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Authors: Barry Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger

Publisher: Profile Books

Reviewer: Goke Ilesanmi


The only thing that is constant in life is change. This means one needs to embrace it to avoid being swept away by its tide. The old concept of competition interpreted as enmity is now outdated. And one of the textual “evangelists” of the modern concept of competition is this book entitled “Co-opetition”. It is written by Barry Nalebuff and Adam Brandenburger, who are professors at Yale and Harvard respectively. Nalebuff and Brandenburger are pioneers in the practice of applying the science of game theory to the art of corporate strategy.

The authors say they have devised a practice-oriented model to help you break out of the traditional win-lose or lose-win situations and that many corporate organisations have been adopting the strategies of “co-opetition” to change their business approach and enjoy the benefits of win-win opportunities. Nalebuff and Brandenburger submit that this text is the first to adapt game theory to the needs of chief executive officers, managers and entrepreneurs. They add that the text offers you a new business mindset, a strategic way of thinking that combines competition and cooperation.

This text is segmented into two parts of nine chapters. Part one is generically labelled “The game of business” and covers the first three chapters. Chapter one is entitled “War and peace”. According to the authors, the traditional concept of business and by implication, competition makes the whole thing look like a war manifesting in the form of “outsmarting the competition, capturing market share, making a killing, fighting brands, beating up suppliers, locking up customers”, etc. Nalebuff and Brandenburger educate that under business-as-war, there are the victors and the vanquished.

Nalebuff and Brandenburger reflect that as regards a new mindset, business is cooperation when it comes to creating a pie and competition when it comes to dividing it up. The authors say, “In other words, business is War and Peace. But it’s not Tolstoy – endless cycles of war followed by peace followed by war. It’s simultaneously war and peace. As Ray Noorda, founder of the networking software company Novell, explains: ‘You have to compete and cooperate at the same time’. The combination makes for a more dynamic relationship than the words ‘competition’ and ‘cooperation’ suggest individually.”

Chapter two of this text constitutes the title chapter, as it is entitled “Co-opetition”. Here, Nalebuff and Brandenburger submit that if business is a game, then who are the players and what are their roles? They explain that there are customers and suppliers, and you would not be in business without them. The authors add that naturally, there are competitors. Nalebuff and Brandenburger say there is one more group of players, often overlooked but equally important, that is, those who provide complementary rather than competing products and services.

Chapter three is based on the subject matter of the game theory. Here, Nalebuff and Brandenburger ask the question of how much you can hope to get in a game. They educate that the answer does not depend just on the size of the pie to be divided, notions of fairness nor how well you play. These business management experts submit that what you get depends on your power in the game as well as on the power of others who have competing claims on the pie.

Part two is thematically woven together as “The parts of strategy” and contains six chapters, that is, chapters four to nine. Chapter four is entitled “Players”. According to Nalebuff and Brandenburger here, the question of whether you want to be a player is the obvious question to ask yourself when you consider entering a game. They add that however, the answer is rarely obvious because it is easy to misjudge what it would really be like to be in the game. Nalebuff and Brandenburger explain that the reason is that anytime you enter a game, you change it.

They assert that it is a new game because you have joined the cast of players. Nalebuff and Brandenburger say people often miss this effect and therefore fail to think through how their coming into a game will change it. As these experts put it, “They think that what they see is what they’re going to get… Generally, if you want to play, you have to pay. The cost of becoming a player can be cheap when, for example, it means quoting a price over the phone. It’s more expensive if you have to pitch an advertising or marketing campaign….”

In chapters five to nine, Nalebuff and Brandenburger analytically X-ray concepts such as added values; rules; tactics; scope and readiness for change.

Conceptually, this text is highly didactic. Stylistically, this text is an embodiment of uniqueness. For instance, the conceptually paradoxical and structurally blended title realised from the words “Cooperation” and “Competition” underscores the linguistic and conceptual creativity of the authors. The structurally blended nature of the title also arouses readers’ curiosity and interest to read the text. Though handling a very logically technical subject matter, Nalebuff and Brandenburger employ a simple choice of words (diction) embroidered with good word combination (syntax). There is also the use of graphics to achieve effective non-verbal communication that reinforces the textual communication of the book.

Though the title of the book arouses curiosity, it would be better for an illuminating subtitle to be added to it to achieve immediate explanation or amplification of the major title which is a neologism, a new word.

Finally, the text is a classic. It is a must-read for those who want to achieve business success through knowledge of modern business flexibility, creativity and profitability.

GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.

Tel: 08056030424; 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng

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