interpersonal quality of the business experience as a whole.
Business at street level is about people. It ascends to the top by virtue of the integrity and availability of those who represent the product or service being sold. If you sell potatoes, using the word potatoes 100 times on your website, and in its individual page addresses, may very well bring you closer to the top of the list in web searches but, ultimately, it is how fairly they were treated when they walked through the door and how genuinely they felt they connected with you and your crew that your customers will remember. Then, they will tell friends, who will tell friends, who will tell friends, and so on. This, it turns out, is far more powerful than SEO.
SEO is impersonal. It is a great tool for building traffic, but not a good tool for building loyalty. The tool is not the problem; the real problem is intention.
Efforts to outdo the competition, online or otherwise, in business and in life, will always be a battle without end. Struggle for recognition is exhausting. This in turn affects the quality of everything we do. The pursuit of excellence, free of comparison with perceived competition, affects the quality of everything we do also. The difference is this: the first strategy spans from a desire to have more; the second one spans from a desire to be more.
Where does Thanksgiving fit in all of this? Intention. The Thanksgiving story endures because it is the story of people of diverse beliefs, cultures and goals coming together at the same table with the soul purpose of sharing in the moment, with gratitude. The spelling, soul, is intentional. We return to this table, symbolically, every year.
Competition is an old axiom rooted in the fear of not having enough if others share in the riches. When we focus on the fear of lack, it is not possible to be deeply thankful for what we have, what we do and what we have become. We then operate under the illusion that we are not satisfied yet. Others become a threat.
There must be a deeper dimension to thankfulness, one that extends beyond ourselves. We must be thankful, also, for the joy and success of others; thankful to the point of dismissing our fear of their success.
When we come to the table with our diverse perspectives and skills; when we share in a meal, shed our fear and begin sharing dreams, we also begin to inspire each other. More importantly, we realize that there is room for everyone. We walk away from the table replenished and uplifted. How often do we walk away uplifted after focusing on beating the competition? Never.
Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for all the ways in which you help create a gentler world and for all the ways in which you inspire others to do so as well.