Some years ago I attended a course at the London Business School and vividly remember a case study about how Komatsu, the Japanese construction equipment company, had decided to take on Caterpillar and try to achieve market domination. Their Mission Statement was very simple – “Encircle C”. In other words, put an iron grip around Caterpillar and then squeeze the life out of them.
I remembered that story on the train, having spent the day in a very constructive and positive meeting with one of our key competitors. I hadn’t gone there secretly seeking intel on their operation or finding out whether they had any jobs available, but to discuss whether there might be ways in which we could work together. The answer was a very emphatic “Yes” and over the coming weeks I am confident that we will develop that relationship to our mutual benefit.
So does this mean that we are now longer competitors? Of course not. There will be times when we are both competing for the same business and we will fight tooth and nail to win it. But I’m sure there will be other occasions when we will consider combining our relative strengths and working together on joint bids. It’s a bit like watching Harlequins and Leicester rugby clubs bashing hell out of each other in the Premiership Final, and then joining forces a week later as brothers-in-arms to take on South Africa
My experience is a practical example of what my colleague Janet Garcia referred to as the “cooperative advantage” in a related blog post. As organisations operating in the same space, it requires us to focus on the needs of our customers rather than on each other and I can already start to see the expression “co-opetition” starting to creep into management lingo.
However, before we start donning the rose-coloured spectacles and watch Coke and Pepsi waltzing hand-in-hand into the distance, I think we need to be realistic and set out some guidelines. “Co-opetition” isn’t always an option and there are certainly a few companies operating in our sector with whom I would not wish to work under any circumstances.
The basis for “co-opetition” has to be a mutual trust and respect and shared or similar values. However, with those foundations in place, I believe there are real opportunities to develop very different relationships with competitors rather than following the Komatsu line of trying to squeeze them to death – which obviously didn’t work!