One of the attributes of the anti-capitalist mentality is a tragic misunderstanding of the concept of competition. The enemies of capitalism describe competition as a never-ending dog-eat-dog slasher movie, in which the most vicious weaponized players utilize uncompromised tactics in destroying any entity that vies with them for market share or revenue. They see capitalism as red in tooth and claw, to quote Tennyson.
Metaphors Influence Our Beliefs And Our Behaviors.
Metaphors are important ways we shape our understanding, and they influence our behavior. The language of war becomes the language of business: Marketing Warfare was the title for a popular 1980’s business strategy book, and Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War was fashionable to quote in the 1990’s. Today, a book like Red Team tells us to refer to anyone who doesn’t think like us as The Enemy.
This kind of talk about competition is a perversion of economics. True economics is an information system in which consumers provide feedback to producers about which goods and services please them and which do not. Positive feedback results in more production of those services that please; some entrepreneurs will seek and find ways to make those services even more pleasing, at either higher quality or lower cost or, sometimes, both. This is the true form of competition.
Negative feedback tells producers that their efforts did not quite hit the mark. Consumers have found that they can fulfill their needs better via another service from another provider. They don’t buy the one that they deem inferior. Producers that are not favored by consumer acceptance have a choice of responses. Maybe they decide to shift businesses and move into a field where they can do a better job of earning consumer approval. Maybe they look for ways to further improve their current offering to ask again for consumer adoption and purchase. In any case, the negative feedback function of the consumer economy results in improvement of the consumer experience.
Entrepreneurs And Corporations Are Servants Of Consumers.
The consumer is boss. A tough boss. The consumer insists that their demands are met, otherwise they move on to an alternative offering. The successful entrepreneur is not an ogre of aggressive and vindictive market behavior. He or she is what Ludwig von Mises described as
“a servant of the consumers, bound to comply with their wishes. He cannot indulge his own whims and fancies. But his customers’ whims and fancies are for him ultimate law. He is under the necessity of adjusting his conduct to the demand of the consumers.”
Capitalism is best thought of as a system of co-ordination, bringing consumer demand and producer output into alignment. It’s a system of dynamic efficiency, using feedback to get better and better at service.
Competition Is The Wrong Metaphor For The Networked Economy.
Now that networks are the common organizational form for business, and communications across networks is becoming faster, more accurate, and more available to all, the system of dynamic efficiency is changing in significant ways.
For example, individuals will not compete for jobs (although they might still use that metaphor if they don’t refine their network strategies and skills sufficiently, and feel like they “lost” opportunities). The integration of the right people in the right jobs exercising the right skills in the right project will be a task for profile matching software, not interviewees jousting with interviewers. The profile-matching bot of a project will sort through individual profiles to find the best match and secure a new member for the project team. It’s important for individuals not to use the “compete” metaphor, but its opposite, the “uniqueness” metaphor. How do my skills and experience make me unique? How can I best communicate my uniqueness?
Similarly, commercial strategy will no longer use the metaphor of competition and fighting for market share, in constructs like “ Where To Play, How To Win”. Firms will be asking the network economy questions, “Where Do We Fit In”” and “How Can We Contribute?” They’ll find answers based on their own uniqueness in meeting the specific needs of a highly specific target audience. They won’t compete, they’ll serve. Governments call this unique service offering monopoly. Peter Thiel called it the only sane way to build a business.
Entire economic sub-systems will adopt this new metaphor and become re-shaped and rebalanced around customer-centricity. Healthcare is a great example. As consumers take more and more control of their own healthcare data, such as their own individual DNA map, and become empowered to make their own decisions about which medical services to select, the matching process will revolve more around which providers can offer for consideration the service attributes and knowledge that are most highly customized to the individual patient. The patient chooses. This is not “competition” it is collaboration between patient and provider to discover the best match of unique service to unique needs. These knowledge-mediated exchanges will happen millions and billions of times, and the healthcare service provider universe will evolve into a finely tuned community of unique (i.e. non-competitive) suppliers of customization to a unique set of patients.
We Should Adopt The Collaboration Metaphor, Based On Interpersonal Empathy.
The collaboration metaphor extends to the patient community. Patients will exchange their learning and their experiences with fellow-patients through a rating system or some similar kind of knowledge sharing. This is becoming standard practice in the platform delivery of service, knowledge, and information from amazon.com to tripadvisor.com.
Dog-eat-dog is no longer a valid metaphor for commercial rivalry to improve the customer experience. Competition is a term to be struck from the lexicon of capitalism. Collaboration is a better, and more applicable term. It functions as a result of the most important attribute of service: empathy.
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
(Adam Smith, The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, 1759.)