Tree Seedling Oak in HandThe world is not objective. It is composed of people, and people are human (at least most of us are). People are at our most basic emotional and relationship-based. We do deploy our logical minds to override and control much of our instinctual behavior and that also makes us human, and adult or mature humans. It is expected of us to act in a way that is not pure emotion that utilizes more than “raw” emotion in deciding the actions we will take or not take in any given situation.

Because of our emotions and our ability to connect and form relationships, the opportunity for that aspect of ourselves to outweigh the objective criteria and in decision-making is always there—for good or for ill. Whether the weight of influence is the culture of a country, an organization or a person, when it impacts business then it becomes both an opportunity and threat to the viability of every current and future deal to the ability to do business – and becomes a very emotional issue that must be dealt with in a very logical manner.

Influence as Opportunity

When relationships open doors and create opportunities for dialogue, understanding and for business ventures, for the exchange of culture and enterprise, then influence is a conduit for positive outcomes. On the other hand, when relationships are used to prevent others from pursuing opportunities and to shut out those who are not a part of the “inner circle,” then it is a barrier to competition and an obstacle to free enterprise, growth, competition and ultimately more opportunity for everyone in the long run.

Competition Creating Opportunity … To Grow and Succeed

Free and open market competition means there are winners and losers. Those who can deliver the goods to the customer, figuratively and literally, at a price that is profitable and on terms that generate positive cash flow and the potential for reinvestment in the business earn the right to thrive. Those who cannot compete and who don’t find the right combination of products and services lose the money they invested. It is sad and tragic, but it is how things work. You figure out how to succeed or you hire someone to help you.

When it comes to growing the business and being successful, one of the key factors is getting your message out AND getting heard. Think about it. If you aren’t in need of something (a product or a service), if you don’t have a problem to solve, then you aren’t concerned with ads and other information about things you don’t need. So, as a business you not only must have a well-crafted message, but you also must be able to reach those whom the message will have meaning, or as one of my colleagues puts it, “there needs to be Velcro on the brain for it to stick”.

As businesses we have neither the time nor the financial resources to go out and find every person who has a need for what we sell (product or service), but through our network of colleagues we can make connections to more and more people and our message and “product” gets marketed. The ability of your business grows through “who you know” and “who knows you.” So on the positive side, knowing and connecting with other people and entities that share common marketing ground (same types of customers) will enable you to introduce your colleagues’ products and services and for them to do the same for you.

BUT (and it is a big one), if everyone chooses to close that circle to give “exclusivity” of doing business only with people they currently know, then everyone, especially clients, will miss out on finding the right products and services for their needs.

Organizations: You’re IN or You’re OUT

Certain “membership organizations” may find themselves in a stranglehold by the practice of having two groups within that set: INSIDERS and ”regular members.” In other words, some organizations have significant membership roles, yet they only make introductions or have “closed” meetings and events that exclude the majority of the membership, and only support and “market” those members they “know.” This means that many membership organizations begin to lose members and dollars because the members that aren’t in the inner circle stop coming and supporting the organization, as it doesn’t build their business or fulfill the needs.

Several well-known member organizations throughout the country are currently in a struggle to maintain their position to be “influential” and to have a leading role in the entrepreneurial and technology communities. The practice of interfering with open and direct competition has led some of these organizations to be audited by government agencies at state and Federal levels. Some have lost the not-for-profit tax-exempt status and others are “merely” struggling to have a financially viable organization.

Fair, Free and Open Competition

In nature, it is the survival of the fittest, so it was when the United States operated competitively with limited governmental influence (or interference) in competition. The well-managed companies survived and thrived. The rest quickly or slowly fell to the way side to be replaced by new companies with new ideas and sound management. And the cycle of business and competition continued.

The world is changing, and many governments are owning more and more of the means of production. The “who they know” impacts contracting, regulations and so much more. Free enterprise may soon become the thing that used to be in the “good ol’ days.” We’ll talk and study things about open market competition and the theories of how it would work.

To the victors goes the right to write the history books. I have to wonder who will be writing the books on business competitiveness and what they will say. Will there be a date inscribable on the tombstone of free enterprise? Will it say “Here lies the dream. Where people succeeded on the strength of their ideas and the will to succeed.” Or will it read “Here lies Open Competition, killed by someone it didn’t know”?

Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC

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