Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Competition is like driving

I've been on about war for the last two days, but it struck me on a long drive recently that competition - in business, in career - is not like war at all.

It's like driving.

In war, the enemy faces you and intends to do you in. You've got to do the same. On the road, hopefully none of that happens at all!

Instead, you've all got to share the road, each person aiming for different destinations. Thankfully on the road, there are concrete and fairly simple rules. Communication is really piddly simple - indicate for three seconds and then move where you're indicating. (But even that's too difficult for some!)

In business/career however, it's a lot more nuanced - particularly in a time of change. It's further complicated by the fact that we are in a state of change permanently.

However, knowing that we're all on the road - and not at war - should make that communication process somewhat easier. We hope!


At 5:39 AM, Blogger Dan said...

I agree completely -- driving is a great metaphor. It's really the "different destinations" that are worth thinking about. The more those destinations (in terms of market differentiation) are defined, the more the issue isn't competition but delivering on a unique brand promise. In this sense, leading means helping everyone and every system come together toward fulfilling that promise. It's a simple thought, but often a lot harder to carry out. It takes people out of "winning" and into "serving," a shift that pulls everyone, and especially those at the top, into higher levels of awareness around the impact of their style. It calls up the whole notion of how internal competition and mistrust (which is often a form of competition) within companies -- between divisions, departments, work units, and between management and employees -- is the central thing that undermines the capacity to deliver on the promise. The worst thing about competition as the motive for corporate success is that ultimately the company ends up pitted against its customers and suppliers, a system in which everyone competes for recognition, money, power, fairness, and a better deal. The market becomes dependent on negotiation within the chain, rather than collaboration in delivering (and receiving) value. In the name of winning, everyone loses.

At 7:03 AM, Blogger Simon said...

Hi Dan,

Thanks very much for your insightful comments.

Out of "winning" and into "serving" ... it certainly sounds like a good idea. I'd love to see it in action.

From my own experience in small business, it's easy to start with an attitude of serving, but all too easy to switch back to a kinda desperate "winning" mode when times get tough. And that's in a small business setting where you only need willpower to get back to "serving".

In a large organisation it takes willpower multiplied by position and ground level support to get the "serving" attitude in there.

But just because it's hard, doesn't mean it's worth trying. Thanks for that reminder today Dan.


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