One day the Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman was having lunch with a colleague named Frederic Hoffman. This was during world war two and they were working on the Manhattan project.
During the conversation, Feynman learned that both had worked for rival companies earlier in their careers. Feynman worked for the smaller competitor in New York while Hoffman had worked for the significantly bigger rival in London. In fact, both were working on competing versions of the same product and Feynman was intrigued about the progress the rival company had made with their product. So he asked Hoffman how it went.
“It was going along pretty well, but we had our problems.”
“They were developed further along than we were.”
“How could you tell?”
“They were advertising all the time in Modern Plastics with full-page advertisements showing all the things they could do.”
“Did you have any stuff from them?”
“No, but you could tell from the advertisements that they were way ahead of what we could do.”
“How many chemists did you have working in the lab?”
“We had six chemists working?”
“How many chemists do you think they had?”
“I would guess they must have had twenty-five or fifty chemists… how could we compete with them?”
That’s when Feynman confided in him that his employer in New York had only one chemist. In fact, the New York rival had a staff of four, which included the owner. However, the New York company got lucky by hiring young Feynman and gave him the freedom to experiment and improve their product.
It’s possible to win against bigger competitors by hiring the right people and giving them the freedom to do their jobs.
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