It’s a Dog Eat Dog World: Isn’t It?

My last posting—The Deeper Message of Financial Volatiilty—generated responses at The HuffingtonPost.com I also got a call from a TV interviewer, who posed the question:

How can you say competition is increasingly less relevant—it is, after all, a dog eat dog world out there—isn’t it?

This metaphor of cannibalistic canines needs a little deconstructing.

First, I think it’s pretty much only a metaphor. Outside Jack London, I doubt there are too many Donner Pass incidents in the history of dogs.

More seriously, I learned early on that if I rode my bike past a snarling, menacing dog and pedalled like crazy to stay away from it—the dog would chase me.

But—if I actually approached the dog and said, “good boy, come here,” the same dog would wag its tail and befriend me.

In my experience, this pretty much describes people too.

People often live up—or down—to others’ expectations of them. And if we can learn that about ourselves, then we have gained the keys to our freedom. We can see that we own our own oppression; that we empower what we fear. And escape it.

The parallel extends to business. If I expect the worst of my suppliers and customers, then I’ll throw lawyers at them, endlessly calculate their financial value to me, use need-to-know communications, and generally make sure I’m always in control.

At its best, this response gives us dynamics like union vs. management. At its worst, we get endemic inefficiency and cynicism.

Now add change to the equation. Decades ago, we had monolithic corporations with fixed boundaries, competing against each other. Now, as BusinessWeek describes in its August 20 & 27 cover story The Future of Work , we have something quite different:

The very idea of a company is shifting away from a single outfit with full-time employees and a recognizable hierarchy. It is something much more fluid, with a classic corporation at the center of an ever-shifting network of suppliers and outsourcers, some of whom only join the team for the duration of a single project…

The hard part for multionatinals is getting people to work well together…such pressures put a premium on recruiting staff who are globally minded from the outset…Nokia is careful to select people who have a “collaborative mindset…”

Exactly.

The playbook that business schools still teach from is the one labeled Big Monolithic Corporation—and the chapter heads are all about Competition.

The playbook that hasn’t been written yet is about the Fluid, Shifting, Morphing Entity that BusinessWeek describes—and the chapters are not about Competition, but about Collaboration—with customers, with employees, with partners.

Dog eat dog? Why? When dogs eat dog food instead of each other, and figure out how to work together, life gets better.

And in an emerging business world that throws everyone together in constantly permutating ways, that old competitive nature we prized decades ago is becoming a bit of a millstone.

Business doesn’t need, or want, competitors and competitive talents as much as it used to. The emphasis will shift from competition to customers. Business needs more collaborators. Not in order to become more “competitive” or to “win”—but to become more successful.