Differentiate or Collaborate?

team sitting at desk with laptops
There is no such thing as competition, especially among the women we collaborate with most often.

The Answer Women Often Give May Be An Advantage.

There’s no such thing as competition.

Two of my friends, both women entrepreneurs, were talking about this concept recently. It appealed to me right away because I’ve never been fond of conflict unless it’s absolutely necessary. As a small business owner (I’m in my second venture with Annalisa Hilliard at Data Dames Marketing), I focus on competing against myself and not others. Always be learning is one of my mottoes, along with I am awkward and I know it.

Googling the phrase, “no such thing as competition,” brings up a lot of opinion blogs and articles. I noticed those authored by men mostly advise businesses to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Conversely, women emphasized collaboration with competitors, a huge departure from the traditional American narrative that business is a zero-sum game.

A couple quick asides:

  • For me, collaboration with competitors would only apply to those who have proven themselves to be worthy rivals as described by Simon Sinek in The Infinite Game. (He actually uses the term “adversary” in some places, a word that more strongly connotes conflict. Meh.)
  • Differentiation is good advice. In my industry, it seems particularly germane in separating worthy rivals from those who aren’t. But I also don’t want to spend too much time comparing myself to others.

According to the The Brookings Institution and its white paper, The Rise of Innovation Districts, collaboration plays a major role in the future of business. Does this give women, who already lean toward collaboration, a business advantage? We don’t have many and sure could use more.

Data Dames recently joined a Northeast-Ohio based group of independent creatives and marketing consultants. Initiated by Connie Collins, brand storyteller, it’s an informal, small-scale joint venture of people who, in other circumstances, might have considered each other competitors to some extent. All the businesses choosing to be part of this group are owned by women, and we are learning how to coalesce and advocate for one another while still maintaining autonomy. This involves continually challenging ourselves to higher levels of cooperation, creativity, and performance. (It’s not easy, by the way. We have a great team builder who’s helping us make this work.)

Clients stand to benefit from, among other things, increased transparency, significant cost savings, and access to everyone on the team when compared to the traditional ad agency model.

This group is a great fit for the Data Dames because our higher purpose is to help women grow in their careers and in business. Will it be a good fit for potential clients? Time will tell, but I think the future of business is on our side.

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