Every now and then I get approached by someone wanting to sell something similar to what I sell. It happened just yesterday, a young carver like myself in Portland who wanted to start selling spoon blanks and was trying hard not to step on my toes. I told him what I tell everyone who is worried about being in competition with me.
I hope you do it, I said. I hope it works. I hope you sell lots. Please don't hesitate to compete with me.
In the craft world, there seems to be an unwillingness to think in these terms. Competition is a dirty word, and territories are staked out with the explicit idea that if someone is doing something like you, one of you must be a copier and a cheat. The idea that competition might be appropriate and healthy, that we should each feel free to pursue our goals so long as we act forthrightly and honestly, is rarely put forward. Instead, there is often the idea that you should pay your dues, that certain forms are already taken, and that there is only so much room.
I think this is a load of bunk.
I think the pie of people interested in buying wooden spoons and in learning to carve only gets bigger as long as we don't poison the well by pissing all over it. I think our WORK gets better from having to step up our game in the face of others pushing themselves to be the best they can be. I think it doesn't matter if you weren't first, or if you aren't the most vocal or don't have the clout. I think we all get to compete. As one spooncarver put it to me, ideas belong to whoever wants them the most. That means putting your effort where your mouth is.
One way to compete is to determine what your unfair advantage is. We all have an angle. Mine is that a tornado took down a ton of trees around me last year, so I have a never ending supply of wood. Yours might be that you live in the middle of a city with millions of people around you. Or maybe it's that you are young and childless and can pursue your passion with a singlemindedness that I will never again be able to bring to bear now that I'm a father. Your unfair advantage MIGHT be that you were first. Or it might be you are just really really good.
Whatever it is, use it. Compete. Not in a back stabbing, poisonous kind of way, but in a healthy way where you run your own race, not being spooked by others trying out what you are doing and also not shying away from ideas you see others pursuing.
Run your own race.
Be the best that you can be. Be better than everyone else in your own way. Figure out what you want out of what you do and then go and make it happen. And certainly don't let someone else's fear of being outcompeted stand in the way of you trying.
I expect all of you to do this to me.
And watch out, because I'm doing it right back.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.