Business is War.

Stephen Robbins (
Tue, 27 Dec 1994 13:07:11 EST5EDT

> In general, I am not a great fan of war as a competitive
> metaphor myself. I find ecological metaphors prompt me to think
> more holistically about competition for competitive space.

My difficulty with the business-as-war metaphor is that competition
is not inherently good or bad. It produces certain outcomes, while
suppressing others. "Business-is-war" tends to be interpreted as
unilateral support for competition.

I like the ecological model, but haven't yet decided how it maps to
business. Your body has many organs which all need oxygen, yet
rather than compete, each takes what it needs and the whole system
survives. There is no competition between your organs. [When there
is, we call it "cancer," and it's a Bad Thing.] Are businesses the
organs, and industry the body? Or are industries the organs, and
economies the body? Or are economies the organs, and the ecology the

The thing that bugs me about competition=good is that in business,
competition is considered "to the death." Individual animals
compete over hierarchy and territory, once they are established, they
pretty much go about their lives. While different species compete
for ecological niches, they do it by being better suited to the
niche-- the system selects. They do NOT systematically identify and
destroy competing species, some of which may be better suited to the
overall ecology.

[The human race may not be the healthiest ecological alternative for
the niche we currently occupy, in which case at some point the
systemic forces will select us OUT. It's not that cockroaches
conspire to destroy us; it's just that with us gone, they'll be free
to move in...]

I have seen evidence that competition can, indeed, drive companies to
be more efficient, more effective, etc, etc, etc. I also think it
drives many globally destructive behaviors (planned obsolescence,
waste of resources in an effort to move things to a "new playing
field" to sustain "strategic advantages," etc.).

My understanding of capitalism (remember: I'm a technoweenie, not an
economist or political "scientist") is that whoever builds the best
product for the lowest price "should" win. In reality, there's an
entire field called "corporate strategy" which is all about how to
win through other aspects of the system: locking up distribution
channels, building switching costs, tying competitors up in court
until they go out of business, buying up patents for substitute
products, etc.

I am absolutely convinced that competition will, in the medium term,
be great, wonderful, and beneficial to the economy and world.

I am absolutely uncertain, but am leaning more and more towards
thinking, that competition will, in the long term, keep us stuck in
a rat-race type loop which slowly depletes our resources and drives
our race towards an increasingly unhealthy (mentally and physically)

So here are my questions:
* How do we understand when competition is good for a system, and
when it isn't?

* At what levels of abstraction is competition good or not (organs
vs. bodies)?

* What forms of competition are good or not (system selects vs.
conscious selection)?

* If we reject the whole business-as-war metaphor, what other
metaphors are useful? (What would the world be like if a driving
metaphor were "business is a co-op?" or Business is a
Broadway show. Or ...?)

- Stever
Stever Robbins
Accept no substitutes! PGP key available upon request
"You're only young once, but you can be immature forever."