Fabulous article in the February issue of Harvard Business Review print ed. (Actually, there’s a few.) The opening line:

“Top executives are good at competing, but when they come up against opposition rather than competition, they flounder.”

A simple example from the article. When Coca-cola battled Pepsi to get their soft-drink vending machines into schools, that’s competition. When parents decided they didn’t want soft-drink vending machines in schools, that’s opposition. (At least one of the soft-drink companies started producing bottled water…)

I can think of another example. Get ready to fall over in shock and surprise… Microsoft. Microsoft is usually at its best when competing, preferably against an established player. (Increasingly hard to do, when you’re the world’s largest software company.) Microsoft is rubbish at coping with opposition. Probably because it doesn’t happen very often. The last time they really faced opposition, it was called Netscape. The solution? Create a near-identical product and compete. Say hello to Internet Explorer. (We’ll not get into a debate about whether the tactics used to compete were fair). The opposition this time around? Google. Microsoft’s tactic? Same as before – turn opposition into competition. Round 1: Try and build a near-identical service. That hasn’t gone so well so far. Round 2: “Hmmm, who could we buy to achieve our goal…” 🙂

Trying to tackle opposition by getting into their space and competing head-on doesn’t always work. Worse still, it can be a disaster. Instead, the article advocates turning the tables on the opposition. And highlights that, in this instance, business can actually learn a few tricks from politics. Adopt your opponent’s issue/solution as your goal but pitch an alternative path for getting there. Tracking Microsoft’s activities in cloud computing and software as a/+ service, I suspect some opposition tactics are also in play but a lot less visible in the news than their traditional methods.

The ability for any and all organisations to cope with opposition is going to become an essential management skill (I wonder if it is on MBA courses). The Internet’s role in social networks combined with mobile phones and instant messaging services have introduce a whole new audience of potential opponents, better organised and more vocal than ever before. Us.

Technorati tags: Microsoft vs Google

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