How to Be Unbeatable
Amazon tried to compete with his business, but they couldn’t beat him. This is what piqued my interest in Jim McKelvey as he talked about his company, Square, the small device that easily attaches to smart phones to take credit card payments. He was equally intrigued how Amazon, the online giant that has taken over the retail world, could not overpower and compete with him, even with all of their resources.
McKelvey shares the reason why Amazon could not beat him in his book, The Innovation Stack. It is a lesson for all of us in leadership who want to become unbeatable in any area of our life.
The Backstory of How Amazon Could Not Beat Square
According to Jim, Amazon saw the business opportunity and decided to enter the market space in which Square was leading. As per their usual method when they want to overtake competition, Amazon allocated immense resources and slashed prices to squeeze Square out of business. Jim and his team were worried. After all, who can face-off Amazon and survive? Still, Square persisted. A few years later, Amazon relented the market space and gave each of their customers a Square device as they exited the stage.
Perplexed, Jim pondered how that could happen. How were they able to beat out Amazon? His book unfolds his search for an answer and what he discovered. His answer is what caught my attention. I want to share it with you because I believe it contains a deep lesson for all of us who seek victory in any area of our lives.
Jim reasoned that the basis for their victory was found in the layers of innovations that had occurred at Square, that even Amazon could not duplicate. The innovations stacked, interlocked, and interconnected in such a way that it was practically impossible for another company to mirror their efforts. Thus, the innovation stack.
One might think that given enough resources, Amazon could have made their own innovations. That’s what I thought as I pondered the story as well. But that’s not how innovation works. There is a certain order to the process. One innovation leads to another, which leads to another, and then the first and last innovations interlock to lead to yet another. Ultimately, the interlocking knowledge base coupled with the audacious and specific thinking that took place in Jim’s company led to an innovation stack that is simply not easy to replicate.
Leaders Must Stack Knowledge and Experience
As I contemplated this stacking of innovation, I began to realize that this same process happens with any kind of knowledge and skillset; it is not exclusive to the process of innovation. When interlocking and layering occurs, in time one can become unbeatable in that area of focus. When I say unbeatable, I don’t mean it in the literal sense; rather that one will become a very strong, world-class expert, and mostly likely quite literally unbeatable.
In my life, I have been stacking in the area of leadership. I read about it, write about it, and practice it. I pray that God increases me as a leader; I talk to leaders; I aim to have leadership experiences. I may not be unbeatable—I am certainly not perfect or immune to failure—but I can say that I am stacked in the area of leadership. Not too many people can shake me when it comes to practicing healthy leadership.
Meanwhile, there are other areas in which I have not stacked knowledge and experience. I see some of my close colleagues and friends who are stacked in areas in which I am not. I try to emulate them. I try to duplicate what they are doing, but I simply can’t achieve the same results they do. They have been stacking their knowledge and experience for a very long time. For example, the area of finances is not my area of strength. It is not an area I have stacked knowledge and experience in. Although I know enough about finances to be an effective leader, if you talk to me about the subject, you will find that my knowledge and insights are limited. That’s why I seek to work with someone in my inner circle who excels in financial leadership.
How do you know in which area you are stacked? When you are approached about a particular topic, you can usually go a few layers deep without much effort, and certainly more than most people around you.
My father was stacked in the area of Bible knowledge and spiritual pursuits. My first memory of my father is of him reading the Bible. He was an avid reader and practitioner of the Christian faith. When anyone talked to my dad about any topic related to faith, he could talk to them with conviction, impressive knowledge, and personal experience.
Why is it important to stack in one or more areas of your life?
As a young boy, I grew up on the slopes of the Mediterranean. I observed that the only way one could farm the steep slopes was to carve levels into the side of the mountain. I saw older farmers painstakingly gather stones and stack them just right. When they placed them one over another, even without cement, they could make a beautiful, sturdy wall. Many times, they had to chisel parts of the rocks to give them a smooth front and cause them to lay flat on one another. Creating a life of leadership is similar to building a wall of stones. Each experience, one piece of knowledge, an important decision, one by one, they are stacked to create years of beautiful, lasting results.
In what area do long to be stacked? Spiritual matters? Leadership acumen? Entrepreneurial skills? You may choose to apply the stacking method to the organization you lead, with innovation like Jim did at Square, with understanding and application to customer service, or by making flawless products.
I suggest that you make a list, set your intention, and start the journey—or continue the journey you have started—with direction and focus. Give it time. Dive deep consistently. Experiment, and experience both successes and failures. Live with that topic, that area, and with time, you will find yourself unbeatable.