Do you remember Circuit City? Way back, Circuit City was the go-to provider for many families’ electronics needs. Fueled by a slurry of acquisitions, the company expanded its footprint using the “Big Box” format to dazzle customers with spaciousness, innovative displays, and, of course, the latest products. Then, Best Buy entered the scene. Best Buy out-dazzled Circuit City; as customers shifted their allegiance, Circuit City didn’t have the capital to update and re-challenge its competition. Could Circuit City learn some things from Best Buy? Absolutely. Was Best Buy interested in charitably dulling out its trade secrets to Circuit City? No chance.
When you make your living in the tech world, you come to realize that competition is the name of the game. I don’t need to summarize “Porter’s Five Forces” to articulate the importance of staying ahead of the firm down the street. If you can’t beat the value offered by your competitors, then your buyers will take their business elsewhere. It’s as simple as that. Obviously, the tech space isn’t the only space one encounters competition. Retail, services, and banking are all angling – against each other – for a larger slice of wallet share. But here’s the interesting thing… Sometimes, bitter rivals collaborate on projects that benefit the greater good. In the digital world especially, a little collaboration can seed a great deal of good.
Consider the cohort of major retailers who recently found some common ground in the arena of food supply. Fueled by a shared commitment to provide a safe food supply to consumers, major retailers like Walmart, Nestlé, Tyson Foods and Unilever worked with IBM to explore the potential of Blockchain Technology. The driving idea behind the collaboration was simple and elegant. How can Blockchain help us trace our perishable items from the farm to the retail shelf so we ensure that the food supply line is optimized for efficiency and safety? The cohort wasn’t formed to stoke competition, but instead to make sure the food purchased by consumers was delivered to the highest level of quality possible. My colleague Marie Wieck, who serves as general manager of IBM Blockchain, believes that Blockchain is transformative for retail. “Unlike any technology before it, blockchain is transforming the way like-minded organizations come together and enabling a new level of trust based on a single view of the truth.” I agree with Marie and also believe that tech firms like ours benefit when we listen to the real-time concerns and aspirations of our clients. If retail giants can come together to serve the greater good, then certainly we can partner with these cohorts to offer our input and resources.
Collaboration serves the greater good. This is certainly the case on the micro level too. While I may not sit down for a conversation with a competitor about the inner workings of my company, I will grab a tea or a glass of wine (preferably the latter) with a rival to talk about business trends, leadership challenges, and our common concern for the well-being of our communities and planets. What we can learn from each other that moves everyone forward? Great leaders, like great companies, know when and how to collaborate especially when the “cause” is not market share. Not something you’ve done before? Now is the time.