Thursday, November 17, 2011

Collaboration vs Competition

Competition is often touted as the powerhouse of successful growth. Beat the market or sink.
The battleground/adversarial approach has even worked successfully within companies. Successive Governments have tried unleashing it on the NHS.
There was little collaborative about the way emap operated in its fastest growing years for example. That publishing company (where I spent 20 years of my career) housed several motorcycle magazines within one building. All they shared (apart from healthy contempt for each other) was a desire to beat each other. Journalists on the same titles would fight against each other to claim the glory of the best stories.
If they had to share anything it was more likely to be with a foreign title from another company altogether.
Despite what the collaboration canon tells us, from Harvard Business Review to Wikinomics, it worked. Spectacularly. For many years emap's growth made it among the most admired companies on The FTSE.
And others have either adopted the model or arrived at it independently - promoting the cut-throat over the collaborator, the I over the team, keeping over sharing.
And they think it works.
But I wonder if they kid themselves?
Success is relative. They may be doing all right but could they do so much better by adopting a more collaborative approach - aggregating and distributing best practice rather than hoarding the tricks that allow some to win as others lose.
Could collaboration allow more to shine instead of the competitive approach which results in someone in the shade for every shining light?
I do think the no-share model has a place: where it is vital that the various parts of your company have distinct cultures and generate distinct outputs then there is potentially risk in sharing.
In our emap example, if the bike mags shared their exclusives, their contacts, their leads, their way of writing, their picture choices - well they'd have all shared the same character. And it was the differences which attracted readers, allowing them to label themselves through the choices they made.
So perhaps let that be your guide? Where you want to deliver a consistent outcome (if you are all part of one brand for example) collaborate internally. if you need to be different, compete internally.
But even then collaboration can help. It can help you shape the processes you can apply to reach very different and relevant outcomes. One best-practice process can result in very different outputs providing the inputs are different
And of course you can collaborate externally too.
Just make sure you don't end up collaborating with the same folk your competitors are...

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1 comment:

  1. in whole-systems, abundance-based thinking, collaboration is the only way of conducting any enterprise.

    it is how nature works, it is how the body works.

    it is the future.


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?