Risky Compared To What?

There was recently a large MTG tournament here in Denver, and since I know a lot of gamers, several people in my social circle competed, including my partner (who’s been playing since the game was invented and is quite good) and a coworker (who’s 10 years younger, and is just starting to play “seriously”). My coworker played with a “net deck” (one he’d assembled using instructions online), and my partner played a “rogue deck” (one he’d invented himself). And each thought the other was taking a big risk.

Who’s Right?

Well, the first thing to know is that tournament rankings usually look much like this:
A bell curve with net decks in the middle and rogue decks on the ends

That is, net decks are still available online because they’re good decks; they’ve been tested and tweaked by thousands of people. But they are available online, so everyone knows about and prepares for them.

The second thing to know is that my partner is one of the best players in the state, and he builds really good decks.

My coworker, with less experience and fewer resources, is unlikely to build a deck that’s better than a net deck; he’s comparing the lower tail to the big hump, and concluding (correctly) that he’s better off with a net deck.

My partner is almost certain to place highly, on the top half of the curve. And up there, the net decks are the poor options — there is simply no way to be the best when you are identical to 20% of your competition. Your only way to stand out from the pack is to be different.

K. So What?

The same dynamic is at work in any sort of competition — including business. On any metric you care to name (price, convenience, quality, safety, etc), companies and products will be distributed along a bell curve like this, with anyone who follows “industry standards” safely in the middle and the differentiation products out on the ends. If you don’t follow industry standards, you risk being below average. If you do follow industry standards, you risk never being above average.

In a game tournament there’s a clear, simple definition of “best” — the person who won the most games. But in business, it’s not that simple… and that’s a good thing. If there was only one “best”, there would be little room for competition, and no way for newbies to break into the field. But that’s not the case. There are lots of definitions of “best”, and you can certainly meet one of them.

Application

Have you done a SWOT analysis for yourself and your entrepreneurial venture yet? You should. But for the moment, I just need an internal analysis, because we need your strengths and weaknesses.

For your weaknesses — things that you’re worse than average at — you’d do better to copy the competiton, and get yourself up to average. Read blogs, check out books, call an expert, call your networking aprtners, or whatever, but move yourself towards what the rest of the industry is doing.

For your strengths — things that you’re better than average at — it’s possible that industry standards are holding you back. Take a look at everything you do in that department and ask yourself why you do it Because you’ve found it to be good? Because you think it might be good? Because everyone says you have to do it that way? And regardless of why, what results do you see from it? Do you think it’s the best you can do, or do you think a different approach might work better?

Then experiment… slowly. Industry standards, like net decks, are still around because they are good. Most exist for some reason. So you don’t want to throw everything away. You just want to try a few new things, see how they go, and try a few more.

And if you’re just starting, and don’t yet know your strengths/weaknesses? I advise you to give them some consideration — your personal strengths are the best place to start an entrepreneurial venture, and you’ll really want to know them. Take online quizzes, read StrengthsFinder 2.0, talk to your friends, talk to your coworkers, and do some journaling. But as a starting assumption, you can use the industry standard for everything, and adjust as you discover what you do well.

Resources for Further Reading
Play It Safe — and Experiment
Risk Analysis

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