Competing these days is about not competing at all

Competition is still about fighting each other in the same ballpark, at least in the Japanese business context. On the surface, it sounds fair and gentlemen-like. Deep inside, everybody is exhausted trying to catch more fish in the red ocean. Also over time they lose the ability to think outside their box. Some even don't realize they are in a box.

Each time I make a visit to my homeland, I see companies trying to "impress" clients and competitors. Let's take digital cameras for example: A quick googling "The world's thinnest" in Japanese yields the following results as of Feb 14th, 2010.

Seriously, who cares? They might be spending all their power to beat their opponents, but they do not realize they are just collectively masturbating, at least from their customers' point of view. None of them came up with Flip Mino, a video camera we actually want.

The definition of competition has changed. It is no more about competing against each other. It's about how not to compete.

I once visited Sanyo, then an electric giant boasting Japan's largest electronics industrial complex owned by a single company, to demonstrate a semiconductor IP. They said they were not interested in. We gave them the name of our biggest Asian customer: Samsung. They dismissed Samsung as the "company who just kept wasting an incredible amount of money."

Five years later, Sanyo became a subsidiary of Panasonic and Samsung became the world's No.1 electronic brand. People at Sanyo (to be fair, me too) did not understand Samsung was not only competing with them but also was already surpassing them. We failed to see its influence because Samsung played a different game from Japanese companies.

Japanese companies developed almost everything inside, with their in-bred workers. Samsung brought in almost everything, from staff to technologies to design. Japanese companies sold products domestically first, and after a successful reaction, sold them worldwide. Samsung targeted worldwide audience from the beginning. Even the Korean market, their supposedly home base, was treated as one of the many Asian regions.

Competition will always exist, but it is getting clearer that winners are those who put the word "competitor" out of their head and do what really matters for them and their customers.