Pity the Harlem Globetrotters. The celebrated basketball team has won thousands of games over the decades. In fact, they always win their ‘exhibition’ games. So while they are rightly admired as skillful athletes and entertainers, they will never know the glory of those teams who compete at the highest level in the NBA, losing sometimes but also tasting the sweetness of victory over opponents who can beat them. Sport is just not sport without serious competition.
Where there is a market, there will be competition
And the same is true for business. If you have an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit, would you really want to live without competition? In the short-term, it might seem like a license to print money. In the long-term, it’s a recipe for complacency, stasis, and eventually – when someone figures out a better way to meet the needs your business satisfies – failure. Because where there is a market, there will be competition.
Competition proves you’re on the right track
That’s the first reason to love your competition. Their existence proves that there is a market. It proves, that customers are ready to pay for the products and services you offer. If you’re starting a business with no competition, you’d better hope it’s because you’ve come up with something really new. But even if you have, make no mistake: you usually won’t have to wait long for competitors! But that’s a good thing.
Competition inspires you
The second reason to love your competition is that they will inspire you to do better. When they start to do something better than you can, you have to move up a gear. Maybe you notice something they do well, or not so well, and it clicks in your mind with something you’ve been mulling over for some time. This is one of the drivers of innovation. And of course, your competitors are watching you too and being spurred on by your achievements to see if they can outdo you, find new niches, new applications, new customer segments. And the beauty is that not only you and your competitors gain from that process. The customers clearly benefit too. They get even better goods and services.
Competition keeps you learning
The third reason to love your competition is that you can learn from their mistakes as well as your own. Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. That’s a reminder never to give up, but more than that, it’s a wake-up call. Because it takes a reaaaally long time to find 10,000 ways that won’t work. Time you can save by paying attention. Of course, your smart competitors will also try to learn from your mistakes, but maybe that’s a good thing too. Just split all those thousands of mistakes up between you and save time, money, and frustration.
Competition can turn into friendship
The fourth and final reason to love your competitors is that, more often than not, they can become your best friends. When you start honestly engaging with them, you may very well find lots of opportunities to work together. Not just to learn from one another’s mistakes but to actively share experiences and insights. Why? Because by joining forces, you may improve your supply chain, increase the speed of product development, or even scale together by opening up new markets. At the level of blue chips, this has been called coopetition. And there are even greater opportunities for founders, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and scale-ups to work creatively with competitors at an early stage.
So, by all means, keep a wary eye on the competition. But don’t lose sleep over the fact that they exist. Whether you’re openly cooperating or not, they will force you to do what you do better and better. They are what makes the game worth playing.