The idea of being the best in the world at something sparks a complex set of feelings. It’s exciting and motivating to aspire to a crazy high level of potential. At the same time, it’s such a high goal that it can almost feel arrogant or even silly to consider.

But when you look at the idea of “world-class” from the right angle it not only starts to feel attainable, it can become a powerful guide for your business.

Embracing the world-class concept does two things:

  1. It forces you to discover the combination of strengths that make your business uniquely valuable.
  2. It provides focus for your business as you start to evaluate whether opportunities align with those strengths.

That’s a potent combination.

When it comes to your company’s direction and decision making, understanding your value and staying focused can have a huge influence on your success.

This was one of the key concepts in the book Good To Great.  

In it, author Jim Collins, compares and contrasts some historically great companies to learn what separated them from the pack. An understanding of “What you can be the best in the world at” was one factor the great companies all had in common.

You can read about the other models Collins and his team developed to identify great companies on his site.

For this article though I just want to focus in on the idea of being world-class.

World-Class Doesn’t Have To Mean Big

One reason why the idea of world-class can feel so big is that it brings to mind big companies.

Just because Apple, Amazon, and Google are world-class and massive, doesn’t mean being massive is a requirement to be world-class.

Part of identifying where you can be world-class is to get specific.

As Collins talks about in a recent interview with Tim Ferriss, a smaller business can be “…the best at a particular thing in its specific community…”, such that, “…no large company could come in and be better than them at that.”

A perfect example of this is the Los Angeles based restaurant, Howlin’ Rays. They make Nashville-style hot chicken. And it’s ridiculously awesome.

Part of why I know it’s amazing is because people will wait in line for 2-3 hours(!) to eat there. I’ve done it multiple times myself and I would do it again. The food is that good.

I don’t know the secret to Howlin’ Rays’ recipe, but I do know what makes them world-class. They make the best hot chicken in Los Angeles.

The Yelp reviews speak for themselves:

They’re not massive by any measure. Right now they have one, tiny location tucked away in an obscure strip mall. But they’re totally focused on delivering one thing better than anyone else.

And again, they’re not looking to be the “best hot chicken restaurant” period. They’re the “best hot chicken restaurant in Los Angeles.”

That specificity is core to the success of their business. It shows an understanding of how their product, service, and location, all contribute to a world-class combination.

This is the sort of world-class that every business can embody. Find the specific mix of elements that your business is uniquely suited to deliver on at a high level, and double down on that.

It Can Take Time To Refine

Not every company comes out of the gate as clear as Howlin’ Rays. It’s more likely that it’ll take some time to hone in on how you can be world-class.

Some of that discovery is introspective. You need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your team and how to harness those talents.

The other side of that discovery is with your customers. Why do customers pay you versus someone else? You need to be deliberate about uncovering that information. If you aren’t communicating about that with your customers, It can be easy to misinterpret why they like you.

For my consultancy, Map & Fire, our core purpose has always centered around providing access to the tools and resources that entrepreneurs and business leaders need to succeed.

But where I believe we can be world class is a combination of two things:

  1. Simplifying Ideas: We find ways to take complex concepts around brand, marketing, and strategy and simplify them so that they’re more accessible for people to use.
  2. Understanding Customers: We center our work around understanding customer behavior on a fundamental level. This guides our strategy work as well as how we create strong connections with our clients.

Those themes have been a consistent thread in my career well before Map & Fire existed. But over the past few years, it’s become more and more clear how to use them as pillars for the business.

And even though I’ve felt the importance of those themes throughout my career, it still took specific effort to recognize them as a unique combination.

Find Your Own World-Class Traits

As you’re thinking about your own world-class traits, here are some simple questions to help uncover your particular combination:

  • What do you believe are your company’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do your customers believe are your company’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What activities get you and your team performing at a high level?
  • And as Collins talks about world-class traits on an individual level: What do you personally believe you’re genetically encoded to do great?

Again, this likely isn’t going to be one singular item, but rather a combination of elements that together create a unique position for your business.

It takes some effort to figure out, but the clarity you get as a result could be what propels your business to the next level.

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