In this short podcast, Brooks Jensen tells an insightful story about competition he learned while working in a stereo shop in his younger days:
The competition for us in the stereo business were the people who sold motorcycles, the people who sold vacation packages, the people who sold surfboards, etc. because those were the things that were taking away our primary customer from buying a stereo. People had a limited amount of leisure time. They could choose to spend it any way they wanted to choose to spend it. And all the time they spent not listening to music or hanging out with their stereo system was time that we lost because they were off pursuing some other interests.
Listening to this podcast really helped solidify some rethinking I've been doing lately about our training business. For years I was convinced that our competition was other training companies, conferences, books, screencasts, blogs, and so on. My thought process was driven by the flawed assumption that a person interested in learning Ruby programming, for example, would only pick one of these resources and discard the others. After all, if you've read a book, why would you need to take a course? And if you've gone through one course curriculum, what's the value in taking another course? Follow this line of reasoning and your efforts as a business owner quickly become focused on being perceived as the one and only choice.
My thinking began to shift a few years back when I became interested in learning photography. Aside from running a couple rolls of film through a cheap Kodak camera one summer as a kid, I had no experience with photography. So when I decided to get serious about it I was, as we say, a total newb. And to be honest, at first it felt really uncomfortable. I was accustomed to being the person who taught others, and now the tables were turned. So, which workshop, book, or blog did I pick to learn how to make photographs? Every single one of them! I attended multiple workshops put on by "competing" companies, and the differing perspectives were invaluable. I also devoured every book I could get my hands on. And I read lots of blogs. Years later, I still do all of these things to continue to improve my photography. I can't imagine starting over and having to choose just one of these resources. I certainly wouldn't have learned as much, and I'd be at a dead end in terms of advancing my skills.
So now when another training company or new way to learn programming comes on the scene, I don't see them as competition. Instead, I see them as potential steppingstones for students along the learning path. And hopefully, when you're on that path, your pursuit will ultimately intersect with our passion for teaching. Our real competition is cat videos on YouTube, streaming movies on Netflix, tweets on Twitter, status updates on Facebook, and all the other things that take your attention away from programming. With that in mind, my efforts become focused on developing courses that are so engaging and rewarding that you decide to turn your full attention away from other activities and spend what leisure time you do have on improving your programming craft.