This post is a bit late because I am a big NFL fan. I spent Sunday night/ Monday morning enthralled by Super Bowl LI. The Patriots snatching the prize from the Falcons in one of the great comebacks in sporting history.
In business we love a sporting analogy. So no doubt the latest NFL Championship will offer rich pickings. The trouble with these comparisons is that they forget one thing. On Sunday the Patriots won and the Falcons lost. One up, one down, a classic zero sum sporting contest. Business is competitive but it is never a zero sum game.
Looking at the faces and body language of the Falcons and their fans brought back bad memories. One special tough experience came to mind. Around 10 years ago  my old firm was pitching for a huge opportunity with my most important client. At the same time I was struggling to get along with a new leader in my business unit. The whole situation was filled with stress, lack of trust and politics. Nasty for everyone.
Perhaps no surprise then that we lost the pitch to one of our major rivals. The situation within the firm became critical. Each individual saw this as a zero sum game in which we were the loser. Blame, recriminations and attempts to get one over abounded. All in a poisonous atmosphere of broken personal and professional trust.
I found this all pretty hard to take. So I ran away and hid in the only place available – with my client contacts. The pitch involved an audience of 22 senior people only 3 of whom we had met before. I followed up with most of the rest. Over the next two years, 5 people in that group provided business for my firm. Two of those because close friends. They remain amongst my strongest business relationships today.
In my experience, this experience is representative of the business world. Much more typical than the simple sporting narrative of winners and losers. There are no zero sum games for three main reasons:
Everyone and every business is trying to create value. This is not some new idea developed for startups. Others may be stumbling, fumbling and even failing. But that does not change the basic aim. On both sides of every deal, and among all those who miss out, there is a common motive. We call this the economy.
Dynamic but no equilibrium
This economy thing is great but it is a complex, dynamic system. It never stops, has no pauses and cannot be in equilibrium. Business sits within this environment and so cannot be stable either. Thus an even balance (or summing to zero) just can’t happen. On the rare occasions where things are not being added, they are being subtracted. Cancelling each other out is not possible.
Its all about people. People are built to look to the future. Time is the one thing we cannot control or change or relive. Couple this with an unstable system and an overwhelming desire to add value. There can only be one outcome. We go forward and we grow as we do it.
The Chairman’s View
Business is not a zero sum game. The whole concept appeals to me. Its a simple way of conveying the right attitude of mind. The passion to generate value in everything your SaaS does. And the resilience to find the positive in every experience.
It cuts against a lot of insidious behaviour. Cut-throat sales tactics. Excessive pricing and aggressive terms. Exploitation of people and resources. Nothing built on the misfortune or weakness of others works with the no zero mindset.
I don’t believe anyone starts a SaaS business without aiming to create value. Keep that positive purpose in the front of your mind and you will not go far wrong