Von Clausewitz, the great military strategist, observed that it is the mark of inadequate commanders to fail to seize the initiative because they overestimate the strength of their opponents. For years, General Motors and IBM dominated their industries despite critical deficiencies. The companies that should have been willing to fight them for market share really weren’t competitors, just symbionts, looking for unfilled market niches where they could pick up a few crumbs that fell off the master’s table.

When the competition finally came, it came from people across a cultural chasm so wide they didn’t understand what it was that made these giant companies so wonderful, or from shoestring operators who had nothing to lose by ignoring the popular mythology.

It took the Japanese to show us how vulnerable GM was—and Microsoft to shake the living daylights out of IBM. GM and IBM were redefined competition. We all are, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Microsoft or Dell, Toyota or Honda. We all live or die by the competitive sword. And we always will.

 

*Excerpted from “Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive”

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