Business as usual is a Darwinian concept: survival of the fittest. Walmart is a pretty good example (as the largest predator in the forest, if you will). When Walmart moves in, smaller, less competitive businesses fold. Like a great white tearing through a school of bait fish, the retail giant devours smaller businesses in its path.
In the past few years, however, an interesting pattern has begun to emerge. Collaboration has become a hot concept that’s revolutionizing business. A single small business can’t hope to compete with the behemoths in the field, but when many small businesses work together, amazing things can happen.
The idea is not new; shopping malls are a perfect example of business collaboration. Retail shops selling similar products under the same roof may seem counterintuitive until you realize how much traffic the convenience of a mall draws compared to a standalone store. Entertainment options, like restaurants, movie theaters, and even roller coasters, give even more people reason to head for the mall. A roller coaster inside a mall? How crazy is that?
More consumers means more eyes on store windows, and that means more sales, no matter how many competitors are around your store.
Outside the mall, efforts like Small Business Saturday are working to raise awareness of independent retailers and revitalize small local businesses by encouraging people to shop away from the big box stores.
Food trucks, once fiercely territorial competitors, have come to realize that working together is a better deal for all. Singularly, a food truck is just a food truck. Together, food trucks are an event, and the hungry crowds that turn out to wander between trucks and sample anything from Asian fish tacos to barbecued ribs is a clear testament to the benefits of collaboration.
Collaboration in the Cloud
Collaboration is not limited to brick and mortar settings, either. Businesses that move to the cloud find plenty of collaboration opportunities online. Open source software is a popular concept, and programmers all over the world work together to build complex programs and often offer them for free.
It’s become quite common for companies to offer complementary programs that work with systems built by competitors. Insightly, for example, offers a CRM with project management that integrates seamlessly with MailChimp, Evernote and QuoteRoller allowing you to track projects, send emails to your contacts, track your Evernotes in Insightly, and send out professional sales quotes to your prospective customers.
One of the richest areas for development is in apps. There’s an app for just about everything, and the best thing is that anyone can build one and offer it up in the marketplace. You can find apps for everything from adorable educational games for toddlers to business accounting software. In the old-school spirit of competition, Apple and Android could have closed their phones to outside apps and offered their own line of proprietary products. By offering a platform for other people to build apps, they created a whole new world of programs and services for their customers, in turn making mobile phone ownership increasingly more useful and fun. Let’s face it, if smartphone developers had closed the doors to new apps, would we really have Fruit Ninjas? No. And downtime would be that much less interesting.
Meanwhile, in the Mad Men World
In the marketing field, there is a great deal of collaboration. We develop concepts in ideation meetings with clients, share industry concerns, ethics, and ideas. We endlessly discuss whatever new thing drops from Matt Cutts lips this week in #hashtag chats on Twitter, and post opinions and analyses on our blogs and on other industry sites. We often freelance for different companies at the same time, and are happy to recommend our competitors. Because we cooperate on such a grand scale, we are better educated and have far more reach than we could hope for in a selfish, self-contained environment.
Has Cutthroat Competition Met its Match?
Competition is definitely not dead, and probably never will be. Just look around at the number of pharmacies that have sprung up in recent years, especially since 2010 when the baby boomers started hitting retirement age. CVS and Walgreens are really slugging it out in Florida, staying open all hours and offering a confusing array of products to lure in shoppers who need to fill a prescription and buy a Duck Dynasty camouflage tank top at 3 A.M.
While stodgy traditional companies continue to compete using the same things they’ve always used, businesses like Amazon are on top of collaboration and innovation. Ever the ground-breaking upstart, Amazon recently announced that they have made a deal with the post office for Sunday delivery–a collaboration made in retail heaven. (Don’t even get me started on 30-minute delivery by drones.)
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