There are No More Winners – Just Leaders

I’ve come to the realization, that in the world of business the term “winner” is dead.   The idea that a company wins and another loses is no longer accurate. Winning implies the game is over.  It implies one participant, in this case a company, keeps moving (the winner), while the other goes home (the loser.)   I don’t agree with this, it’s an antiquated way of looking at things.  I don’t think there are winners or losers any more.  We now have leaders and followers.

I was reading this post; “How Did Worpress Win?”  and I couldn’t get past the title.   What did WordPress win?   They aren’t the only blogging platform out there.   They have competition.  I kept thinking about Tumblr and their hockey stick growth curve.  Why can’t they pass WordPress? WordPress hasn’t won anything, they’re just leading.   Winning vs. leading is no small distinction.

In 1937 the average life expectancy of a S&P 500 company was 75 years.   It was a lot more difficult to start a company back in the days.  Access to capital was almost non-existent.  The amount of capital necessary to start a company was astronomical.  Women and minorities were all but locked out of the process.   Back in the day winner/loser perfectly described  the environment.   Westinghouse “lost” to GE.  RJ Reynolds “lost” to Phillip Morris.  Nike beat everybody.  In the old days, when a company “won” they held on to their lead and showed no mercy.  They won.  It was almost impossible to dislodge them.  Seventy five years is a long time.  The old days are littered with winners and losers, it’s how it was.   But, it’s changing.

Today, the average life span of a company is 15 years.   That’s 1/5th the old school average life span.  Why?  What’s different?  What is shortening the lifespan of companies today?   I say it’s a lot of things including; access to capital and the cost of capital, (it’s cheap and easy to fund a great disruptive idea, where it wasn’t back in the days), the cost of starting a company is way down.   You can capitalize a good, disruptive company, or idea for pennies in comparison to 20 or 30 years ago.  Diversity – women and minorities have more opportunities, therefore creating more competition in a larger start-up pool.   Technology – technology is moving at light-speed.  The shelf-life of technology is shorter, this combined with a reduction in costs make it difficult for incumbents to call victory.  Rapid advancements in technology can quickly erode any lead first movers have. All of these changes are creating fierce competition that no longer allows incumbents to “win.”

In the 80’s we declared MS the “winner”, we know better now.  I’m typing this on a Mac.   Yahoo was the winner, at least until Google showed up.  Myspace was the winner, remember?  I don’t need to say much about that.   There are no more winners.

There are no more winners.   Their is no victor and a loser.  The idea of winners and losers has been replaced with leaders and followers.   I think this is a big deal, especially for start-ups.   If someone views the race as over, as having lost, they stop trying.   They concede defeat and go home.   Back in the day, this was very much the case for the reasons I pointed out.  However, if the race is viewed as still going, then there is only a leader.  Leaders can be caught.  Leaders can fall.  Leaders can quit.  Leader can be passed.   When looking at the race this way, we keep going.  We push harder.  We are more creative.  We don’t quit. We don’t go home. We persevere.

We can’t win any more.   We can only hope to lead.  Even as leaders, the path is tough as leaders are unwilling motivators, driving the followers to push harder.  They are targets for disruption.  Leads change.  Leaders fall.

This notion excites me.  The fact that we no longer have winners benefits us all.  The lack of winners will drive innovation faster.  It will stimulate the economy.  It gives the next great idea hope.    Today; Facebook, Google, Twitter, Quora, Cisco, Toyota, WordPress, Apple, etc are all leading, but I promise you they haven’t won and that is a GREAT thing.

Here is to today’s followers, may you become tomorrow leaders.  We’re counting on it!

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