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Good enough for the locals, and other myths

Douglas Kruger is a professional keynote speaker and author of 5 business books with Penguin. He is a 5 times winner of the SA Championships for Public Speaking and an inductee into the Speakers’ Hall of Fame. See him in action, or sign up for his free weekly newsletter, at

The Eiffel tower recently acquired a glass floor. You can now go halfway up the 127-year old landmark and scare yourself rigid by stepping onto a transparent walkway, then looking straight down past your own feet. It’s a great addition to one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations…that took about 15 years too long to implement. 

Many years ago, my wife and I went up the CN Tower in Toronto. Somewhere up near the Canadian clouds, its bulbous dome has a similar walkway, which has been there for decades. I remember watching my wife, who is no friend of heights, crawling out onto it and smiling gingerly for a photo, then retreating to the safety of concrete as though she were on fire. Other places, like a tourist spot at the Grand Canyon, have since copied this notion too.

Why did it take one of the world’s leading tourist destinations – the Eiffel Tower in France – so incredibly long to do something so seemingly obvious? Shouldn’t they, of all people, be right up-to-speed with the latest and greatest ideas in their industry?

The answer is: Because the custodians didn’t think of themselves as part of a global network of international travel. They thought of themselves as ‘custodians of the Eiffel Tower.’ They didn’t think of themselves as having to innovate and compete against landmarks on other continents. They thought of themselves as taking care of a static, existing asset.

Subtle shift; huge difference.

Do you still view yourself as a local operator? Is your offering ‘good enough for the locals’? In many cases, this view will simply be self-delusion. Many of your customers today are extremely well travelled, and may be comparing you to a much better version in Tokyo, or Tel Aviv.

Perhaps one the reasons South African government departments take so much flack is simply because so many of its citizens have travelled oversees and have solid reference points for just how much better, and more efficient, things can be. Home Affairs is cataclysmically unaware that many of us have seen, say, the Swedish passports department, issuing documentation while its citizens are en route to the airport. Home Affairs can’t understand our impatience, because they lack the global perspective reference-points that their customers have.

In their case, they effectively hold a monopoly on a service, and so we simply have to whine and bear it. But do you enjoy a similar luxury?

Do you view your operation as ‘good enough for Roodepoort customers?’ ‘Sufficient for people in Centurion’? If so, that could be a fatal mistake. They may be comparing you to the better versions they experienced in London and Los Angeles.

Take a moment to conduct a perspective check on your business. Do you truly view yourself as globally competitive, or are you operating at a level that is ‘good enough for the locals’? If the latter, you may be offering any other operator a massive competitive advantage. You might just be allowing someone else to own your industry.