Book Review: Co-opetition

Again, I don’t just do book reviews of new books.  I do reviews of new books, and older books that I think are significant.  One strategic management book that has helped me is Co-opetition.  Co-opetition is the use of both co-operation and competition in an effort to better your business.

Similar to Michael Porter’s Five Forces framework, Co-opetition aims to describe a business or industry as part of a broader system, and design business strategy through competition and alliances with other economic actors that affect your business.

That broader system is called the “value net,” and is composed of the firm in question, their customers, suppliers, competitors, and complementors.  Complementor was a term they created to describe those parties who produce products or services that help make your customers more likely to buy from you.  As the book describes it, think of hot dogs and mustard.

When I was a bond manager, I intuitively understood co-opetition.  Most managers/traders played the game very sharply, and argued for every basis point.  I realized that I had to be careful, and show that I was no pushover, but I found a variety of co-operative strategies that got my brokers working for me, not against me.

1) Helping them out when they were short a bond.  I did not sell my bonds to them cheaply, but I did not gouge their eyes out (a technical bond market term) either.  They were grateful to me, and Wall Street does have its own brand of loyalty.  It protects friends.

2) I let brokers know what I was up to in general, while reserving discretion.  I was more open than other managers, realizing that it would be hard to imitate what I was doing, and no one broker had the full picture.  I let brokers truly know what my motives were for selling a bond, whether it was relative value, or needing to raise cash.

3) My brokers knew that my word was my bond.  I did not break trades.  When I uttered the word “done” it did not change.

4) My brokers knew that I would give them frank feedback.  If they were way out of kilter with the market, I would give them one chance to change their position after I told them what I knew.

5) I would show “love” on occasions when they had badly mis-bid for my bonds.  I would give them back one-third of the difference between their bid and the second place bid.

That’s my main example from my own life.  When a large part of my competitors viewed brokers as their competitors, I viewed them more as suppliers, and tried to find ways to work with them, and not against them.

I also found ways when working in the Pension Division of Provident Mutual, to use our small size and flexibility as an advantage versus our larger rivals.  Understanding the competitive landscape was a real advantage, particularly in finding those that could aid us — where there would be mutual benefit.

I could write at length over the individual strategies in the book.  They are all significant, though only a subset applies at any given time.  The book gives a good strategic manager tools, and he has to decide which are relevant to his situation.

If you want it, you can find it here: Co-Opetition : A Revolution Mindset That Combines Competition and Cooperation : The Game Theory Strategy That’s Changing the Game of Business

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