By Chuck Violand

September 14, 2015

We, as business owners, have a tendency to compete too much, in my opinion. As contradictory as this may sound to good business judgement, over-competing can actually restrict a company’s growth more than it contributes to it.

I’m sure there are a few business owners of the “win-at-all-costs” mentality who are either reading this with raised eyebrows, or who have their index finger twitching over their delete button in an effort to keep their computers from becoming infected with a ‘wimp’ virus. But just hear me out.

The whole idea of competition among businesses has changed quite a bit over the years. Not long ago we were taught that winning wasn’t everything—it was the only thing. Bludgeon the competition into submission so our company ends up with all the customers, and we become rich and famous. But painful trial and error taught us that bludgeoning competitors wasn’t a good long-term strategy for small business growth. While it might work for giant corporations that can afford their own R & D departments to incubate new ideas, and security departments to keep those incubated ideas from being leaked or stolen, bludgeoning was just too costly for most small businesses. So, we became enlightened and searched for a better way.

Next came the Win-Win philosophy. Most small business owners are nice folks—everyday members of the communities in which we do business. Most of us want people to like us, and few of us like conflict. Bludgeoning our competitors meant that, at some point, we were bound to have a rather uncomfortable encounter with one of them at the grocery store, gas station, or in some cases—Thanksgiving dinner. With Win-Win, we learned that our competitors didn’t have to lose in order for us to win (as long as they didn’t win as much as we did, of course). So we learned to get along, and soon we progressed to today’s Win-Win-Win philosophy.

Win-Win-Win is truly enlightened and makes a lot of sense in today’s global competitive market. It means that not only can we and our competitors both win, but we can include our customers, our employees, and a multitude of other “partners” we work with through our companies. Now, rather than guessing what services our customers want or how they’d like them delivered, we can actually ask them and then let them win by having the services they want delivered in the way they would like. The days are gone when we reminded our people that we didn’t hire them to think, and if we wanted their opinions we’d ask for them. We’ve learned that employee input is vital if we’re serious about the success of our companies. Rather than trying to solve all our business problems by ourselves, we can network with our competitors to see how they’ve solved similar challenges in their own companies. And they can do the same with us.

In spite of all this enlightenment, many business owners still struggle with their need to compete. In Part II of this series I’ll discuss how being hyper-focused on competing and winning really does cost us in the long run, and offer some ways we can rethink our notions of competing.