Winning the race for status, losing the race for the industry

Have you seen the YouTube video yet where a man is chasing his dog, chasing deer in Richmond Park?

The nation seems divided over whether it is funny or not, but it gives me the excuse to talk about a deer related subject which has lessons for our business.

Let’s talk about Elks.  Robert H. Frank is an economist at Cornell University who has just published a book about the Darwinian theory of Economics (The Darwin Economy, Liberty, Competition and the Common Good).   Frank argues against the commonly accepted theory that out and out competition is good for the nation as a whole because it delivers a stronger set of businesses.

He illustrates this by describing Elks (though the deer in rutting season in Richmond Park would probably work as well).

The outsized antlers of the bull elk function as weapons in their competition for female elks.  At their largest they extend to more than four feet in width.  Satisfying as this is for the elks with the biggest antlers, as a whole this severely compromises the ability of the herd to move through forests and makes them more vulnerable to predators.  “A trait that evolves because it helps the individual prevail in battle against members of the same species typically constitutes a handicap for the species as a whole”.

The analogy runs that the characteristics that have made people win status and position in the economic battles that have been traditionally fought could have a negative influence on the overall strength and success of business.

If you have achieved status and position by stepping on your peers you may have done very well relatively.  But your organisation might not be best placed for long term survival in the new global and digital economy.  For example if you beat the competition by being cheaper than the rest it might result in a win for you, but will drive down prices and profitability in the industry as a whole.

The advertising industry as a whole is still rife with heritage practices.  Is this because the antlers of the alpha elks have grown too big for flexibility?


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