There’s a “competitor” in our industry who absolutely hates us. They’ve bad-mouthed us to key stakeholders, aggressively interrogated our project partners and made it quite clear that they think we are terrible people. It used to make me really angry until I learned about the narcissism of small differences.
I always used to use the analogy of how vegans seem to hate vegetarians more than meat-eaters. This idea that people who are in theory so alike, and have so much more in common than that which divides them, yet are against each other.
(Obviously I’m not saying all vegans hate all vegetarians… for the avoidance of doubt.)
The narcissism of small or minor differences is the idea that people who have close relationships to each other or similar values are more likely to feud because of a “hypersensitivity to details of differentiation.”
Some vegans hate that vegetarians can’t go so far as to commit to cutting out dairy when they accept the issues of animal welfare but don’t commit to going the full distance.
In business, when you operate in a competitive industry it’s very easy to narrow in on areas that are so specific to your world that you overstate their importance. This creates a space for debate which ought to be healthy, but more often than not becomes a division and a need to pick a tribe.
Minor points that differentiate your offering from your competitors and other services end up turning into defining qualities, and hills to die on.
Those defining qualities are rarely important to your customers or clients, and most people have a zoomed out perspective on your industry that means those things are completely invisible.
And in our case it wasn’t about competition, it ends up becoming a deeper, philosophical debate. A battleground that is completely futile and had no potential to make either party better able to achieve their goals.
I’ll write in the future about picking battles to win wars, but this focus on what is important to commit energy to can stop you in your tracks.
You can’t choose who decides to be upset by your stance when it comes to the narcissism of small differences, but you can choose to recognise the uselessness of your reaction and be above it.
When everything else is being thrown at you which could derail your business or prevent you from making progress, the last thing you need is a squabble with an insignificant competitor.
This is especially important to bear in mind when the minor differences are actually not differences, and when the market is big enough to support you and the other party.
Focus on your own progress, and when you start hearing the rumbles from others rise above them and don’t engage — else you’ll wrongly think those minor differences are major points that require your attention.
Have you ever caught yourself falling into this trap? Do you spend too much time focused on parts of your project that have no bearing on its success?
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Comic strip from the excellent Perry Bible Fellowship. Stop everything you’re doing and spend the next couple of hours going through their back catalogue: https://pbfcomics.com/comics/skub/