Beware of Benchmarking Your Way to Mediocrity



Benchmarking, simply put, is comparing or evaluating something against a standard.

This could be your process, your product, or even you and your capabilities.

While it’s nice to know where you stand, it’s not how you stand out.

Beware of benchmarking your way to the bottom.

To stand out, and boldly go where you haven’t gone before, involve your customers in exploring and co-creating the future together.  It’s an effective way to drive innovation both in your process and your product.

In the book, Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes, G. Shawn Hunter shares how benchmarking can bring you down, and, what you can do to, instead, change the game and leap frog ahead.

Don’t Benchmark Your Way to Mediocrity

Benchmarking can start a race to the middle, and ultimately, the bottom.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Often the conversations we do have with customers involve benchmarking processes — “How did other companies do it?”  Yet most eminent thinkers, researchers, and writers involved with creative product or process development warn of benchmarking to mediocrity.”

Dare to Be Different If You Want to Differentiate

When you connect with your customers, you can boldly go where you and your customers have never gone before.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Around 2001, while leading Targeted Learning, my colleagues and I got our customer research and stories together and dreamed up an online system to teach the learner and leader how to use, apply, track, and campaign on our video learning assets.  We built the system, and when we showed it to a few customers, people surprised us by saying ‘You’ve created an LMS, although it’s got some stuff we haven’t seen before.’”

Listen to Your Customers to Drive Innovation

Don’t build a better mousetrap.   Use your customer’s needs to define and design a better solution.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“We had indeed built a learning management system before we had ever heard of one.  Instead of benchmarking LMS vendors (whom we didn’t know existed), we listened to our customers and created something unique.  We did it with passion and energy, because believed it in our originality and in our ability to create a killer application.”

Co-Create the Future with Your Customers and Innovate in Your Product

When you open the doors of the workshop to your customers, you create a two-way street of teaching and learning.

Via Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes:

“Through engaging customers in the creative process, we can teach them at the same time we are learning from them.  IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm, engages its clients in its highly co-creative, rapid prototyping process of design while simultaneously instructing and creating these capacities in its clients.”

I’ll add that Your customer is a strategic choice — who you serve and who you don’t defines your product.

Go for the bold – what’s  a simple way you could start exploring the future together with your customers?

You Might Also Like

3 Keys for a Successful Innovation

How Great Leaders Build a Culture of Innovation and Change

Incremental Changes or Disruptive Innovation?

Innovate in Your Approach

The Role of Process in Driving Reliable Innovation

Image by Robert D. Donovan.


  1. I really like how everything is listed on this post. For me, listening about what the customers says in your product – AKA – their feedback and suggestions will be a great option to do and to start with.

    Applying these constructive criticisms will give you an idea how you can innovate and improve your product and services.

    • Customers really are your North Star in three key ways:
      1. They force you to figure out who you want to serve and who you don’t (strategic choice)
      2. They tell you what they value, and what they don’t
      3. They tell you what they pay for and what they won’t

      You’ll want to serve customers that match your values — this will fuel your passion for the long-haul, and give you the juice to keep going.

      Keep in mind, as Henry Ford told us long ago:
      “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

      People don’t always know how to ask for what they want, they don’t always know what they want, they can usually recognize it when they see it, and they are often better at knowing what they don’t want.

      • Hey JD,

        Couldn’t agree more. I spoke with a business coach yesterday actually and one of the things that he said was his time tested indicator of whether or not people’s businesses will be successful is if they knew who their ideal client is. That being said, it’s almost as if you need to be perceptive enough to know the customer more than yourself.

        Every successful business owner, Henry Ford being a great example, most first know what type of person they want to work with. Second, they need to know the problems that people face. Third, fix those problems.

        I absolutely think people will tell you their values and their problems. Then, it’s up to you to get paid to bring the solution. Criticisms just indicate more problems to be fixed.

        • Well put.

          An advantage we have when helping other people, is that sometimes we see what they don’t see. We see their blind spots. From a “Johari Window” standpoint, this would be the Blind Self.

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