In one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies, The Godfather Part II (1974), Michael Corleone (youngest son of the Godfather) says “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” That advice was quickly adopted by those in business, who interpreted the line as a warning to keep a sharp eye on competitors. No one wants to be blindsided by the competition and made vulnerable to the loss of revenue and market share. That fear can keep one awake at night. But how much time and effort should be spent looking over one’s shoulder and how often does such behavior result in anything that’s actionable or profitable?
Some business experts recommend that rather than obsessing over competitors, perhaps wondering what you might copy, instead study successful business leaders in other industries. When looking to keep your organization relevant and vital, strategies implemented by leaders at successful companies in industries other than your own can provide lessons and inspiration that will benefit you and your business.
To launch and sustain a profitable business, it is essential that you offer products or services for which there is a growing market, that you recognize and articulate a strong value proposition that attracts customers and that you devise a smart and efficient business model to put it all in motion and deliver the goods. It makes sense to study innovative entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, so that you can learn what worked for their organizations and think about how certain of those strategies and tactics might be applied to your venture.
You might start this unique form of competitive intelligence by walking into a bookstore and browsing through the business section. You’ll be certain to find at least one or two interesting books, perhaps in memoir form, written by entrepreneurs who overcame significant obstacles and setbacks, only to prevail and build multi-million dollar organizations. You might also look for speaker programs at nearby colleges, local chambers of commerce, or other business organizations that from time to time are known to host speakers who tell the story of how s/he built a successful enterprise.
Finally, since so much in life hinges on relationships and developing a strong and supportive network, remember also to reach out to those whom you know. When you stop and think, you’ll realize that you cross paths with business owners and leaders on a regular basis. We see and interact with these smart, successful professionals at neighborhood association meetings, at the garden club, at our place of worship, while at the gym and when serving on a not-for-profit board. I’m willing to wager that you’ll be able to develop a friendship with at least two of these individuals and find opportunities to talk business now and again.
So extend yourself and get to know a little better the people with whom you regularly interact. Start with some friendly small talk and and work your way toward having real conversations that lead to developing relationships. At some point, you may be able to segue into a conversation about business, at your organization and theirs. If you reach the level of trust that includes sharing stories about business challenges and tactics, you’ll be fortunate to have found a friend and perhaps also a mentor. The experience will be much more satisfying, and effective, than spying on and obsessing over your business rivals.
Thanks for reading,
Image: Nike, goddess of victory, awards Heracles (Hercules) with the prize of a laurel wreath for his win at the 776 B.C. Olympics. Courtesy of the British Museum in London.