Summary: Edge – Turning Adversity Into Advantage by Laura Huang
Summary: Edge – Turning Adversity Into Advantage by Laura Huang

Summary: Edge – Turning Adversity Into Advantage by Laura Huang

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Having an ‘edge’ means gaining an advantage. It’s about recognizing others will have their own perceptions about us, right or wrong. When you recognize the power in those perceptions and learn to use them in your favor, you create an ‘edge’.


13 Principles of an Edge

Principle #1 Hard Work, Plus

“A winner is a loser who tried one more time. The most certain way to succeed is to just try one more time.”

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built every hour over the years. Hard work alone isn’t always enough for success. You need an edge to fuel your hard work and efforts. In other words, you need to know how, where and when to put in the effort and hard work.

“Hard work should speak for itself. But it doesn’t.”


Principle #2 Your Basic Goods

Less is more. Mythical unicorns such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Jack Ma of Alibaba talk about their basic goods – core products and services available for their target customers. These billionaires know it’s their basics that fuel their growth.

When companies go for more without discipline, they end up getting into trouble. Nearly all successful companies despite their spectacular growth, succeed because they live by the notion of excelling at a few things, instead of achieving mediocrity at everything.

Apple had no idea whether the iPhone would become a hit or miss. It doesn’t matter how big of an innovation the company believed it was, Apple had no way to know people want or even use a device that was totally new to the market back then. So they tested the public opinion of their basic good. And with each new iteration, with each new feature, that basic good feature continues to guide what is to come. They don’t get distracted by bigger and better things that could potentially sidetrack them for their vision and never lose sight of the basics that are the foundation of their ‘edge’.

“It’s not about giving it your all. Your basic goods help you get it all.”


Principle #3 Recognition of the Incongruous

“Different isn’t always better, but better is always different.”

Crowds are wise, well… generally. The wisdom of crowds has its limits. We tend to look at things that are crowded because crowds go to the shiniest thing around. This type of herd mentality has its place (such as when you’re trying to decide what phone to buy), but it can also drive the entire community down the wrong path.

Often, the crowd won’t lead you to the best opportunities. Start where it’s less crowded and go where others do not; to opportunities that others have discounted and overlooked. Take the time to master the basics – your own, not your industry and not everyone around you. It takes more time than you think to get good at anything. So enjoy the process of getting better each day.

“To use your basic goods in distinct ways, go where others don’t.”


Principle #4 The Value of Constraints

“When life hands me lemons, I make chocolate cake and leave bitches wondering how I did it.” – Seen on a T-shirt.”

Opportunities often come disguised as constraints. Constraints, as it turns out, provide us with a unique way to discover and employ our strengths. Constraints alter the path we take even in cases they make us feel like we have no options.

By not jumping to conclusions and reframing the constraints, Audi’s chief engineer asked “How might we think about winning Le Mans if our car isn’t the fastest?”. What followed is a new solution – a fuel-efficient car that reduced the number of pit stops, and allowed them to offset not being the fastest in the competition. The result is Audi won the prestigious race four years in a row.

Constraint is a leverage. Not having constraints can become a problem, leading you down the path of least resistance. When we see the constraints but don’t let them define our possibilities, we end up turning them into an ‘edge’.

“Embrace constraints. Constraints provide opportunities.”


Principle #5 Honing Your Gut Feel And What You Bring to the Table

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening the ax.” – Abraham Lincoln

People are highly uncomfortable with cognitive dissonance – when our beliefs, ideas or values feel contradictory to what is presented. We tend to reduce these feelings of uneasiness by actively ignoring new information or even changing them to make it more congruent with our beliefs. 

Learn to notice what’s there as well as what’s ‘not’ there. If we engage in a conscious effort to seek out these disparities, we create opportunities to gain our ‘edge’. 

“Your powers of discernment come from trusting your intuition and your experiences.”


Principle #6 The Power of the Unexpected

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will ilve its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

When we delight, we violate perceptions in a rather subtle way. Delight unsettles and challenges existing beliefs about your context. Delight grabs the attention of cognitive gatekeepers so you can show how you enrich the value in other people.

“Before people let you in, they need to be delighted.”


Principle #7 Reflective Improvisation

For most people, three is the most you can handle cognitively at any given time. Before making an important phone call, take time to jot down two or three bullet points. By identifying the two or three things that are most critical to the conversation or that the other person wants an answer or resolution to, you’ll be able to steer the conversation in the right direction.

Reflective improvisation is a skill that everyone can develop. By learning to make connections between topics that are not always visible, you can reflectively improvise and lead the conversation.

“Don’t overplan. Instead, aim for flexibility and opportunities to delight.”


Principle #8 Shaping and Delighting In Situ

“In Situ” is a Latin phrase that literally translates to “on site” or “in position”. How do you recognize something magical and delightful? First, seek out people, products and situations that you see ‘delightful’. Second, consciously try to pinpoint ‘what’ makes them delightful to you. The more you do so, the more it helps to refine your own sense of delight and your own ability to delight.

“Stay authentic and embrace how delight occurs in situ.”


Principle #9 All the Ways Your Diamond Sparkles

Self-awareness is like a diamond, sparkling differently from every angle. There are many facets of a diamond, and sometimes the light will hit at one particular angle, and other times it will hit at another angle and sometimes it will hit multiple facets at the same time and appear spectacularly brilliant.

Cultivating your edge is about knowing your own facets. And knowing how to shine will shine to those who’re looking. There’s no right or wrong way. Too often, the advice ‘be yourself’ limits us from unlocking our best selves. There isn’t a singular version of people. We are flawed and we may have weaknesses but we’re like a diamond. We can achieve brilliance when the light hits the right facet at the right time.

“‘Being yourself’ entails guiding others to all the glorious versions of yourself.”


