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  • Writer's pictureTristan Wilson

Brutal facts and learning from competition

As Winston Churchill began leading Britain through World War II, he was concerned that his overbearing tendencies would prevent the facts from reaching him during the worst of times. As Jim Collins and his team highlighted in Good to Great, Churchill directed the creation of the Statistical Office, charged “with the principal function of feeding him – continuously updated and completely unfiltered – the most brutal facts of reality…. And relied heavily on this special unit throughout the war”. Churchill refused to take filtered opinions and instead relied on facts surrounding war with the Nazis. He knew he needed the brutal facts about his Nazi opponents because he feared he would not get that from his direct team.

In my view, the best way to get the brutal facts about a contracting competitor is to go see the facts for yourself and spend some time on their work site. To my knowledge, this is perfectly acceptable if it is done safely, and with humility and respect.

Below are some guidelines that I used in analyzing competitor’s jobsites. Please note that these are from my personal experiences and grains of salt shall be applied accordingly.

1. Made It a Scheduled, Repeatable Habit

I found that performing checks on a regular schedule and when work was likely being put in the place were both ideal.

2. Beginner’s Mindset

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, says that the “know-it-all’s” do much worse than the “learn-it-all’s”. Biases and predispositions should be set aside.

3. Engage

It is not a crime to introduce oneself to and chat with managers, crew members, and/or inspection staff on the job when conditions permit.

4. Bring Bid Tabs and Take Detailed Notes

I always had the bid tabs at my disposal. Taking copious notes will ensure that takeaways are documented.

5. Ride with a Friend and Share Learnings

I found it to be most effective when I did this with a teammate with a different skillset (a Foreman or Superintendent in my case) than me. Sharing takeaways with other team members helps everyone learn from the findings. Leaders set the example.

Top competitors are always looking for more data to improve their own processes and gain an edge. Understanding what the competition is up to is a relatively low risk way to achieve this. People will inevitably ask whether it is possible to go too far with this and fall into a competitor obsession? Sure. It is best to set a schedule and stick to it.

Some contractors would rather pull the proverbial covers over their head and stay in bed in lieu of doing good competitor reconnaissance. Why? They may be upset that they lost the bid and prefer to avoid the reminder of the loss altogether. Or perhaps they fall into the trap of thinking they have already seen what the competition has to offer. As noted before, learn-it-all’s will come out ahead.

This practice is not a cure all. And I acknowledge that sometimes local competition is not the best measuring stick for excellence, so one should be mindful of the locality trap where people start comparing themselves only against the competitors they see and thereby overlooking world-class contractors across the country. Still, learning from competition by observing the brutal facts on the road is a helpful method. Next time, we’ll review a framework for what to look out for.

Thank you for reading our post this week. At Edgevanta, our proprietary SaaS platform enables highway contractors to track and forecast critical market dynamics and increase the predictability of the project acquisition process.


Tristan Wilson

CEO and Founder

Edgevanta, LLC


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