Fast Company

You want me to do WHAT? Go Ahead – Injure Yourself.

Last week I introduced a compelling new web site – bigthink.com. Its founders, Peter Hopkins and Victoria Brown, didn’t have enough initial funding to take competitors head on, so they had to find different approaches when launching this online expert video content site. Bigthink.com faced several challenges and its biggest was to gain market share and attack its competitors without igniting an offensive response.

So how has it done it? We know that bigthink.com used one of my favorite patterns, #33: hide a dagger behind a smile.

But it also used another unorthodox approach, strategy #26: injure yourself.

If it’s good enough for Intel, then it’s good enough for you

Intel almost died out of the gates. It was a young memory chip company and wanted to sell its technology to IBM, which was developing the first PC. Naturally IBM was wary of building its PC business – what they hoped would trigger an entirely new industry – around the technology of just one supplier.

So to settle IBM’s fears, Intel agreed to injure itself. It licensed its technology to several of its competitors, thereby allowing IBM to build the PC around an Intel chip while spreading its risk across multiple suppliers. And that is one reason why Intel is so dominant today (perhaps too dominant according to the European Union).

When bigthink.com approaches media partners, it is not unexpected that these “would-be” partners experience similar worries. It’s natural that they would think “If we start using Big Think’s video content and its own web site starts offering the same content, then won’t we be relying on our competitor?”

Bigthink.com’s team removes these barriers by injuring itself. It does not attempt to lock up resources or its partners. It leaves the cage door open. As Peter explains, “We actually begin meetings saying ‘work with us, learn from us, and cut us off later if you see the need.’”

In business school, they teach us to gain the maximum advantage out of every negotiation. But for those who see the big picture, it becomes evident that strength does not always lead to more strength. Often taking the low ground is the path to the high land.

So instead of approaching your clients and partners from a position of strength, what would happen if you adopted a position of weakness? Ask yourself the questions below to see what would happen if you injured yourself.

  1. What do I need from my competitors?
  2. What can I offer them in return?
  3. How can I lower my guard to gain access to my competitors’ resources?

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