Coopetition and the 2014 World Cup

worldcupPeople that know me well see me generally as a “nice guy” but one with a serious competitive bent. From the golf course to business to book authorship, I like to be at the top. But years ago, a great man told me about the concept of Coopetition. It is an obvious word combination of Competition and Cooperation. The term was so unique that the Harvard Business Review re-used it and attributed it’s creation to my old boss Ray Noorda, one time CEO of Networking juggernaut, Novell.

Interestingly, Coopetition is a Portmanteau—a combination of two or more words into one new word. The word Portmanteau itself is derived from 2 French words – “Porter” meaning “to carry” and “Manteau” meaning coat.

Ray Noorda and his team members loved to compete against companies like Microsoft, Lotus, 3-Com, and others but we always left open the opportunity to collaborate to do good things. I was once Chairman of the Copyright Protection Fund which later morphed into the Business Software Alliance. It was there that I worked closely with the top lawyers from all of my competitors to collaborate in our combined efforts to eliminate software piracy from the marketplace.

In any event, I have been very impressed with the degree of Coopetition in this year’s World Cup. Rarely have I seen a better display of sportsmanship. It’s a far cry from Ice Hockey where people go just to see the fighting.

I have probably watched portions of at least seven games so far and in every one I have seen players display real class even as they have clashed with one another. I have observed players helping opposing players off the ground, shaking hands after a brutal tackle or encounter, congratulating one another on great goals or saves, and, in the fine tradition of the World Cup, players swapping jerseys at the end of a World Cup Match.

And sportsmanship this year is not limited to the players. Japan has a world ranking of 46 and is not expected to “clean up” in the current World cup soccer matches. However, after losing their opening match this last week against the Ivory Coast, the team’s followers stayed behind to collect the trash at the soccer stadium in Recife, Brazil.

Even the fans in this Brazilian city of Recife have done something wonderful. They love their soccer team and in fact, are known for having the most ardent supporters of any team in Soccer-crazed Brazil. One fan said recently: “1st God; 2nd Sports Club Recife; 3rd Family.” But despite their competitive nature, these same fans – in fact, over 51,000 of them, did something special – they all signed up to have their organs donated upon death. Another great example of sportsmanship and caring.

Just like World Cup Soccer, business is a competition. And competition can be mean and nasty or classy and caring.

Of course, I realize there is a need to be aggressive in business as well as in the courtroom in a legal case or playing match play in golf. You need to find your edge and then take advantage of it in order to come out on top. But I like to think even nice guys can finish well in business. Zappos is a good example. I understand that it is their practice to help their customers find a product for which they are looking even if it exists only at one of their competitors.

So my business philosophy is to compete to benefit your own company not to “destroy the competition.” In emerging markets in particular, I am thrilled to see my competitors succeed as I believe and repeat often that “high tides raise ALL boats.”

I have seen numerous examples over the years of companies that are willing to lose money to achieve a one time sell in order to simply undercut a rival. To me that is short-term thinking.

Finally, always remember that players get traded. That happens in business as well. So if you are classy and sportsmanlike in your business dealings with your rivals, it could come around to benefit you later. You may find yourself on the same team as one of those people you were trying to “destroy” at one point.

So my advice in business as in the 2014 World Cup is this: Stay classy my friends and, whether you are winning or losing, be a good sport!


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