One aspect of The Seam’s initiative to bring blockchain technology to the commodities market that has surprised many people is the collaborative involvement of businesses that compete with one another. Participants in the cotton blockchain initiative include the biggest players in the market: Calcot, Cargill, ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd., EWR, Inc., Louis Dreyfus Company, Olam International and others.
In the case of blockchain for commodities, this cooperation is easy to explain: The only way these markets can make the transition to a decentralized environment – and make it a true transformation of the industry – is to do it together. Everyone stands to benefit, even though they compete with each other.
There’s a word for cooperation among competitors: coopetition. The principles of coopetition in business arise directly from game theory, which is a scientific approach to making rational, strategic decisions within competitive situations.
In business, there is often a clear benefit to competitors when they form a strategic alliance to accomplish a goal that will be advantageous to all parties. For instance, creating a new market or new industry standards will benefit everyone who is positioned to sell to or within that market.
A recent example is cloud computing, which needed to overcome security concerns in order to build the market it has today and that continues to grow. The major players in the sector worked together to improve technology to the point at which it gained wide acceptance and the competitors could go back to competing.
Similarly, companies in the telecom industry leverage each other to gain access to new markets or to expand services, while software and hardware developers work with their competition to establish systems or standards that all can then build upon.
Forbes has noted that blockchain technology itself has bred vigorous coopetition in a variety of directions. Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Intel and Cisco are working together on enterprise blockchain technologies, while others are pursuing interoperability among blockchains and cross-organizational transaction and smart contract functionality.
The lesson of coopetition and game theory is that winning in business is not a zero-sum game. The winner can’t take all – and often wouldn’t want to – so there is no reason to compete as if your competitors are mortal enemies. If you doubt the wisdom of that, consider that the United States Postal Service uses FedEx and UPS to carry some of its shipments, and that those two private carriers also use USPS to deliver some of their shipments. You could say that coopetition puts a strategic business spin on an old adage: If you can’t beat ‘em, maybe you should join ‘em, at least some of the time.