Principle #10 Turning Biases and Stereotypes in Your Favor

People hear you through their eyes first. The racial stereotypes come first. Asians are dorky and meek. Latinos are loud and hot-tempered. Blacks are aggressive and outspoken. Then the gender stereotypes. Men are messy. Women aren’t smart. Then we see cultural stereotypes. Americans are obese . British are snobby. Italians are mobs. Russians are angry. Nigerians are dangerous… on and on we go. 

The magic happens when we are in harmony yet distinctly different. In other words, be together but not the same. Use biases and stereotypes in your favor. Guide them to the attributions you want to make.

“Know how others see you, so you can redirect them to how they should see you.”


Principle #11 Framing Perceptions and Attributions Your Way

Many entrepreneurs and investors describe what they believe is the single most important quality they’re looking for: passion. The problem is different investors have different definitions of passion. Some investors think it’s about an entrepreneur demonstrating passion for the vision of the company. Others think it’s about demonstrating commitment. Some see them linked while others argue these are two entirely different definitions. So as an entrepreneur, no matter how brilliant you are, you might be turning on one investor while turning another very much off. 

What gives Gary Vaynerchuk an edge was being unapologetic about who he is while staying attuned to the perceptions of others so he could align his strengths with the opportunities he saw in his surroundings. He relied on his strength – as a casual, approachable demeanor – to create associations with customers and suppliers. He delighted them with no nonsense and his brash perspectives on wine. He enriched them with a new type of experience with wine.

“Guide others to what is within you by recognizing what is around you.”


Principle #12 You Need at Least Two Points to Create a Trajectory

The way you chronicle your personal trajectory helps you explain who you are in a compelling way. Don’t make the mistake of having no trajectory in mind at all. If you don’t provide your own chronicle of who you are, one will be automatically given to you. So, don’t let others write your narrative. Write your own narrative and guide others’ view of you.

Your past isn’t something you should lament. It should be another asset in how you gain your unique advantage. Let your past make you better, not bitter.

“It’s not where you’ve been: it’s where you’re going. Guide how others see your trajectory.” 


Principle #13 Reinforcing Your Edge

“You’re always one decision away from a totally different life.” – author unknown

Effort is a double-edged sword. Sure, effort is the foundation of your edge. But effort alone will frustrate you to work so hard and not reap the results you deserve.

Even if you’re perfect, the world isn’t. You will see the good, the bad and the gully. We all will get screwed over at some point. Acknowledge and accept this. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, and that life’s not fair. You put in hard work, plus smart work. Focus on what you have control over.

There will also be haters. The more successful you become, the more people will come out of the woodwork to capitalize on it. The more some people will be biased against you. The more some will be rooting for you to fail. You can let it either fester or you can leverage it to make you better.

“Turn adversity into edge.”


13 Edge Principles

  1. Hard work should speak for itself, but it doesn’t.
  2. It’s not about giving it your all. Your basic goods help you get it all.
  3. To use your basic goods in distinct ways, go where others don’t.
  4. Embrace constraints. Constraints provide opportunities.
  5. Your powers of discernment come from trusting your intuition and your experiences.
  6. Before people will let you in, they need to be delighted.
  7. Don’t overplan. Instead, aim for flexibility and opportunities to delight.
  8. Stay authentic and embrace how delight occurs in situ.
  9. ‘Being yourself’ entails guiding others to all the glorious versions of yourself.
  10. Know how others see you, so you can redirect them to how they should see you.
  11. Guide others to what is within you by recognizing what is around you.
  12. It’s not where you’ve been. It’s where you’re going. Guide how others see your trajectory.
  13. Turn adversity into edge.


Bonus: Pitch with Laura.

Laura Huang is an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Below, she shares a pitching method that she teaches her students at HBS to craft a compelling pitch.

Two-Sentence Pitch

“For (target audience) who (have a need), the (product name) is a (product category) that offers (a key benefit). Unlike (competitors), we (are different in a key way).

For example, Elon Musk might pitch Tesla like:

For wealthy individuals and car fans who want a high-end sports car that is environmentally friendly, the Tesla Roadster is an electric car that delivers unprecedented performance without damaging the environment. Unlike Ferrari and porsche, we offer amazing performance without any direct carbon emissions.”


Extended Pitch

No pitch  should be longer than a  minute. After one minute, you’re engaging in a full-blown conversation. Here’s an extended pitch example of what not to do:

“Hi, I’m Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote.

Evernote is your external brain – whenever anything important happens, you can put it into Evernote and you’ll always have it on hand when you need it. You Can use Evernote with lots of devices you currently have. We have a version for Windows and for the Mac. You can also use this fro many web browser, any phone or any camera.

Now, your memory can take many shapes – there are lots of things you’ll want to remember. So you can use Evernote, for example, to take a picture of someone’s business card, or to take a picture of a whiteboard or  a wine label that you want to remember. Or you can leave yourself a text note or a voice note – all this information goes up to the Evernote servers, where it’s processed and indexed, letting you do things like search for all…”

Here’s an example of what to do:

“The most widely used manufactured material on the planet is concrete. On average, each person uses more than three tons of concrete a year. Unfortunately, the concrete manufacturing process contributes to more than 10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

However, we have been able to develop a concrete that not only cuts the carbon dioxide emissions by half, but also it is five times stronger than normal concrete. Our design is unique because we have discovered how to change the very nanostructure of concrete. This approach is environmentally friendly and at the same time it reduces the cost of concrete manufacturing by 40 percent. Given that the US market for concrete is over $100 billion a year, this makes our product extremely lucrative for concrete manufacturers.

We’re a team of researchers including three superstar professors at MIT, myself – I’m a last -year PhD student working on an innovative concrete and we’re looking for two more passionate people to complete our team.”

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