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Book Review: Becoming a Category of One by Joe Calloway

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Often, one company stands out as a business that’s truly above the rest, but we can’t quite articulate why. Product? Service? Brand image? Why is one exciting when another is just another commodity?

In Becoming a Category of One, you’ll learn how extraordinary companies do what they do so well. With the book’s case studies, you can lay the path to apply successful principles in your own firm. There’s plenty of business out there – and it will go to the best firm. Is that yours?

The idea behind Becoming a Category of One is not as easy as it sounds: “Don’t strive to be a leader in your category. Create a different category and be the only one in it.”

Along the way author Joe Calloway finds the commonalities of extraordinary success that are woven into the model companies he presents to us. In them, the author finds quite ordinary people, who simply do what other people are not willing to do. They are the ones who achieve extraordinary success.

Each company, and their leadership, has a sense of who they are, a sense of competition, savvy business sense and a larger purpose tied to the significance of what they are doing. Perhaps, most importantly, they know when to let go of what isn’t working.

Calloway further explains this by saying making the “decision to go” means that you start with an idea and do what’s necessary to make the idea a reality. This means you have to lead with the belief and then follow with action. One won’t work without the other.

“You can’t just believe your way to becoming extraordinary.”

You’ll never look at a “mission statement’ the same way once you comprehend Calloway’s point regarding the need to have a gut level understanding of your company. It’s not about a statement; it’s about your cause.

Becoming a Category of One also offers three rules that make a company succeed. The author provides a good example, defining customer relationships by relying on customer feedback to find out what she wants. Yet the customer may have absolutely no idea what you have available that would either solve a problem or make her happy. It’s not the customer's job to help you figure out what they may want from your company.

From Calloway’s perspective as a corporate consultant who likely knows these companies from the inside and may have had a hand in shaping their success, his advice comes from watching the success and transformation of companies who truly are in a class by themselves. Most business books are informative but Becoming a Category of One adds human interest with real examples from his own work and his alluring story-telling style.

Before you think you don’t need to read another business book, consider the author’s guidance that past success can lead to complacency, which is a sure road to failure in today’s business climate: “The greatest danger of past success is that you might relax into thinking that you know how your business works.”

This second edition of Becoming a Category of One includes a new chapter on the differentiating factor that will make a customer choose you over another firm. When a customer is choosing between two firms, what’s the tiebreaker that will make them work with you? Once you use Calloway’s methods to create a clean break between you and your competition, customers will realize there is no comparison. Once you know the tiebreakers, you can point to it/them with confidence and say: “This is the reason you should choose us.”

Becoming a Category of One creates an appropriate sense of urgency for companies of the future. If not now, when?

About Helen Gallagher