Why I Believe in Collaboration over Competition


People screaming in each others faces. Chanting. Painting their faces.

It was kind of like watching a gory movie—a part of me didn’t want to watch it but I couldn't look away.

I winced my way though over an hour of personal attacks in a documentary on the recent Trump/Clinton election in the US. Scattered in between this roasting of the opposition were glimpses of discussions about the country’s social, environmental and economic issues, but they certainly weren’t the main event.     

Cut-throat competitiveness is not present just in politics. In some industries and even within companies there is a culture of ‘every person for themselves’. I’ve worked in environments where I felt like my job was never secure and that my colleagues were not my collaborators, but my competition. My aim was not necessarily to serve my customers, but to outshine my colleagues and do enough to impress the boss. It was hardly healthy. And this culture did not benefit our customers one bit.

As business owners, I believe our goal is always the same—to provide value to our customers. Whether you’re a politician, a business owner or an employee, there is always a ‘customer’, that you are working to provide value for. But, in an environment where we’re constantly competing, even if it's not at Trump/Clinton levels, there is no sharing of information, ideas and resources and we end up hindering the results for the very people we are trying to serve.

I’m not suggesting that we all hold hands and sing kumbaya, I love that people have opposing ideas, a desire to innovate and a sense of trying to achieve more. But, I also think we could all stand to work a little more collaboratively to deliver better value to our customers.  

Here are 3 reasons why we need to collaborate:

1. There’s enough work to go around

"The language of business is drawn largely from war and sports analogies. In sports, a competition is usually zero-sum; meaning one competitor wins, and the other loses. This is not at all relevant in a business setting. Just because your competitors flourish does not mean you lose. There is room for both FedEx and UPS, Airbus and Boeing, Pepsi and Coke, Ford and General Motors..." —Ron Baker

A lot of the time I see competitiveness because there is a belief that there is scarcity— that there is a finite amount of work and therefore money. Sometimes, this is may be case, but in other scenarios the issue doesn’t lie externally, it lies internally. Do people value your brand? Who you are marketing to? How you are marketing yourself? Do you have an exceptional product or service offering?

I know that finding new work can be hard. And seeing a competitor succeed while you’re struggling can be very disheartening—I’ve been there myself. I also work in the highly competitive design industry, where there are websites dedicated to designers pitting themselves against each other and working for free in the hope of winning a few hundred dollars.

But, if you can look at your industry and see stories of other people succeeding, then chances are, it is possible for you too. Blaming the competition for your lack of work is a cop-out. Learning from them and making changes to better your business is adaptive. This may sound harsh, but in many instances there’s plenty of work available for everyone, you just need to know your market and be motivated and open-minded enough to tap into it.

2. You are not always the best person for the job

If you’re branding yourself in the right way, then you are not the perfect fit for everyone. And if you truly believe that your end goal is to provide exceptional value to your customers, then doing work for the wrong type of people is doing both you and them a disservice.

When we first started our business, we saw red flags and proceeded anyway. We took every job, even when it probably wasn’t the right fit for us. Honestly, we didn’t enjoy working on these projects, which was not only demotivating, it probably meant we didn’t serve our clients as well as we could have. Passing along a job that would be a better fit for your competitor not only benefits them, it also benefits you and your customer.

3. When we share information, we deliver better results for our customers

I know that I don’t have all the answers all of the time—I constantly seek out information to get better at what I do. I need to learn from others to provide value to our customers. Thankfully, many people share their successes on blogs, podcasts and in person which allows me to learn from them. In the spirit of reciprocity, I believe in sharing what I have learnt so that it might benefit someone else and help them to deliver value to their customers. 

I would just like to point out I didn’t always think this way. If I had a process or technique that was working well, I kept tight lipped, otherwise I’d be giving away my ‘secret to success’. Now I see this as being counter-productive to everyone’s learning. I'm not suggesting giving away your 11 secret herbs and spices recipe, but opening up a dialogue about how you can improve you industry, share information and work together for mutual benefit has the potential to improve your customers' experiences and in turn, your profits.

You get what you give, so give some more!

Now, I want to hear from you! Do you find your industry collaborative or highly competitive? I would love to hear your take on this and whether you agree or disagree that collaboration delivers more value to customers. Let me know in the comments. And, if you found this article interesting, why not share it!  

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