It’s time for “competitive advantage” to die.
I mean, it’s had a good run. But it’s time for something better.
I’m a competitive person, so I can extol the benefits of a good rivalry as well as the next guy. A little competition isn’t bad, of course — it tends to keep us on our toes, helps us continually improve, pushes our limits, etc. But in business, like many other things, we’ve gone totally overboard. Our competitiveness has gone into overdrive, where many organizations end up harming people and the planet because they see the world as an endless field of adversaries. It’s time we do something a bit more… well, helpful.
We need more collaborative advantage, and a little less “competitive advantage.”
Work is like a coin with two sides: a “me” side and a “we” side.
The “me” side is the individual, singular perspective I bring into my job, and it is crucial. If I’m not aware of my own strengths, talents, weaknesses, and limitations it can severely limit my leadership ability.
This side is the area many terrific leadership authors focus on. It’s the topic of most self-help styled leadership books and the rallying point of conferences and seminars. It’s why people get coaching. Make no mistake: this kind of personal development is vitally important. But it’s not the whole picture.
The “we” side is the group/tribe/organization side of work. It’s all the group-based, sociological things that happen when people work together. It’s about culture, systems, and structures — and it doesn’t get nearly enough attention.
This side of work provides a tremendous opportunity for “collaborative advantage.” Instead of obsessing over competition with others we could focus more attention around leveraging connections. We could create more opportunities to access the diversity of perspectives inside our employees. We could think more about how to make our company’s strengths stronger. By going down this path we could begin to create a global business community that builds work that is life-giving and meaningful for everyone. This is the goal, and a little less competition is a good place to start.
P.S. For additional info on “collaborative advantage,” check out the research around strengths theory and comparative advantage.