Playing Monopoly

by colbert | November 3, 2009

Image by elycefeliz via Flickr
We all aspire to be one. A monopoly. The only game in town. Proprietary this, trademarkable that. Product developers and business people all over the world are working their assets off to come up with the next best thing, the thing that is wholly different, that offers tangible distinction that the competition just can’t replicate.

But the truth is that all monopolies die or slowly fade away. The British Empire. Polaroid. GM. Marshall Field’s. Standard Oil. Facebook. Harvard University. The United States…

So why do monopolies inevitably die and/or lose their dominant position?

Because they end up believing that they are above the realities of the marketplace and the need to evolve, to wholly innovate and constantly reinvent themselves. Their first-to-market position convinces them that their brand position and value proposition are permanently secure. They stop listening to the market, they overextend their offering, they take on initiatives that are motivated more by ego and largess than by practical consideration of what would serve their customers (or citizens) best. They lose focus on what is relevant and what really drives sustainable value. They ignore the competition.

A monopolistic position creates a false sense of competency, alarming forms of “strategic laziness,” and a reluctance to take on what I call “essential risk.”

So is monopolistic aspiration the wrong intention? I think not. The way to avoid the downside of the upside is not to eschew the desire to “own the market” but to eschew ego, to be laser focused about what really matters to the people you serve and to look the truth about it all directly in the eye and act on what you see. Clarity. Humility. Practicality. Candor. Bravery. Ardor.

All key to winning the game again and again.

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