This post is the thirtieth part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series are:
- Goodwill, Negative and Positive
- Visions, Quests, Missions
- Right, Wrong, and Style
- Follow Me
- Balance, Part 1
- Balance, Part 2
- Definition of a Great Team
- The 15-Minute Meeting
- Metaproblems: Drama
- The Right Question
- Software is Organic, Part 1
- Metaproblem: Terror
- I Don't Work On My Car
- A Turning Point
- Human Doings
- Everything Changes
- Getting It Right The First Time
- One-Time Boosts
- Perfection vs. Precision
- Software is Organic, Part 2
- Business Losses and "I Don't Know"
- T-SQL Tuesday: Personality Clashes, Style Collisions, and Differences of Opinion
- Human Resources Sucks
- The Integrity Challenge
- Sounds Good...
This post is about competition in a connected business climate. I call it Coopetition.
How You Play The Game
Someone comes out on top in every contest. There are a couple / three ways to think about the contest and the outcome. Several interesting ways are described by examples of Nash equilibria (named for John Forbes Nash, Jr. - winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and subject of the book and movie A Beautiful Mind). But there are other ways to think about these things.
One way is short-term. The idea is to do "whatever it takes to win" the contest. Rules exist to be stretched and circumvented. Vote early and often. Coerce the panel. Stack the deck. Winning is the most important thing.
To those who feel this way I'd like to say "Welcome to the 1980's." I'd also like to ask "How are you sleeping?" We all participate in communities. If you choose not to participiate in a community, you are still participating in a community, just not very effectively. As of about 2006, you're also living in denial, but that's not your most prescient issue currently. On some level, you're dismissing and writing off your community. On another level, you're disconnected. Like it (accept it) or not, whuffie exists; and you're running a tad low.
People who think long-term consider a bigger picture. They're in it to win the war, not every battle. They choose their battles carefully. By "carefully," I mean strategically. As a result of thinking strategically, they accept the occasional "loss" to achieve a greater goal. There are hills worth dying on, but those hills are few and far between. Better to live to fight another day.
I do not like fighting metaphors when it comes to describing sustainable coopertition. "Why, Andy?" I'm glad you asked! It's because war is not sustainable. Someone eventually loses. Truth be told - everyone involved in a war loses something. While I believe there are causes worth fighting over, I'm not convinced war is the best way to wage the fight. I see it instead as "the last option."
Sustainability is about making something work for the long haul. To accomplish this, a positive spiral is required. What's a positive spiral? There's lots of definitions and theories. My favorite definition begins with stasis and the status quo. Things are humming along at a decent clip, nothing too bad is happening but nothing too good is happening either. And then along comes a disturbance - a disruption. Perhaps some applecarts are upturned, maybe some feathers are ruffled, but the disruption stirs the soul of the organization (or business, or individual) and before you know it, something good has come from it: a positive spiral emerges - a sustainable bias towards the good.
Demonstrating you'll stop at nothing to crush competition is not sustainable. The hidden message you send to your team and the market is: "I'm a selfish and insecure individual/business/organization. I cannot tolerate others in this space." You may think everyone will want to work with such a big winner. You would be wrong. If your ego is that destructive, it will soon run out of external targets. At that point, there's little left but internal targets; and you will begin taking your organization apart one snide comment at a time.
There's Enough Work to go Around
There's plenty of work out there. In fact, you can even earn a percentage off of work you send to competitors. How's that for a win-win?
And let's not forget about good will. Or bad will. Good will is one more reason people will choose you over your competition. Bad will is a reason for people to seek out and choose your competition. A common mistake of de facto monopolies is to think they must be doing things right because there's no competition. Sometimes, the bad will is accumulating and will convert into momentum for competition, once it arrives.
Coopetition is a sustainable approach to markets and organizations.