Most think of competition as a zero-sum game, where there is winning and misery as Bill Parcells said. Maybe you think of competitors like the New England Patriot controversy "spy gate", where the goal is to learn as much as you can from competitors. Perhaps your goal is to ensure you are different from the competition. Or maybe you think of it like a source of talent like free agency, where you can poach your top adversaries to come join your team.

I recently gave a keynote speech at the International Dairy Deli and Bakery Association (IDDBA) in Anaheim. In attendance were ten thousand executives from big and small companies were all showing off their best products to retailers to win valuable and limited shelf space. You would think that there would be a lot of bad blood in the air given how important the stakes were to everyone. But it was an entirely different experience.

The IDDBA17 was much more like an Olympic Village, where people were celebrating, connecting and collaborating with one another in a way that was much more productive. The community within competition was so beneficial that it reminded me that many of us miss out when we cling to old views of competition as a zero-sum game.

Here are three ideas to keep in mind to help you shift your mental model of competition to a healthier Olympic Village mindset.

Free continuing education

Most of us are done with formal school, but learning never stops. Think of competition--and conventions and shows like the IDDBA--as continuing education. Of course, stay focused on the task at hand and growing your business today. But it's a great chance to learn from the best in your business and beyond it.

Mike Eardley, the President of IDDBA, says, "One of the best things about IDDBA is the relationships it fosters between people. We have a group of members and exhibitors who have a vested interest in making each show better than the last. Dairy-Deli-Bake is about buying and selling, but it's also about teaching and telling. It's about building a community focused on learning and sharing. How can we make your life easier?"

Focus on a common enemy

If I ask most people who your competition is, they often cite their closest competitor. That thinking is outdated. We all compete with our monthly technology and health care bill. We are spending more on data and smart phones. We are spending more on health care. All discretionary spending is being squeezed by things outside of your category

Coffee brands in a grocery store don't really compete with one another, but rather with Starbucks. Netflix, now that you can download and view it without WIFI, competes with any solution for boredom writ large. Frozen pizza brands don't compete with one another, as much as they compete with Domino's and Mod Pizza. Figure out a common foe and find ways to collaborate together to win.

Be like Magic

After my keynote, Magic Johnson came up and spoke to the IDDBA. He was great as you would expect with his million-dollar smile and his amazing story of NBA champion to business mogul to owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But I always think of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as a tandem and how the two of them together saved the National Basketball Association.

The NBA in the seventies was struggling with big challenges and had nowhere near the popularity of football or baseball. The amazing rivalry of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took the NBA from tape delayed finals matches to must see TV as they faced each other three times in the NBA finals. Michael Jordan gets a lot of credit for elevating the NBA, but Magic and Larry set the stage.

Were they tough competitors with each other? Absolutely. But they left the game knowing that they brought the best in each other and left with a friendship and camaraderie that they treasure till today. And they left knowing that they left the game they love in legendarily better shape than when they found it.

Hopefully when it is said and done for all of us, others can say we were legends who took our industry to new heights too.

Published on: Jul 21, 2017