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Understanding your competition is a culture

Disclaimer: I haven't worked at Google for 5+ years so this kind of story is probably outdated. I mean, how could Google not have fixed this problem in the last 10 years?

In 2008 I was on a business trip to Seattle and I had dinner with an old college friend who now worked at Microsoft. I noticed that she had an iPhone. This was when Microsoft was heavily pushing their own phone product, and Android hadn't started shipping.

I thought it was odd that a Microsoftie would be using an iPhone and pointed it out.

"Oh, it's the opposite. We are encouraged to use the competition's products. The better we understand their products, the better we can compete with them."

I thought that was a very sound strategy.

When I got back to the office, I happened to have a meeting with one of the feature designers for Google Docs. I was meeting to suggest some improvements.

The designer was interested in one feature I was suggesting. He asked my opinion of how the UX flow should work. I responded, "Well, have you seen how Microsoft Word does it?"

"Oh no, I try not to look at competing products."

"Why not?", asked.

"Oh, I don't want to be influenced by their design decisions."


Even as an I use a lot of Google products and often I see a feature that has a user experience that can only be described as embarrassingly broken. I use this phrase only when competing products get it right.

I wonder where that feature designer is today.

When was the last time you gave your competitor's product a test run? Used it for a week or two? Does your employer encourage this or discourage this? If you are a manager, do you encourage your employees to do this? Does your corporate culture encourage or discourage this?

Posted by Tom Limoncelli

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In science it is called "read papers in the field" and kinda part of job description. There is time ,of course, to shut everything off, but should be very rare.

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