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Being First Or Being Best

June 28th, 2012 was a momentous day here in the United States. After initially promising that it would happen on Monday, the Supreme Court was finally going to weigh in officially on President Obama’s healthcare plan known as the Affordable Care Act. With just four months (give or take) until the fall elections, this was sort of a pre-election election for the Obama administration. Everybody was on the edge of their seats. Finally, right around 10:00 EST, the news reports started coming in. CNN announced that the mandate had been struck down. MSNBC announced that it had been upheld. And Fox News maintained a stoic “Nobama care” graphic with a note that the decision would be coming soon.

Of course, there is just one problem with this chain of events as I’ve described it. CNN turned out to be wrong. Completely wrong. Shortly after blasting out a report that the mandate had been voted down, CNN had to backtrack and reported, with a bold banner saying CORRECTION!, that in fact the mandate had been upheld in a 5-4 vote.

I’m sure there will be a lot of coverage on how CNN initially blew such a major story. They had a chance to be particularly objective while MSNBC and Fox News duked it out, but instead they misreported one of the biggest Supreme Court decisions in years. Whose fault is this? Why and how could this have happened? This will likely be fodder for many blog posts in the days to come.

Our concern is a bit more big picture however, and it applies not just to the media but to business in general. One thing you can bet on pretty safely is that CNN was in a rush to report the news because they wanted to be first. Instead of taking time to review all of the information, CNN rushed to the scene and ended up reporting something that was incorrect. How many companies rush a product to market so that they can be first only to discover that the product isn’t everything they had hoped it would be? How many marketers try to be “first” on a new social media platform or in a new publication without first analyzing whether they should really be there?

It’s extremely difficult to be both first and best. Achieving each goal requires a different sort of focus. Being first means that you might end up cutting some corners. Being the best means that your focus is more internal than external. Being first means that you might have to do something over again. Being best means that you are hoping to only do something once. It’s possible to achieve both goals simultaneously, but it’s quite a challenge.

In your business, what is your focus? Do you always want to be the first in a new market, or do you want to be the one who maybe comes in a bit late but with a product that turns everyone’s heads? Do you always want to be among the first to adopt a new technology or a new platform or do you like to evaluate and analyze first and then determine whether or not it’s a good match for you?

There is probably not a “right” or “wrong” here, but there can be benefits and disadvantages that arise from both approaches. CNN experienced a rather critical setback in striving to be first instead of best. Could the same thing happen to you?

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