Archives for posts with tag: Competition

It’s impossible to resist the slow, glacial and inexorable movement of father time. Father time, but mother nature: what’s going on there?

Once you’ve reached the peak of fitness, be it physical, sporting, cerebral, intellectual and so on, or if you’re lucky, a long, luxurious plateau of a peak, you’re on the decline, fact. You have to work increasingly harder with each passing year to keep your skills at the level they were.

I have noticed this with the sport I have played most of over the last 4 decades, table tennis. It’s hard to judge how you compare with your much younger self, even though I still think I’m as good as I was in my peak, but I have a general sense that my abilities are in decline, that my skills are dwindling. Table tennis is one of those sports where you can have a long career of being at or close to your best. It’s not like some of the other speed and power sports where the window is much narrower.

That said, when I’m playing against people half my age, or less, I see that the sport has moved on, it’s played differently, and my approach to the game is outdated. I’m pushing against the tide of better ways of playing the game, and younger, faster and better players.

The enjoyment is still there, but the proficiency is such that you’re competitive against the standard of player on your way down that you were on your way up. The only way you can reconcile yourself with the march of time is to confine yourself to playing against your age group or to be in competition with yourself, and not others, on a daily basis.

I’m sure it applies to work as well…



A long, long time ago I was in a fish and chip shop in Edinburgh, very close both to the tennis club where I’d just played a couple of sets and to my home. In fact it was a handy stopping off point from one place to the other, solving dinner at the same time.

I was with another English chap that I didn’t know very well. He was in banking, very ambitious and very clear on his career and financial goals. We weren’t very alike but we shared an interest in tennis, that was about it. There were half a dozen people in the queue.

I noticed a scruffy looking small dog come into the chippie and start sniffing around. I said to my tennis pal, in quite a low voice, jokingly, something along the lines of ‘is that a dog in the place where I’ve chosen to get my dinner?’

This drew the attention of an equally scruffy looking man in the line, the owner of the dog as it turned out, who said, not jokingly, something along the lines of ‘of course it’s a dog you [insert anglo saxon epithet of choice here, in a broad local accent]’, which also carried the clear threat of ‘what are you going do about it?’

I instantly raised my eyebrows, as many of us do as a stalling mechanism as we consider the multiple different ways this conversation should progress. My tennis pal shook his head. We moved on, got our food, and left.

What he said afterwards has stuck with me ever since. ‘That was a no win situation. You can’t go there. You’ve so much more to lose than him.’

This is true not just in life but in business too. If you risk being drawn into any competitive situation with a bottom-feeder, be very careful before you decide to engage.

To tender or not to tender, that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind etc… when I worked in the sales effectiveness business, the golden rule was that your success rate for an unsolicited tender is between 0 and 5% – yep, a terrible return – for a host of factors too numerous to mention here. Perhaps for another post.

This is a statistic that should bring out the most sober analysis of how our business development time is best spent, but the truth is that it really applies to the private sector. The public sector is often duty-bound to go out to tender from a pretty low base contract value, and with increasing levels of sophistication at higher threshold amounts.

I decided to respond to my first tender in a long time last year. It was a pretty good fit for my skill-set, but it’s still an agonising decision to invest the considerable time into collecting references, getting legal documentation signed and writing the response.

I wanted to go through the process for the journey itself, to get a feel for it since it would better colour future decisions. I ended up winning the tender, and the reasons why you win are always invaluable when you do a ‘drains up’ – win or lose – with the awarding company.

Emboldened by the fact that I was batting 1,000 as the Americans would say, I promptly entered another tender, and lost it, thereby killing my excellent average.

So what can we conclude from this? My $0.02 is this. Unsolicited private sector tenders, don’t touch them. If you weren’t expecting it, you’re simply making up the numbers. Public sector tenders, if it’s a genuine project, and it’s worth it to you, and it’s a good fit, and you intuitively feel you’re in the top 3, it’s worth throwing your hat in the ring.


“There are no competitors”. I used to be fond of saying this, especially in previous industries I’d worked in which were fairly commoditised and definitely got the thin end of the Porter 5 forces wedge. These industries were also fiercely competitive.

My point was really this: There are no competitors, only potential partners or customers.” There is always a possibility of working with someone rather than against them. It’s more productive, and better for the collective, greater good. Of course, one of my reasons for saying this was to re-position my company, and de-position the opposition, by making such a statement, implying that we were different, unique even.

To an extent this is similar to the process of challenging the status quo. When you can look at things from a fresh perspective, and frame the place where you compete in a different way, then you reframe your market, you create fresh categories for yourself and you forge a unique set of dynamics where you are the lynchpin or fulcrum around which everything revolves.

When you can do this, your competitors melt away. There are no competitors; only you exist in this space, and your value enhances accordingly.



It would be a lot easier to live in a business world without competitors. You could spend your time creating truly valuable solutions for your customer, knowing that you would get the return you deserve. In the real word, however, as you strive to maximise your sales and win as many of them as possible, you need to put in place the best strategy for each opportunity.

A lot of historical business strategy theory borrowed from the military strategist Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War. He has fallen from favour somewhat in the last few years as business has moved to a more collaborative environment. ‘There are no competitors, only potential partners’ is a refrain you’ll sometimes hear.

Here, however, are three of the key principles documented by this Chinese warrior two-and-a-half thousand years ago, adapted for sales opportunities, that I think still have validity:

– Know your product (or service), your customer, and your competition, and you need not fear the result of a hundred sales opportunities
– Know only your product (or service) and not the customer or the competition, and for every victory gained, you will suffer a defeat
– If you don’t know your product (or service), your customer, or your competition, you shall succumb in every battle

In other words, do your homework and planning and your effort will be rewarded.

Clusters are good.

Clusters are good for customers, because there is competition for their business.

Clusters are good for companies because they provide a critical mass of talent that you don’t have to retrain.

Clusters are good for employees because there is competition for their talent.

Clusters = choice.  Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a growing cluster raises the bar all round. That’s why all countries, regions and cities strive for industry clusters.

When you’re in a city that doesn’t have much of a cluster, you don’t have choice. Applaud the company that decides to be the first of its industry in your region. Then work to build the cluster.