The competition paradox

Competition as a paradigm has become so universal it has become almost become invisible.

It frames just about every transaction and discussion. Whether it’s BREXIT (winning the right deal) or market share, or sport. It’s vital, to be sure, but it’s not everything.

In the end, it carries a high price, whether in isolated factions (Leavers or Remainers – it seems binary) or “left behind” communities, or failed businesses, or crippled sportspeople.

Nature isn’t binary. There’s a centre ground of healthy organisms tending to one end or the other of a distribution curve – extinction or evolution. There’s a healthy middle (with our help, that distribution curve has become skewed, but it seems nowhere as much as in our society and businesses). When we are dominated by a few large entities, and those entities fail, it makes resilience really difficult.

Roger Martin’s article on efficiency gave me real food for thought. When competition has led to 1% having 99%, where does the 1% go next?

Winners are leaders. and the job of leaders is not to leave others behind, it’s to take them with them.

Competition is a great stimulus, and example, but it has a purpose. It makes a lousy end in itself.

Give winners their due and respect, but expect more from them. We need a healthy middle.

Efficiency vs Effectiveness

One of the principal issues we are seeing as we wrestle with the challenges of BREXIT is disruption to complex supply chains. Complex supply chains are largely driven by the search for efficiency, efficient allocation of resources and just in time production.

Which is great, right up until the point it isn’t. Whether it’s a natural disaster, or a man made one, increasing complexity makes disruption to efficiency ever more likely.

Roger Martin, in this months HBR  writes an excellent article on this, covering not only supply chain disruption, but other downstream consequences of concentrated production.

This is an interesting opportunity for well run smaller businesses with integrated supply chains and close relationships with suppliers and customers. Disruption creates gaps as larger business take time to re-organise and respond.

Gaps are there to be filled.

The Morning After

The media last night and this morning are full of comment and analysis on last night’s astonishing Commons defeat for the Prime Minister’s BREXIT Plan, alongside collective tearing of hair, from different sides and for different reasons, regarding the continued uncertainty it brings.

Leadership requires perspective. Alongside all the things that appear uncertain, are things that are certain and vital.

  • Remaining calm in face uncertainty.
  • Looking after the critical relationships with staff, suppliers and customers.
  • Being careful on where we place our attention.
  • Manage the things we can, more than worry about the things we can’t.
  • Make as sure as we can that we position for agility and “anti fragility”. Whatever we expect of what we don’t control, it will be different.
  • Look for the opportunities. Every individual, and every organisation has a number of unique talents and capabilities. There are places where they will be needed.

The Cynefin framework suggests that in conditions of chaos in the absence of evidence, we act, sense what happens and respond.

If you can:

  • maintain the presence of mind to observe dispassionately what you see,
  • orient yourselves to it,
  • make a decision
  • and act

Choose small things that matter. Talk to people. Feedback. Support.

Continue to go round that loop faster than your competitors, and you will progress.

I would suggest that for most of us, the things that are long term critical to our businesses (and careers) are  a clear sense of purpose, and the relationships, understanding, creativity and commitment that enable it.

BREXIT will resolve, one way or another. We should not be tempted to take our eye off what’s important.