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Business Is About Winning - Deal With It

Business Is About WinningSome people think that business should not be about winning. It bothers them that somebody has to lose.

Instead, they think competition should feel good. Everybody should win. We're even teaching our children this stuff. Everybody gets an 'A'. Everybody gets an award. Everybody gets a prize.

For example:

  • According to Flashpoint author JK Harris, "Business is war and the competition is the enemy--right? Wrong."
  • Likewise, small business coach John Seiffer says, "The war analogy doesn't work because business is not a zero sum game. A great business makes the pie bigger for everyone. Get over the war mindset. Stop thinking like you have an opponent."
Here's what I think: 1) What a bunch of crap; and 2) How did things ever get so screwed up?

Don't get me wrong. I can definitely see where these folks are trying to go with this. They're just getting a little lost along the way ... and confusing a lot of people in the process. So, let me try to clear this up for everyone before it gets out of hand.

You see, winning in business is more or less about having a better product or service than the other guy. I mean, you can't both win the same customer, right? I'm pretty sure there are at least a few laws of physics and economics that apply there.

But get this. You can do that - strive to win - and still treat people with the respect they deserve. They're not mutually exclusive.

For some odd reason, the blogosphere tends to be far more black and white than the real world. The real world is all about balance and, well, something called common sense. So, I thought I'd explain how executives and business leaders I know - in the real world - view business.

It may be different at companies that make cupcakes or stuffed animals, but in the business world I know, they apply.

7 Truths About Business and Winning

  1. The Art of War does apply to business, bigtime. As Becky Sheetz-Runkle - author of Sun Tzu for Women: The Art of War for Winning in Business - says, "Waging war doesn't mean mobilizing forces to take a city. It means mobilizing ourselves or our teams to win a big contract, seize a market opportunity, dominate an industry, or reposition a company. To be successful, Sun Tzu calls for careful strategy and expert perception, superior subtlety and technique, and skillful application of your assets and attributes."
  2. Market share is a zero sum game. By definition, you win market share at the expense of your competitors. Don't try to soften it, complicate it, or sugarcoat it. It doesn't work. A customer must buy someone's product or service. You want that to be yours, not the other guy's. Period.
  3. Competition makes great things happen. The most important takeaway of Ayn Rand's books is the idea that individuals and teams do great things in a competitive market. And they keep doing great things when they're empowered, motivated, and passionate about what they do. That inspired me when I first read her books and it continues to inspire me to this day.
  4. You can and should be professional and respectful with competitors. When I was in the corporate world, I often got together with competitors. It was always fun, never awkward, and there were no conflicts of interest. Anyone who thinks you can't be a tough competitor out to win and be respectful of the competition doesn't know much about business.
  5. You can and should form win-win partnerships with vendors. I've always been respectful with vendors. Perhaps the best and longest standing business relationship I've ever had has been with a PR firm. All businesses require ecosystems and food chains to be successful. Vendors, distributors, resellers, are all part of your extended company. Treat them that way.
  6. Your customers, shareholders, and employees are the most important stakeholders in your business. Treat them right. It's not that hard. Sometimes you have to prioritize one over the other, but that's just the way it is. Notice you don't see competitors on that list. That's because, while you should know your competitors and respect them, they're not stakeholders in your business. Not by any stretch.
  7. It's not really about warfare, you know. Success in business is about objectives, strategies, and tactics. It's about planning, developing, and executing. It's also about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. But it's not about warfare. Nobody gets hurt. Big difference. And while conflict is healthy and constructive in organizations, when it turns into vicious or personal attacks, that's dysfunctional.
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Image: familymwr via Flickr (Photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs)
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