How to Out-Behave Your Business Competitors

As traditional job silos break down and become horizontal, command-and-control hierarchies begin to lose their relevance. A new model emerges: connect and collaborate. To succeed in this new model, workers and companies alike need to develop new skills and harness new powers within themselves. Companies -- and the people who comprise them -- need to recontextualize how they do business. Individuals must develop new approaches to the sphere of human relations. Both companies and employees must learn to share in whole new ways.

The world has become even more like the game of chess. Every piece on a chessboard is highly specialized, with virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities. Some move diagonally and some move straight; some roam free and unfettered while others are tightly regimented. But, with a few exceptions, you can't typically achieve checkmate with fewer than three pieces. Most accomplishments in chess are team-based; only when you position pieces properly -- and in communication with one another -- do they start to win. Two rooks, if communicating, are very powerful, even if they are very far apart; without close communication, rooks are far less powerful. Business is now much more like that. Success depends on how people of diverse backgrounds and skills communicate with and complement one another. In a connected world, power shifts to those best able to connect.

Six hundred years ago, people succeeded with barter arrangements on street corners. Today, most business takes place in formalized organizations; a corporation, for the most part, is nothing more than a society of individuals who share a common interest to get something done. (The corporation itself is for the most part a legal fiction. Many of them are incorporated in Delaware, but few of us commute to Delaware every morning, do we?) While not everyone works in a company -- some people are independents: accountants, contractors, agents, consultants, entrepreneurs, and the like -- everyone working in the world of exchange and commerce needs to connect with others, be they customers, clients, vendors, suppliers, team members within our companies, or subcontractors. No man or woman, as poet John Donne famously said, "is an island, entire of itself"; we are all part of a larger landscape of people, because most of what we do cannot be done alone.

I cannot accomplish anything by myself. I find myself a member of an organization. I find myself in a marketplace, competing, trying to do something that depends on other people. That is quite a place to find yourself. It stands to reason that, in such a world, your success will depend on your ability to relate to others in powerful ways. The information economy places new emphasis on how we bridge the spaces between us. How do we reach out? How do we create strong synapses capable of making our action potentials real? With the fundamental shift from land to capital to knowledge and information as the currency of business, we've seen a concurrent shift from the power of command-and-control hierarchies to the power of collaborative, horizontal effort. The necessity to work together like pieces on a chessboard places a new premium on our ability to conduct ourselves successfully in the sphere of human affairs.

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