How much will you pay for a competitor’s secret?

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

IN 2006, three persons, including an employee of Coca-Cola tried to sell highly-confidential information and a sample of a newly-developed beverage to Pepsi. When contacted by the corporate traitors, Pepsi’s management became disinterested and reported the attempt to Coke and the FBI that conducted an undercover investigation to catch the suspects.

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“Competition can sometimes be fierce, but also must be fair and legal,” Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco says to the Associated Press. “We’re pleased the authorities and the FBI have identified the people responsible for this.”

If you’re in Pepsi’s shoes would you do the same? Hold on… Or maybe, keep the answer to yourself.

For one, what is competition to you? And how would you like to make them irrelevant to your business just like what the Blue Ocean Strategy is trying to teach us?

Let’s put it in another way: Remember the flowers in your garden? They don’t mind the bloom other plants yield. They simply produce the best bloom they can unmindful of the competition. Can you do the same?

Many times in the past, we humans were tempted to look at the “best practices” of successful organizations in our industry. Then we go back to our drawing board to discover how we could tailor-fit the learning to our products and services.

Is that the right approach? The answer may be “sometimes, somehow.” If that’s the case, how can you innovate outside the box no matter how trite it may appear to some like you and me?

OK. Suppose you got hold of your competitor’s trade secret? What next? The result may be disastrous as you’ve not taken into consideration the background and context of such product or service. Or you may be successful after tweaking it to your perceived market preference.

What is certain is the uncertainty of being successful with a stolen idea. Copying is the highest form of flattery, but doing it at the expense of another can reap karmic bad luck.

Perhaps, the best approach is simply to work with your friendly competitors so that you can mutually-benefit from a joint venture that can’t be successful without the other. The buzzword is the age-old “coopetition.” If you can’t beat them, join them.

A good example of coopetition is the “Amazon Marketplace” where brick-and-mortar competitors are using Amazon’s online system and technological advantage to sell millions of newly-published books, old and used copies, and even hard-to-find periodical volumes.

“In effect,” says freelance business journalist Matt Palmquist, “the Internet’s leading e-commerce site was not only allowing customers to choose between its offerings and its competitors, but was also the one inviting those competitors to join the party in the first place.”

Can you imagine Globe and Smart doing coopetition in this “rich-country-trying-to-be-poor” and inadequate on lack of infrastructure to give the best possible service to its Filipino subscribers? Is coopetition the best mutual strategy for the duopoly to make any third-party competitor irrelevant?

Let’s say Globe and Smart finally inked a deal to give the fastest Internet service at the lowest price. How could they make more money than before?

More important, but harder to do is: Who would initiate the deal, like what Amazon did to its competitors? I’m sure there’s a way to do just that between Globe and Smart.

The point I am trying to emphasize is that stealing a trade secret is not a good idea. It limits your chances of becoming an innovator, if not a trendsetter. Even if you copy and innovate at the same time, your mind is focused on something that’s not good in the first place.

Don’t take it, even if someone offers you a trade secret for free. Don’t be a part of an illegal operation. In fact, you should be suspicious why it is being offered without remuneration in return. If you encounter such offer, the first thing you should do is to inform your competitor and the authorities, just like what Pepsi did, so you avoid getting zapped by instant karma.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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