Benjamin Graham was a noted Columbia Business School professor, author of The Intelligent Investor, and a developer of the approach called Value Investing. Mr. Graham offered the following regarding cooperation and competition: Competition creates better products, alliances create better companies.
I cannot speak for Mr. Graham but I believe what he was saying is that business is not meant to be conducted in a vacuum and that while we strive to make a better widget than our competitors, we truly win when we collaborate with them. Who among us can honestly say that we do not benefit from others in many ways, even the folks we hope to outdo?
I'm not suggesting we stop trying to do the best we can do, however there are advantages to collaborating rather than concealing from our competitors. Have I gone nuts? Not at all.
We All Learn
Sharing experiences with our competition does not thrust them into a position of dominance; it supports the industry in which we operate, which is a benefit to each of us as well as the communities and clientele we serve. Imagine the lessons you can share and learn and the impact they can have on the way you all do business. Everyone wins.
Think Strategically Not Defensively
Sure there are some secrets you don't share, such as grandma's secret sauce recipe; I'm not talking about giving away the farm. Of course you want to protect the information that defines your uniqueness but you know what, even if your competition knew what makes you unique, there's no way they can copy it. That's why they call it unique.
Instead of protecting yourself consider aligning yourself with your competitors. Among the benefits, the power of large volume purchasing, an influx of novel ideas, a greater market reach than you currently have. Thinking strategically requires thinking outside of the box and outside of your comfort zone. Thinking defensively stifles growth and directs valuable energy to a task that is never completed to our satisfaction.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Sometimes we don't have the correct fit for the needs of our customers. Just like the cartoon says, our good will does not scare away customers, it helps build trust. We can pretend we have the answer but they can see through that. Knowing our competitors provides us the opportunity to ensure the needs of a customer are fulfilled every time. This is something our customers will not forget.
Let's face it, who knows what you do better than those who do the same thing? Your competitors are not the enemy; they just might be the most important allies you have.