A couple of years ago, I spoke about ecosystem marketing at a Nashville conference for authors, organized by my friend Tim Grahl. I shared the model I had developed after taking a 25 city tour to research a book I am writing on network and community building. In a shout to my friend Scott Stratten, I called it the UnBook Tour, since I was doing the book tour before writing the book.
At Tim’s conference, I met David Burkus, a writer and professor of leadership and innovation.
We had time to kill at the airport, so we grabbed some dinner together.
“What are you up to?” I asked David.
“I am writing a book about networking based on the science of human behavior,” he said.
As soon as I heard his idea, adrenaline shot through my body.
My first reaction: panic. What if he is writing the book I am meant to write?
My second reaction: shame. Why didn’t I move faster with my book proposal?
My third reaction: jealousy. Why did he have to be so proactive and successful?
My final reaction: excitement. David is a really smart guy. He will probably dig up some really useful information in his research that I would never cover in mine. This could be valuable to my clients and the readers of my book.
A lot of time has gone by since that first meeting, and I have sidelined the book project while I build a small business learning lab in Mesa, using all the principles I am researching for my book. I figure the lived experience will make for the best stories, right?
Allies, not enemies
We talked about that airport conversation where both of us had felt a lurch in our stomach as we learned what the other was working on.
And yet afterward, we each dove into the only work we knew how to do: writing the book we were meant to write, from our unique point of view and strengths.
David and I have really different views, based on our training, life experience and political lens.
Which is why there is room for both of our books, and a lot more in the same genre.
Big, complex problems need all kinds of analysis and tools to be resolved. Multiple perspectives will solve different components of the problem, and reach different audiences.
Nilofer Merchant has taken a deep dive into mobilizing support for big ideas through networks in her new book The Power of Onlyness.
Ryan Paugh and Scott Gerber, founders of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) give their take on networking in their new book Superconnector.
I see them all as allies in a shared mission: helping our community gain economic justice, stability and strength.
So what are your options when you see that someone took your precious book or business idea and ran with it? (And by “take,” I am not inferring stealing — that is another issue for another day).
Three common scenarios:
It is highly unlikely that you will come up with an idea that has never been thought of by someone else. If there is a big enough market for your business idea, there are bound to be competitors who see the same opportunity.
How many dentists are there in a common city?
How many apps are there to solve the problem of organizing finances?
How many consultants are there to solve the problem of poor leadership in organizations?
The answer, of course, is many.
There are many because big problems require a whole myriad of approaches and points of view.
Here are common scenarios I run into with clients on a daily basis:
Scenario 1: The exact book you want to write was written better by someone else.
- Find another topic. If I wanted to write about shame and vulnerability, and Brené Brown stormed in with Daring Greatly, I may reconsider writing that book.
- Find a really unique angle. I am not going to out-research a shame researcher, but maybe I could tell a unique story about shame that impacts a very specific audience, like small business owners.
Scenario 2: Your great business idea was executed beautifully by someone else
- Find a gap in the product or service offering and create something to fill it.
- Define your unique point of view and audience and speak boldly to it through your brand position and communication style.
- Build it better. Make a more useful, valuable or cost-effective solution.
Scenario 3: A fellow speaker in your area of expertise nails a topic you want to speak on
- Find your unique story and angle on your topic. Everyone has unique experience, and you have to discover yours.
- Shift audiences. If you find yourself continually competing for work from a competitive speaker, find some unique audiences who will appreciate your message specifically because of your expertise.
- Change topics. What is a message that you have been dying to share? The exploration is sure to lead to new and valuable presentations.
There is more than enough space for multiple experts and ideas. Lean into your unique voice, collaborate with smart peers, and you will deliver what is truly important: better solutions for the people you most care to help.