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When Competing With Your Own Customers Is OK—Vibram FiveFingers and Eigen Values

by Stephen Denny  |  
July 20, 2010
  |  5,266 views

Do you know what an eigen value is?

"This sentence has five words."

That's an eigen value. It's a self-defining entity. Its outputs are identical to itself.

If I were to say instead, "This sentence has a lot of words and syllables," that would not be an eigen value because it's subjective. We can debate what "a lot" is or isn't. And that difference is important.

Want to see how an eigen value plays out in real life? Look at Vibram and its FiveFingers shoe.


Vibram USA's CEO, Tony Post, had a seemingly insurmountable problem: How do you breathe innovation into a commodity business that frankly doesn't have too many moving parts (no moving parts to be precise)? Vibram makes soles for other manufacturers' shoes.

The company pushed hard into its well-developed OEM [original equipment manufacturer] space, branding its soles with its trademark yellow tab, and considered how to dip a proverbial toe into the athletic-shoe market.

At the same time, Post was dealing with a seemingly insurmountable problem of his own: As a competitive runner coming off potentially career-ending knee surgery, he was looking for a solution to the chronic knee pain that plagues runners after a lifetime of training.


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Stephen Denny has been a marketer for more than two decades and blogs about strategy, marketing, and big ideas at www.stephendenny.com. Download his e-book, This Sentence Has 5ive Words: Eigen Values, Creating Truisms and the Future of Marketing and follow him on Twitter: @Note_to_CMO.

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  • by Reese Adams Thu Jul 22, 2010 via web

    By the way - Tony Post is mentioned numerous times in this popular book about running, barefoot running and living life on a whole different plane - much like eigen value

    Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen [Book] by Christopher McDougall in Books

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