Tales from the boardroom: Why you should focus on yourself and not obsess over rivals (unless a clear opportunity presents itself).
I remember the day vividly.
It was a few years ago now.
I was sat in the boardroom of my then employer.
Notepad and pen in hand.
Other members of the commercial team were also present.
As we’d been summoned by the CEO who had a clear agenda for the meeting.
The meeting started with very little hesitation.
“I want to put X [a close competitor] out of business.”
Business development meetings as such, at least in my experience, rarely open with a focus like this.
They usually entail the organisation focussing on building their client roster by either developing their presence in the market or entering new ones.
Of course, the idea here was to focus on a new direction for the marketing and sales teams by going after the competitor’s clients to the point where they would have to fold.
Even though there was no real opportunity to do so – no openings which would signal a new product, service, vertical etc.
No ethical opportunities.
Immediately, alarm bells were ringing.
I didn’t like what was going on.
Upon reflection, it probably signalled the beginning of the end for me in that organisation.
But don’t get me wrong. I believe in the offensive, and in focus and determination, just not in clumsiness and ruthless obsessions with something I cannot control.
Generally speaking, I think spending too much time on what others are doing will negatively influence our own outputs.
I prefer to focus on that which can act as an enabler for real growth.
Sure, competitors tell us a lot of things.
We can learn from their mistakes and uncover new opportunities, for example.
But we sometimes fixate too much on them.
Often, resources are limited and can be better allocated elsewhere – such as on current clients or customers, or as I mentioned, new markets and sub-markets.
And sometimes the opportunity to work with competitors and similar suppliers is rich; joining forces can actually improve a competitive situation – we do this now in my current workplace.
Was there strategic justification for this declaration of war?
I’ll leave that with you to decide.
In 1325, two armies clashed near the Italian town of Castello di Serravalle in Northern Italy.
A rivalry existed between the city-states of Bologna and Modena, with the cities themselves located just 45km apart.
Over 300 years worth of rivalry.
But the rivalry remained peaceful.
No bloodshed was spilt over this period.
But what followed was the largest medieval battle of its era that changed the history of Italy.
Where the region was plunged into long periods of conflict that cost thousands of men their lives.
Which ensured the primacy of the bishop of Rome that Italians today take for granted.
And it started after some Modenese soldiers snuck into Bologna.
And stole a bucket.
An oak bucket, used to draw water from a well located in the centre of the city, which held no historic or sentimental value to either sides.
But this act hurt Bologna’s pride, who demanded the bucket back.
The Modenese refused to give back the bucket to the outraged Bolognese, who then declared war on Modena.
That ignited years of conflict.
Historians attribute a range of theories as to what started the War of the Bucket.
But the bucket narrative remains consistent in many of these theories.
I guess the clue is in the name.
Up until a few years back, Wikipedia had even attributed “1 Oaken bucket” under Casualties and Losses, as well as 2,000 people. (See revision history here.)
Which still resides in Modena within the basement of the Torre della Ghirlandina.
The whole episode is just ridiculous.
The Bolognese went to war with the Modenese because they were fixated on Modena and the rivalry.
Organisations get fixated on competitors in the same way which can cloud judgement.
Just like my old CEO. I am led to believe that they are now struggling to stay afloat.
I hope they can turn things around soon (before a competitor smells an opportunity in this current climate and actually tries to take over their own clients).
But the mindset will need to change first.
I was always told that if you talk about someone behind their backs, you will remain behind them in second place.
Be the guy at the front. Looking forward and ahead of your competition.
Spend your energy on yourself.
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