Survival of the Fittest! Or Not

Recently a number of articles have caught my attention. One was an article in the Sunday NT times from October 25, 2009 and the other was a radio interview on NPR with Ph.D., Frans de Waal. Both of these articles called to question the old adages that, “Only the Fittest Survive” and that, “It is a Dog Eat Dog world out there.” In fact, these articles seem to suggest that cooperation and collaboration may be a more useful tool in business, even among potential competitors.

The New York Times Op Ed Piece talked about a new Creperie opening up in Detroit.  What was interesting to me was how the owner of the BBQ joint down the street helped him with permits and other items. Then there was the other Creperie owner coming over to share recipes.  These are businesses that could actually stand to lose a sale if this Creperie is successful! Why would they do this? Perhaps because they recognize that by helping the new restaurant grow they can draw more consumers to the neighborhood thereby increasing traffic. This in turn can lead to more customers discovering their restaurant as well.

The NPR article was a piece on de Waals new book, “The Age of Empathy.” In it, he explores empathy in the animal kingdom. For many years maybe even centuries, business leaders have talked about how, only the strong or the fittest survive and how we need to CRUSH the competition. This view was allegedly based on the studies of the natural world.  Dr. de Waal demonstrates in his studies that animals of many species do show empathy to each other. In fact, where empathy is demonstrated, that clan/family/tribe/herd seems to thrive.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our “go for the kill” mentality and think about how we can collaborate for success.  Some of you may be saying, “Sure, that’s nice for small business or animals but for corporate giants or my business?” What about Cisco and Microsoft; others have observed that they compete head to head and fiercely in several markets. Yet they also work to ensure that their systems work together. The ubiquity of their products in homes and offices worldwide speaks to the success they have achieved together.

This is hard even for me to wrap my head around. I mean a competitor can take my business and that could be taking food off my table, or is it? In the business I am in, my firm only wants to work with accounts that meet a certain profile. When a potential buyer approaches me with a deal that does not fit that profile, I have a couple of choices. I can turn them down flat or I can refer him to a competitor or two that I know, where he/she will meet their profile.

What’s the WIN for me? The buyer recognizes that I can be trusted. My competitor also recognizes my collaborative attitude and they may refer the business that does not meet their model to me. Now we are talking a WIN/WIN/WIN.

 What do you think; Crush the other guy or collaboration?

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