It’s a long way to the top…  That’s for sure.  But that’s not the AC/DC I’m talking about.  I’m talking about Edison and Tesla’s battle of the currents.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Edison favored a type of electrical current called direct current (or DC).  It’s the electrical concept that makes batteries give power.  He wanted to power the world with this type of electricity.  Tesla, on the other hand, found the more efficient method of using alternating currents (AC).  And in a battle more ferocious than our modern Blue-Ray vs. HD-DVD battle, their companies battled out for first place.

Close to one hundred years later we all know the outcome.  Most of the world is powered by AC electricity.  Tesla ultimately won.  Why then is Edison’s General Electric Company known so much better than Westinghouse (the company that promoted Tesla’s AC power)?  Why does GE have a brand value ranked 4th in the world when their original idea lost out to what is today a near-no-name company?

There are many reasons GE has long out lived their original competitors: their incredible dedication to continuing innovation, their extensive brand portfolio (which sadly doesn’t include control of NBC Universal anymore), their international presence… The list goes on as GE continues to be a case study in successful business.  But I think the key to GE’s success goes all the way back to that battle of the currents.

Though GE fought long and hard (and in many ways, longer and harder than it should have), it eventually saw that there was no way their DC could compete with AC.  So, they listened to the customer.  They switched over to AC power.  But the switch wasn’t just, “Let’s do this because that’s what customers want.”  The decision to move to AC was more along the lines of, “Let’s do this better, because that’s what our customers want.”

Small businesses today need that same energy – especially in the most competitive industries.  Sometimes it’s better to admit the competition is right and to start following their model.  But don’t just run up the white flag.  GE didn’t mold itself into just another Westinghouse.  They outdid their competition.  And it all started because GE listened to customer demands.

It’s a long way to the top, yes.  But you can get their faster if you listen to your customers.  Don’t be afraid to hear what they say and don’t be afraid if they say your competition might have a better idea.  Take that idea, make it better, and you’ll land at the top.


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