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Business beyond competition

February 10, 2014

How come ‘competition’ is seen as the key driver in business behaviour? We so often hear business leaders say that they embrace sustainability or new ways of operating because it provides ‘competitive advantage’.  Is business life all about competition?


‘Competition’ as a word used to mean ‘striving together’ yet now it seems to refer to working against each other, separation and self-interest.  Cooperation that refers to working together and forming relationships where each can benefit – is this also not what business is about, working together for mutual interest?  Are not successful business models ones that work with partners, suppliers, customers, stakeholders and the like?  We all know the importance of healthy relationships in business, yet overly-competitive self-interest can undermine the relationships we need to survive and thrive in these turbulent business times.

It would seem business (or our prevailing paradigm to business) has become rather unbalanced in its focus on competition at the expense of cooperation. success3

Perhaps this unbalanced view of competition goes hand-in-hand with our unbalanced view of what business and the economy is for.  Traditionally business was about value-creation – creating value for others and so benefiting oneself: mutual interest and self-interest working together in balance.  These days, with the focus on ‘maximisation of short term shareholder returns’ it would seem that ensuring ever increasing returns becomes the goal rather than value creation for customers, hence self-interest becomes the over-riding factor rather than how business contributes to the wider economy and society.

So often we hear of business goals being to ‘become Number 1’ or to ‘beat the competition’ or to ‘increase market share by x%’.  While these may be useful targets, they are not exactly missions to galvanise people to work together, especially in challenging times.  As Satish Kumar says in Resurgence:

‘The purpose of the economy is not just making profit for one group at the expense of another but to create the personal, social and cultural wellbeing of all humankind’.

Working for an organisation ought to enhance the organisation, the individual and the people it seeks to serve, not simply ‘maximise the return for the shareholder’.

Business relationships are enhanced through reciprocity, mutuality and cooperation.  In fact, many insightful business people have correctly pointed out that it is collaboration (not competition) that helps organisations succeed in these challenging times.


Just as we need to balance economies of scale with economies of scope, it is sensible to balance competition with cooperation.

The prevailing business paradigm of monoculture and self-interest is weakening its own resilience; hence the time is now ripe for more diversity, cooperation and reciprocity in business to help a ‘redesigning for resilience’ in business and beyond.

View a presentation on ‘A Radical Review of Reality’ here 

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here

View a short video clip on business inspired by nature here


One Comment leave one →
  1. February 12, 2014 1:34 am

    Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana “contends that distrust is the central mood that guides our relations, especially in the economic, political and social world, but also too often in family life. The related emotions and behaviours that flow from the central mood of distrust are:

    *control, domination, submission, appropriation and discrimination;
    *arrogance, aggression, competition, greed and political manipulation;
    *abuse, violence and wars.

    Maturana contentiously claims that although the constellation of moods and emotions that accompany distrust has dominated the last 5000-6000 years of human history, this is not the emotional essence of the nature of humans. The emotional undercurrents in which we live are a contradiction to the emotional basis of humanity. ”

    To me, this is how ‘competition’ has been shifted and it’s as important to ensure that the anger that we feel at what we see in front of us is translated to compassion and constructive action instead of allowing aggression to hijack us into aggression and attack.

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