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Competitive Collaboration

Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist | Comments (3)

Posted on February 1, 2010 by admin

Last week I was invited to join a new local networking group that focuses on building business referals for its members. One of the conditions of the group is that only one member per industry joins, preventing multiple people from attempting to draw on the same pool for prospective clients.

From a distance, this sounds like a reasonable idea, and so I filled out my paperwork to join. And then I was denied, because I was considered a direct competitor to someone who is already in the group.

The reality is, only about 20% of my business competes directly with this other business — and it’s not even the core part. She is a website designer and developer. While we do help clients with that, that is not our core business and when we do that type of work, we will typically work with designer/developers in collaborative projects to get that work accomplished.

Yet, according to traditional ways of thinking, we are competitors and that’s that.

This entire episode reminded me of a recent article on YoungEntreprneur, called The Rapidly Changing Rules of Online Competition. And like so many other exchanges I encounter every day, it was a great example of a clash between the “traditional” way of doing things, and the “new” way of doing things.

The YoungEntrepreneur article approaches the topic of competition-vs-collaboration from a classically Gen Y perspective. Generational statistics show that Millenials are far more collaborative than older generations, and that it’s not a toolset issue, but a mindset issue. So, for YoungEntreprneur’s target demographic, the idea of forming a coalition of peers with overlapping offerings to build collaborative teams is not a crazy notion.

For Generation X and older, this is rarely how we approach most things. Competition is just that, and you don’t get to your goals if you share with your competitors.

The problem with this theory, however, is at the heart of the Game Theory proposed by Economics Nobel Laureate, John Nash (see the video clip on YouTube, if you haven’t seen the movie A Beautiful Mind). Doing what is good for yourself without consideration what is good for those around you may foster strong competition, but it also fosters social alienation. In a world of mechanical processes this may be fine, but in a human-centric world that requires collaboration for success, this is ultimately short-sighted.

The YoungEntrepreneur article makes this point very well, and recognizes that Generation Y has a more innate understanding of these social rules than many older demographics. There is a direct relationship that entrepreneurs — especially ones in collaborative fields — need to understand in order to be successful:

  • The democratization of data empowers entrepreneurs as individuals, because we are no longer dependent on having a full-fledged firm to be able to provide valuable goods and services.
  • But no entrepreneur (no matter how big the firm) can be all things to all customers. Entrepreneurs specialize, and no two entrepreneurs will offer precisely the same services.
  • In order to provide a truly good customer service, multiple entrepreneurs need to come together in a collaboritive effort to serve customer needs efficiently and effectively as a team, rather than trying to over-stretch a single entrepreneur.

Consequently, the old paradigms of what constitutes “competitors” need to be re-examined and explored for opportunities, rather than summarily dismissed or eyed with suspicion. Where older generations see business as a race, Gen Y sees it as a relay race where an individual’s success cannot be defined in isolation.

So if the rest of us want to stay competitive, we better start learning a lesson from ‘the kids.’ ¬†We can be competitive, but we just need to figure out how to do it a bit more collaboratively.

Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.