Sure we're all connected via the information super-highway, but we're also connected to each other, and that means the age of zero-sum play is over. There are no winners or losers in this environment. Instead, the businesses and individuals that thrive are those that understand the power of a mutually productive partnership.
The Japanese are masters of this concept as demonstrated by their keiretsu relationships. A people confined and defined by their island geography, the Japanese have long been "connected" in a way that people and businesses operating in other developed economies haven't (until recently). In a keiretsu structure, companies that work together often take small stakes in each other, so that each player in the network is motivated to act in a way that benefits the others. With 127 million people, the Japanese have had to learn to play and work together in order to stay together.
Even off the island, in our day and age, nobody can go it alone. The world is too small; anything you say, do, or tweet might just end up on the cover of the Times (isn't that right, Congressman Weiner?). In all of our negotiations and operations, we need to consider the interests of those with whom we work.
Look at Comcast, which now owns 51 percent of NBCUniversal. NBCU just bought back its theme parks from The Blackstone Group, which is an investor in Nielsen, which tracks ratings for NBC's networks. How's that for connectivity?
Even Apple, with its perennially walled garden, has been forced to partner in new ways. Just last week, the company revised its restrictive App Store rules to make them more flexible for its content publisher partners. And it's hard to believe that only 14 years ago it was Microsoft that rescued an Apple on the verge of bankruptcy and allowed Microsoft Office to run on Macs. In announcing that deal, Steve Jobs said: "If we want to move forward and see Apple happy and prospering, we have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose."
We count our data providers,
advertisers, agencies, networks, stations and investors among our many strategic partners. All are crucial to and vested in our success, as we are in theirs. Time was, they'd have been our vendors and
customers, but today we know that though we might be at the hub of a relationship, the wheel won't turn without the spokes. We also know that those spokes are inevitably connected to other wheels.
For these kinds of relationships to work, there are four core values to keep in mind when entering into a partnership:
· Trust: When you pair with a partner, you need to be able to trust them to make the right decisions for you. Here I look to another Asian example. In China, many initial business contracts are typically a single page, outlining a basic agreement that each party will trust the other. Trust is the fundamental operating principle at the core of every relationship, and the details are defined over time. In a world where every action has an immediate reaction, trust is critical.
· Integrity: At the end of the day, all you have is integrity. While you may eventually end up competing against a partner in some capacity, if you always act with integrity and transparency, disclosing potential conflicts of interest, all parties will be able to negotiate based on shared knowledge.
· Mutual respect: Even when both partners act with trust and integrity, there will be instances in which your interests and those of your partner will not be precisely aligned. Keep in mind that your partners have their own stakeholders - employees, investors, other partners -- and that in a capitalist world, each player needs to act in his or her own enlightened self-interest.
· Accountability: What happens when you run afoul of the above three rules? Man up, make amends, or watch as the court of public opinion, the ecosystem, or the legal system "help" you to find your way.
In fact, these values are the foundation of any successful relationship -- in business and elsewhere. But it's in our ever-shrinking world that they're becoming more important than ever. How has our increasingly connected ecosystem affected your business practices? What defines your approach to partnership?