September 29, 2023
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Opinion: Harness the best of competition and cooperation


By Janice Miller

We have been told business is a zero-sum game. For someone to win, someone else must lose. But this often leads to a cutthroat rivalry amongst professionals. Bitter and needlessly acrimonious, it not only hurts competitors, but it also makes things tougher for the end client/customer.

Now, what if there was a better way?

This is the notion of what I call “coopertition.” Employing a beneficial positive sum mentality, it demonstrates the beauty and mutual advantage of benevolent collaboration — amongst collaborators, for the benefit of all.

The concept is really that of reaching across the aisle to work with one’s “rival” — especially when the result is better service for the customer/client.

Staying ahead of the competition requires rethinking the concept of competition itself. We must think bigger and differently, finding ways to make love — not war — with ones’ enemies, thereby better serving our customer/clients and winning the game in novel ways that once seemed unthinkable.

Examples of this notion can be found in my recently published book, “Coopertition: Cooperation Between Competitors For the Benefit of All.” Structured from A-Z with each letter representing a key insight, the book presents memorable and instructive stories illustrating the concept of reaching across the aisle to work with one’s rival.

Two such examples are “B”: Be Kind/Be (the) Professional. In this chapter, I recount an experience where my mom, my hero, taught me that hard work alone isn’t enough to get you where you want to go in life. You have heard business mentors say, “Work smarter, rather than harder.” Well, my mom pioneered another concept: “Work kinder.”

Despite her busy schedule, Mom seemed to know everyone’s name: the bus driver, the bag boy … you get the picture.

One day she was looking for a can of pumpkin puree at the supermarket and couldn’t find it. Her quest led her to a young man stocking the shelves. “Hi, Eddy. How’s your day going?” she asked. Eddy looked up from his task and smiled, clearly thrilled someone asked about his well-being.

“Fine, ma’am,” he said courteously. “How can I assist you?”

Eddy was not only delighted to help, but from then on, went out of his way to assist us every time we saw him.

Why? Because most folks would have just asked for the can of pumpkin. When my mother addressed Eddy by name and asked him how he was, she acknowledged him as a person and connected with him on a human level.

Today, I also use this basic yet crucial technique. It goes a long way toward making my interactions with new people I meet ever more personal, not just professional.

So what is the key takeaway here? The wisest, most successful of us remember to be professionals 24/7, no matter what life throws at us. And when conflict arises, we take the high road, knowing there is always a reason why, and in the long run, it will pay off.

Chapter H – Have your Ear to the Ground – is a principle I use on a daily basis. One of the things that got me through the COVID-19 pandemic was my Tuesday night ladies’ group. Every week we met up online to talk, laugh, and commiserate while we waited for the world to open up. I learned a lot about my friends I hadn’t known before.

For instance, one week, my friend Donna mentioned she’d been spending more of her time reading, and she especially loved legal thrillers. In fact, she had every John Grisham novel except for his latest, “A Time for Mercy.”

She wanted to pick it up at the bookstore but felt wary about shopping when so many stores were closed for safety. I took notice and bought the book for her online and sent it to her. She was touched that I remembered.

I wasn’t expecting anything in return. All I was doing was filling a need for someone. Donna already knew I was a lawyer. Now she knows I’m also a good listener. And if, down the road, a referral comes up, hopefully she will remember me.

So, the key takeaway here is to always be on the lookout for others needing assistance. If you listen, you can learn much from a casual conversation, a social media thread, or from a mutual friend. Being of value to others begins with learning their needs

It’s often our personal connections that give us an edge in our careers. People want to do business with people they like.

By being the kind of person who brings pleasure to others, you’ll have way more to offer than just a resume. This is the way to build connections, to help you stand out in a crowded field, and it all begins with having your ear to the ground and listening to others.

• Janice Miller is managing partner at Miller Haga Law Group in Calabasas and the author of the new book “Coopertition: Cooperation Between Competitors For the Benefit of All.”