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Ditch The Usual Way You Think About Your Competitors

We have think about our competition, whether we openly admit it or not. We also envy them from time to time again not making any judgements nor trying to say what is right or wrong. We typically see some variation of following approaches to understanding our competition:

Regardless of the approach, the typical steps to undertaking a competitive analysis have been:

  • Identify the competitors

  • Identify the areas to compare

  • Now compare and find the intel

  • Present the intel (e.g. table, battle cards etc)

  • Hopefully most teams will share and communicate

  • Iterate

Although this does the job; we have found that the dynamic nature of our changing markets don't get captured in this way of thinking about the problem. It's one dimensional and can lead to a very myopic view of the world. Borrowing the concept of a time machine from Service Design, we can apply this to understanding the ebbs and flows of the changing market and customer behaviours or needs. This is so key because what might be one's edge can very quickly become tablestakes tomorrow.

User needs migrate over time

What the heck is Service Design?

I am a huge believer of Service Design and have been a practitioner even before realizing that this was a thing. Before introducing Time Machine, we believe it would help if we unpack Service Design a little. There are many definitions and interpretations - for us it is an inter-disciplinary way of untangling messy business problems. It provides us with a plethora of foundations from a number of fields to understand a problem better and then think of creative and innovative ways to solve all whilst empathizing different points of view. Its not enough to describe this as customer centricity or customer experience alone. It is about humanizing the experience and this happens when a user goes from "yes this works" to "wow, this gets me, I love it".

One of the best academic definitions we found of Service Design is:

This cross-disciplinary practice combines numerous skills in design, management and process engineering. Services have existed and have been organized in various forms since time immemorial. However, consciously designed services that incorporate new business models are empathetic to user needs and attempt to create new socio-economic value in society. Service design is essential in a knowledge driven economy.

Source: This is Service Design Thinking: Basics-Tools-Cases

Back to Time Machine & Competitive Analysis

We consider Time Machine as a framework on steroids to understand the dynamics of the market. This is particularly important because user needs migrate and this framework helps us appreciate the nuances of the ecosystem over time. It is a longitudinal study of the players in the market. Moreover it is a great exercise for uncovering how people did things in the past, how they are dealing with it today and where they might be headed in the future.

Here is How To Get Your Competitive Time Machine


  • Draw, print or get 3 digital copies of the canvas for the 3 different periods: Past, Present & Future


  • Sit with your team in a circle (if in person) or virtually

  • Hand everyone a stack of post it notes (4 different colors)


  • Research and try to answer the following questions regarding past, present, and future.

- What are the main reasons people experience the problem or pain point?

- How are people dealing with it today?

- How did they do it in the past?

- How might they do it in the future?

- What products or services are/ were available in each period?

- What players aka competitors were involved in each period?


  • Organize your research findings across the time horizons

  • Write only one insight per post it and add it to the corresponding area

  • Use 1 color for each quadrant


  • Notice the shifts across the time periods

  • The end result might look like this

Source: Service Startup

So there you have it! I would love to learn how you tackle to understand the dynamic nature of the players in your space. And if you do give this Time Machine a try, please do let us know how it went!

Visit us at our website to learn more about how we can help your business and to get in touch.

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