Coopetition, according to the dictionary, is “collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results”. Coopetition seems to be a word that finds its origin in the 1980s and slowly but steadily has grown into a common form of alliances and partnerships. 

The best-known coopetition examples of today are probably the partnerships that have been formed between pharmaceutical companies, to develop Covid-19 vaccines. The purpose and joint vision of these alliances is clear: beat the pandemic and make the world liveable again.

During my earlier years at work, in my first few jobs, it was unheard of to be collaborating with the competition! They were the enemy and both parties behaved as such. Still, from my own early days of work, I have seen the power of collaboration; it is easier to grow the pie together than fight for the same piece of the pie!

Later, when I was working at IBM in the mid 1990’s, I was intrigued by the alliance that IBM had created with Apple and Motorola. This “AIM Alliance” was a three-way alliance among competitors. However, despite trying, back then it was impossible to find out more about this partnership internally. IBM had strict security guidelines about what could and what could not be shared. Internal firewalls were in place and the teams working in the alliance were located in separate – access protected – buildings to prevent spillover of information. Sometimes I learned more from what was published outside of the company than what was shared internally. 

Coopetition might be a simple concept, but it is not an easy one to implement. You are working with your competitor and need to be careful in what you share. It is a balancing act. Within the context of the alliance you need to communicate open and transparently; you are partners. Outside of the alliance, confidential information should not be spilled over to the other party; you are after all, still competitors. 

Some food for thought for you this week, are you working with your competitors? If not, could you be working with your competitors? How do you secure this type of competition collaboration (or how would you secure one) in such a way that you create the desired synergy together, while protecting both companies?