The realm of competitive strategy tells us to think about our rivals or get beat by them. It's assumed we have to pay close attention to our competition to anticipate their maneuvers, to try to psyche them out and to avoid getting blind-sided by them. I disagree. We psyche ourselves out by thinking about our rivals. We limit ourselves to the game they're playing and set up face-offs, showdowns and tactical fixations. We react to their moves instead of creating an effective strategy aligned with our own vision. We shut down the creative functionality in our brains by stirring up urgent need to handle dangers, threats or enemies. We'd be wise to think about something other than our rivals.
In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin gives us lots of great advice and personal experiences from his chess and martial arts tournaments. He's keenly aware of rivals attempts to beat him at mind games prior to engaging in the actual contest. He knows to keep focused, play his own game and flow with the adversarial tactics thrown at him by rivals. All this applies superbly at the tactical level of facing immediate challenges.
Two other books give us another alternative to thinking about rivals: The Death of Competition and The Future of Competition. Both suggest changing the game rather than playing the game ruled by the rivals. Rather than match competitors on familiar attributes like price, specs, upgrades, quality, service or convenience, they take us to the space of collaborating with customers. Here are some of the key points for formulating strategies with customers as collaborative partners:
- When we co-create value with our beneficiaries, we become more aware of how they value what we do.
- When we become value oriented, we value the customers' contributions to our success, insights and timing.
- When customers contribute to our success, they exhibit some pride of ownership, stake in the outcomes and buy-in to our premises.
- When we learn from customers by working with them, we find out who their customers are and what difficulties they encounter in "reselling" or serving them.
- When we collaborate with customers, we spawn a network of loyal nodes who are less susceptible to the offers, spin and lures of rivals.
- When we blur the line between customers and employees, customers take on roles of emissaries, market researchers and innovators for the enterprise.
- When customers are in the loop, changes in strategies occur more quickly, more easily and more effectively than in guarded isolation.
- When we envision the market space as an ecosystem, we relate to the diversity in the space as resources for innovation and reformulation of strategy.
- When we're immersed in contrasts to our own strategies, we can integrate many differences to make our own approach more effective, responsive and inclusive.
- When value becomes a two way street, we cultivate reciprocal relationships as if everyone involved benefits from the inter-dependencies.
When we make the switch from thinking about rivals to collaborations, we not only avoid the pitfalls of psyching ourselves out, we give ourselves a lot more interesting and productive things to think about instead.