Simon Sinek's new book, The Infinite Game, has a fascinating argument: Business doesn't have winners or losers, since there is no definitive end to the "game." True success comes from building relationships for the long haul.
It also means not risking everything for a short-term win.
You have to respect your competition
On the podcast Behind the Brand With Bryan Elliott, Sinek talks about former Ford CEO and president Alan Mulally. In 2006, Mulally took over Ford from the company's namesake as it was recovering from both financial and market share losses. He wondered how, culturally, Ford could have lost its lead.
Mulally then asked if there were any Toyotas--then the most popular car brand in the U.S.--or other competing manufacturer vehicles on the premises. There were none.
In other words, Ford was determined to beat the competition without actually studying what the competition was doing. How was that going to work?
Sinek argues that the company had too much pride to have the competitors' goods on the Ford campus. Mulally immediately began driving a new competitor car every week to work, and requested that all of the leadership do the same thing. The company began to turn itself around, as it actually began to pay attention to how consumers viewed its products and how the competitors' served them better.
You can't correct your situation until you realistically view it. You can't have all your pride wrapped up in winning, as you have to recognize when you aren't winning at all.
"It's not about seeing who Ford could beat, but what areas they were weaker and could improve," Sinek says.
You cannot create your best in a vacuum
In a recent column, I shared a great observation from entrepreneur Chase Jarvis: Create before you consume.
Building first will help you retain your original vision without outside input, and it will help you stay focused on creating rather than worrying about what the competition is doing.
Sinek's example, though, shows that you can't just create and not consume. That's like talking and never listening. It becomes frustrating for both you and the people you're trying to serve.
First, you eventually do need to understand how the people you are trying to connect with are currently being served. More to the point, then you can better understand how they are not being served. My startup, Cuddlr, connected people for hugs, but my co-founders and I only understood its power when we realized that other apps were just for people hooking up. Without looking at the landscape, you can't understand the need.
Second, you want to learn from others who have already walked the path. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were absolute rivals, but you best believe that they learned from each other's moves. It's not about being obsessed with what others do. It is about paying attention enough to learn from your competitors.
Pride is literally the only reason not to acknowledge that rivals have new insights, perspectives, or skills to offer you. Paying attention to their win today could set you up to have a moment of glory tomorrow, but you have to be humble enough to know that you still have more to learn--and be committed enough to the infinite game.