Inch-Wide, Mile-Deep

If you’re looking to buy a new knife, the choices seem limitless. A 21-function Swiss Army knife will run you around $39 bucks, less than $2 per blade. The all-purpose tool is versatile, but none of the functions represent the highest in quality. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Ao-Ko Mizu Honyaki Yanagi sushi knife. This single blade is terrible for peeling an apple or chopping lettuce. Yet it is the perfect blade for slicing paper-thin sushi, compelling master chefs to dish out $7,250 for the specialized instrument. Over 3,000-times more expensive per blade, yet no respectable sushi chef would even consider using the low-cost, low-performance alternative.

Too often in business, we take the Swiss Army approach. We try to be all things to all people, yet end up standing for nothing and truly serving no one. While our instincts may be to broaden our offerings and take a generalist approach, the world craves (and will pay handsomely for) laser-focused specialization. Now, more than ever, the ‘inch wide and mile deep’ strategy wins.

A seven-minute drive from my home, there’s a diner that offers over 200 items on their menu. From pancakes to stir fry, Reuben sandwiches to spaghetti, I’m pretty sure they cover all the bases. Yet the mediocre-at-everything joint is rarely busy, and the low prices rival those of a food truck. Compare that to the legendary Peter Lugar Steakhouse in Brooklyn. A startlingly small number of options, their menu could easily fit on a post-it note. The no-frills restaurant does just one thing… they make the best damn steak in the world. With lines out the door, hungry patrons travel from across the globe with fistfuls of cash (the restaurant doesn’t even take credit cards) to pay homage, no matter how outlandish the price.

Being the worldwide expert in one area will simply outpunch those who diffuse their energy, passion, and expertise into many. To scale your business and career, focus your aperture and become jaw-droppingly great at just one thing. The deeper your expertise in a single area, the higher your economic results will climb. The sun may gently warm a village, but when focused with a magnifying glass, it creates fire. We must do the same.

The mile-wide, inch-deep strategy no longer carries the day. Instead, put all your eggs (and your neighbors’ eggs too) in a single basket to maximize your success. A maniacal focus and world-class depth is your recipe for greatness.

And don’t forget your uber-specialized sushi knife as you craft the perfect dish.