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Friendly competition – Why we can’t go it alone

Friendly competition – Why we can’t go it alone

Why every business needs to work with an enemy.

Imagine a world where we managed for the long term. A world where big companies didn’t hoard secrets, attack each other at every opportunity and didn’t need months of negotiations to collaborate on anything.

Now imagine a world where the employees of those companies were less focused on promotions, less fearful, and more focused on how they could really make things better, for whomever they serve.

The word ‘compete’ comes from the Latin verb competere, which means strive in common. So why are we doing the opposite? I’m not suggesting it’s time to build some unrealistic utopia or, conversely, unleash anarchy — but given how fragile our world has proven to be, maybe it’s time to re-capture the original sentiment of what it means to compete.

Here are three ways teams can strive in common:

1. Having a common enemy

Pharmaceuticals companies spend billions on R&D to pioneer new ways to help patients, and in turn grow market share, but the rivalries between them are the stuff of legends.

A few weeks ago something remarkable happened; GSK and Sanofi, respectively the world’s 8th and 9th largest pharma companies, announced their intention to work together to create what could become the largest distributed vaccine in the world. GSK’s CEO, Emma Walmsley, acknowledged that this was an “unprecedented collaboration” and that the extent of the global health threat “required new ways of doing business”.

The aim is to create an ‘adjuvanted’ vaccine that enhances the body’s immune response to COVID-19. In this case, GSK will provide the adjuvant compound, and Sanofi the protein component of the Coronavirus that will trigger the desired antibody response.

Whilst the partnership may seem unexpected, it makes sense; both companies have extensive pandemic technologies and, whilst they of course have noble motives, they also have plenty to gain from developing a vaccine (as do the rest of us).

2. Looking beyond the usual suspects

What do Mercedes Formula 1 and University College London Hospital have in common? Turns out, more than expected.

With their season on indefinite hold and boasting some of the brightest engineers in the world, Mercedes F1 teamed up with clinical experts at UCLH to reverse engineer a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure device (which helps COVID-19 patients breathe more easily) in record time.

It took the teams less than 100 hours from their first meeting to production of the first prototype. Regulatory approval and full scale production happened in a flash, and within a month, 10,000 units were delivered to the UK government. To top it off, the team then published the designs at no cost to be downloaded by all who needed it. It just goes to show what’s possible when the right expertise comes together with a clear mandate.

3. Managing for the long term

Long term planning may seem all but impossible right now, but it’s more important than ever. A McKinsey study spanning 9 years found companies that operate with a long term mindset consistently outperformed their industry across every financial measure; 47% higher revenue, 58% higher market capitalisation, and those same companies added an average of 12,000 more jobs during that period.

Corporate governance has historically forced companies to prioritise short term results, but a new model is emerging. Founded in 2012, the Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) is a platform and network designed to fund and grow companies committed to a long term focus, backed by over $5tn in assets. Members include both late stage private and public companies, who believe progress should be measured in decades, not quarters.

Striving in common is something we should all be doing. Our advice? Look to the future — which people or organisations in your periphery have something you need, or something you can complement? Who is your common enemy? Think big, start small and don’t wait — let’s get to work.

It will undoubtedly require a shift in both mindset and structure, but now’s the time for us all to step back and be deliberate about the decades to come. It won’t happen overnight, but those humbly leading the way are proving just what is possible.

At &us we work with organisations big and small to help teams make more and create more value. We help them create products, services, strategies and op models, then coach them to do it themselves — so we become surplus to requirements. We want to make organisations and the people who power them, better.

If you want to figure out how to get your teams working together to make innovation normal and deliver progress faster, drop us a line. We’d love to help you squash the enemy.