One (of the many) pieces of advice I received from my former boss and mentor at Mozilla Chris Beard was to “not do anything which has been done before.” He said this to me when he handed the proverbial keys to Mozilla Labs, our internal innovation lab, over to me — the organization he built and now entrusted me to run while he went on to first become Mozilla’s Chief Marketing Officer and later its CEO.
Of course, he knew that this is much easier said than done, and I don’t believe he meant this as a steadfast rule but rather something I ought to keep in the back of my mind as a guiding principle.
Since my days at Mozilla I have treated this as a mantra — as it gets you to look at anything you do with an eye towards differentiation: Doing something which hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean that you need to invent something entirely new, but rather identify one dimension in your offering which you can reinvent. May that be a set of features, the design, or even the pricing strategy — you need to find a property in your overall offering where you can, indeed, do something which hasn’t been done before.
The best companies follow this advice to the t, the ones which struggle do not. Take a hard look at what you’re doing and figure out what it is you are doing which hasn’t been done before. And if it’s missing or maybe not strong enough — work it out. As this is your path to greatness.