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It doesn't have to be "zero-sum."

I challenge you to review your business relationships, even your personal relationships, and see if they are zero-sum in nature. Of all change that needs to be made in this world, I believe at heart this is one way where we definitely went wrong. Somewhere along the way we ingrained a formula, in many a process, that relies on winners and losers. For me to make a buck, you must lose one.

It is so impossibly profound in arenas that it should be the last concern, like hospitals and healthcare, where the number one thing should be the health and well being of the humans in our care. Unfortunately, and publicly admitted, hospitals are overly-concerned with satisfaction scores and mitigating unhappy "customers". How many billboards have you seen "Lowest ER Wait times in town - 32 minutes, exit 305". WHAT!? We are advertising the best place to "shop" for an emergency room visit??? Most healthcare professionals would agree the setup in our nation is to treat not prevent. This is in an effort to keep the business a success, not help people become the healthiest and safest they can be.

It doesn't matter where you turn, it seems like everyone is out to make a buck off of you. I read an article this morning touting 7 principles of outstanding salespeople, and the number one line item was to understand the customer's need and offer something that would help. Yes, we apparently have to train our folks not to jam things down customers throats just to put a buck in their pocket. We've all been swindled or taken by a fancy ad or midnight infomercial, door to door sales, timeshare, whatever, where a talented smooth talker convinced you to buy something you didn't even need or want only to regret it shortly thereafter. You were furious! That person wasn't helping you, they were simply helping themselves.

In stark contrast I would like to offer the scenario that has developed in the last 15 years in many parts of the country, especially in our home of Portland Oregon, and is wildly successful. It is called a "buy nothing" group or perhaps more well known, the nearly 7 million member Freecycle Network. This solution resolved the household issue of "I have no need for this item any longer, but it's still perfectly good, what do I do with it?" You can sell on eBay, Craigslist, donate to Goodwill or a church or what have you, recycle, or trash. All of these options involve time, effort and frustration. And for those many people who weren't interested in making a buck, rather they just wanted to see their item find a new home, even donating their item often ended up in it being trashed when it sat on the shelf too long, didn't meet guidelines and rules to be sold, etc. What a sad ending to a perfectly good item.

So the Freecycle platform was born. It was an experiment 15 years ago, and one the founders had many doubts would work, but is now a huge success. I can offer my item to the public, for the price of $0. You cannot offer to buy it, only take it for free. It is somewhat self monitored for abusers who just take and take, but relies on humanity and kindness both to balance and keep the giving going. Why is this so wildly successful? I suggest because it is a non-zero sum arrangement. I give but I don't lose. I save the time, hassle and frustration. I gain the happiness and satisfaction of providing for one of my neighbors. They in turn, gain this item they so much need, without losing anything in return. They are grateful but are not in my debt. They don't have to return the favor, but what the experiment has proven is...most people will. When they are done with the item, let's say a crib we no longer needed now they no longer need, they are VERY likely to return this item to the "buy nothing" world for the next person in need. Or they will just embrace the process and start listing items they have but no longer need.

Imagine if your business operated like this. For your suppliers to make more money you didn't have to spend more. For you to make more your customers not to lose more. Through shared process improvements and cost savings measures, via "Customer Operating Partnerships" this is very possible. Your top customers and suppliers have tremendous impact on your business and therefore should be seen as collaborative opportunities rather than adversaries on the zero-sum battlefield.

I'd suggest checking out "Islands of Profit in a Sea of Red Ink" by Jonathan Byrnes and "Give and Take" by Adam Grant to hear a lot more of what I just barely touched on above. Fascinating reads about how we got to where we are, and why it needs to change. After all, Progress Demands Change!



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