You may have read the book Team of Rivals, which documents President Abraham Lincoln's unusual cabinet. In case you haven't--or don't remember--I'll give you a quick refresh: It was composed almost entirely of men who had been fierce critics of Lincoln before he became president.
Lincoln reasoned that the men were the best qualified for their positions and it would be good politics to have multiple factions of the Republican party represented. Though various cabinet members had viewed Lincoln as a lightweight, most came around to seeing him as a wise leader who was able to set aside his personal feelings to get the job done.
Are you similarly focused on the big picture? Or, like most, do you consider partnering with a rival as making a deal with the devil?
While I've always been a fierce competitor, I'm a pragmatic one. I've found over the many years in business that, on certain occasions, partnering with a competitor can be good for business. Here are four reasons why:
1. The enemy of your enemy can be your friend.
Yes, the old proverb is true. Often the best reason to join forces is to battle a bigger foe. That's why you see erstwhile competitors like magazine publishers Conde Nast and Hearst uniting to take on Facebook: They realize they are stronger together.
If there's an overwhelming leader in your niche, then it might make sense to make nice with a would-be rival and compare notes. Talking doesn't mean you can't continue to compete.
2. You can't build everything.
When Whole Foods noticed that "omnichannel" was becoming a consumer need, it decided to partner with Instacart rather than try to create its own mobile-based delivery system from scratch. Even though Costco and Acme used Instacart too, Whole Foods realized that there were too many consumer touch points to create all of its newest consumer offerings. It would have to form partnerships for others.
No matter what you do, you likely face a similarly complex environment. Suppose, for instance, that, within your industry, you saw a need in the marketplace. Logically, it might make sense to offer a service to meet that need, but what if you don't have the expertise in-house? Why not consider pooling resource with a rival?
3. A rising tide lifts all boats.
When Apple was on life support in 1997, Steve Jobs called on long-time frenemy Bill Gates of Microsoft to continue making software for the Macintosh platform even though Mac's market share had slid into the low single digits. Gates complied, at least in part because selling millions in Mac software was better than selling zero, even if it kept a longtime rival afloat. (Little did Gates know that Apple would one day become a larger player than Microsoft.)
4. You have a lot in common.
It may seem counterintuitive, but chances are, you have more in common with your competition than you do with many of your close friends. Who else but your rivals spend their days doing pretty much the same things you do and face the same kinds of challenges and trials? It is very likely that their knowledge, perspective and pragmatism (which explains why they're talking to you in the first place) will make them an excellent candidate for a collaborator.
Reality check: No one is expecting you to become best friends with your rival. At best, you might attain a tense marriage of convenience that allows both of your businesses to thrive.
But business is also one of the few places in your adult life where you can earn true respect and find a worthy competitor. You might also find a friend, too.