Business Success: Am I Comparing Apples to Oranges? – Trying to compare and imitate other business formats – does it work?

I always wondered about the idiom “comparing apples to oranges” and wondered where it came from and why we use it. One internet site terms it as “Something which occurs when two items or groups of items are both the same and different simultaneously.” (Wikipedia, 2013) I found this very interesting and started thinking about it from a business point of view.

For instance, you cannot use the same standards as you use for an orange to tell if an apple is over-ripe. You cannot know if you will like the taste of an apple by biting into an orange. Nor can you judge if you are getting a great bargain if basing the price comparison on the differences in prices for apples and oranges. Apples will typically always be less expensive than oranges, unless the apples are imported and the oranges are locally grown. Suffice it to say the person will likely make costly mistakes if he or she purchases the apples based on information that only applies to oranges.

Comparing Apples To Oranges

The advantages and disadvantages of making business comparisons

Comparing Businesses

This also applies to comparing businesses and business operations. Frequently, business owners are tempted to judge the level of their own success by comparing it to another business owners’ success. It is also quite common for one business to try to imitate the exact business model used by another business in order to achieve the same level of success. This is especially true for smaller operations, but can be seen in much larger organisations.

Are there any Advantages?

There are some advantages to comparing business models and operations, as long as the businesses are very similar to each other. Hope, inspiration and creative solutions for common problems can be gleamed from observing successful businesses and their owners. For instance, a mobile hairdresser may discover ways to improve his or her services by studying how other mobile hairdressers are delivering mobile services.

The same hairdresser may also discover a new technology is available or find a new hair tonic supplier by studying other successful hairdressers. However, the mobile hairdresser should not expect to achieve the same level of success by merely imitating what other hairdressers are doing. Imitation items seldom receive the same acclaim and value as an original product. Thus, a business that merely imitates another business is not likely to acquire the same level of success as the business it is imitating.

Are there any Disadvantages?

There are also disadvantages to comparing one’s success level and business model to that of another individual or business. An entrepreneur may become discouraged and/or unduly stressed by making inaccurate comparisons. They may also end up making costly errors in judgement and setting unrealistic goals due to using poor methods of comparison. This lack of making accurate comparisons can even lead to the demise of the business.

Due to the uniqueness of each entrepreneur, employee and sub-contractor, there simply is no accurate way to identify each individual’s exact impact on the business’s success or failure.  Even if identical twins utilised identical business models and resources for identical businesses, the results may come out entirely different.  This is due to the differences between the two individuals’ life experiences, personal perspectives, skill levels, capabilities and personalities just to mention a few.

For instance, one internet-marketer nearly gave up on his business due to a recent comparison he made between his website and other internet-marketers’ websites.  He felt like he was a total failure merely because his website was not getting as much traffic or earning as much money as these other websites.

As is common, the internet-marketer had failed to realise that the websites he had chosen for his original comparison were too dissimilar to his own to make the comparison worthwhile.  The other websites generated incomes in different ways and the owners had resources that this internet-marketer did not have available to him.  They also attracted an entirely different set of consumers and advertisers.  Therefore, there was no way that the internet-marketer could have utilised the same business models, internet tools and resources to make his website as popular or profitable.

orange apple

Fortunately, this internet-marketer changed his mind about quitting after a good friend showed him how inaccurate the comparisons were due to the dissimilarities.  Moreover, the internet-marketer finally realised he was progressing quite well, after reflecting upon his own goals, decisions, resources and definition of business success.

Success via Comparison and Imitation

An individual may become more successful after conducting comparisons between themselves and other businesses. However, each business owner must also realise that it is impossible to conduct an entirely accurate comparison, even between two similar businesses as naturally other factors such as personality or cash flow will doubtless impact on the result.

Thus, the best way to be successful using comparison and imitation is to remember – “Am I comparing apples to oranges”.