The early bird gets…

Why does everyone wants to be first?

The fifth post in my ongoing series on conventional wisdom.

In 1670, John Ray published the proverb ”The early bird catcheth the worm." More than three centuries later, we’re still obsessed with being first.

First to post something on social media.

First to buy the newest gadget.

First to meet with a client.

But let’s take the proverb to it’s unstated, but logical conclusion: “The early bird gets the worm; the lazy, slacker second bird gets nothing.” And I’m not sure that’s good advice.

There are absolutely advantages to getting there first. If you are the first company to bring a new product to market, you have a distinct advantage against your competitors. In news, being the first to report “breaking” news draws viewers. 

But our obsession with being first doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. You don’t have to be first to be successful. I might argue that:

The early bird gets the early worms.

Your business strategy might be build around getting the “early worms.” The tech company with a cutting edge product gets the early adopter consumer who will pay a premium. Many companies have successful business strategies centered around being first.

But there are also advantages to being second. You can see what your competitor is doing. Learn from their mistakes. You might miss out on the “early worms,” but in today’s international marketplace, there are plenty of “worms” all over the world to sell to.

Apple is one of the world’s most valuable companies. They weren’t the first to develop the computer. Or the portable music player. Or the smartphone. They don’t try to always be first. They strive to be the best. And they’ve been successful with that strategy.

So there is a reason to be first. And a reason to be second.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he is trying to get more sleep and wake up earlier... Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.