Red Fish + Blue Fish = The Art of Partnerships
I intended to head this post with "Small Fish + Big Fish," but those adjectives suggest a "smaller" half of a partnership that stands to gain all, and a more established or powerful partner who gains little or nothing--a big fish who's just in it for the attention, or out of sheer benevolence. That's not what I believe about the nature of good partnerships. In the smartest business match-ups, both parties benefit in different but equally substantial ways from the other's skills, strengths, or market presence.
In the branding world, for example, Nike is arguably as big a fish as any, yet it has partnered with young upstart iPod to expand its own reach and infuse its brand with a renewed coolness. iPod is a big fish in its own space.
But I digress.
I want to talk about real world, small-potatoes partnerships. The kind you might brainstorm with an old friend who just started a business compatible with yours. The kind you may have with a vendor who is looking more and more like a potential client. I'm talking about the killer partnership you may strike up on any given day, over cocktails or coffee, if your eyes are open to opportunity.
Such a brilliant pairing requires a bit of daring and imagination. The partnership mindset may force you to let your competitive guard down. It may prompt you to look at smart people and smart companies as assets to your business, rather than sharks who could eat you for lunch. It will cause you to visualize red fish and blue fish producing a never-before-seen (and extremely purple) competitive advantage--a strategic whole exponentially bigger than the sum of its fishy parts.
Labelling potential partners as either big or small fish is dangerous--it implies that we can make a snap judgment about the value of a person or brand using indicators such as age (that applies to individuals or companies), revenues, size of payroll, or amount of media attention. Rather than qualifying your potential partners by their size or apparent power, get a handle on what they alone can do better than anyone. Visualize how their unique assets, combined with yours, could produce an entirely new and valuable ________ ( business model / creative output / capability / market opportunity / cost reduction / you fill in the blank.)
What brilliant partnerships have you dreamed up lately? Who is on your short list of most wanted blue fish? How much do you know about them? And what are you doing this week, month, and year to make yourself a more desirable business partner?