“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” -Mark Twain
I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of competition in the business marketplace lately. Generally speaking, competition is not something we like to talk about openly within our industries. We know who our competitors are and in most cases, we’re even cordial with and about them when its needed. It’s likely that we’ll talk within our companies, internally about who our competitors are…that’s an important strategic step in both benchmarking our own companies as well as keeping up with and surpassing our competitor’s goods & services.
But there tends to be the one or two real competitors that we despise. I mean really truly dislike due to a whole slew of reasons. I know it’s not popular for me to say this, but isn’t it easier to really loathe a competitor who we know we’ve lost some business or potential clients to? How about the ones who lure or steal away our best employees? How much do we hate them? And when we hear about how a competitive company uses undermining techniques to attract and land some of the same projects and clients we’re talking to, how often do we mutter curses under our breath about them?
You don’t have to answer that question out loud…I’m asking you these rhetorically, folks.
There’s a side-effect of all of that dislike and disdain, shedding light on a relatively new phenomenon for me that I learned had a word to describe it a few years ago; “Schadenfreude”. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, schadenfreude is the feeling of pleasure derived from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures. In other words, it’s feeling joy at the misfortune of others.
As human beings, we have the ability to feel empathy when its needed and that is without a doubt a good thing. But what about this notion of “feeling pleasure in someone else’s pain”? It’s certainly not a human trait to be proud of. When we feel it raising up within us, we can recognize it, acknowledge it, and either suppress it or let it take over. I’m sure we all handle this differently.
But when it happens in business with our competitors, there somehow seems to be more of an acceptance. I’ve seen this come up with other business owners over the years and in the long run, it’s a bad thing. Identifying who your true competitors are is a smart move. Wishing them ill will or feeling pleasure when they lose out or fail hurts us all. Why? Because we’re the ones on the opposite side of this phenomenon for them. It works both ways.
Think about it. What do you want them thinking and saying about you and your company?
The fact is that there’s plenty of business to go around. Competition keeps us playing at the top of our game and keeps us from getting too complacent or lazy. Dedicate some time to get to know your competitors. Trade associations with working chapters (like the EDPA) are a very good way to do this. You may be surprised by what you find.
Keep it experiential.