Coalitions are not just for politics

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg seal their relationship in public as this still from the BBC News website shows

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron seal their relationship in public as this still from the BBC News website shows

The wedding guests were all arranged in the garden and then, as the sun shone and the birds sang, in walked the “happy couple”. Smiling, confident and in bouyant mood, David Cameron and Nick Clegg stood before their garden guests as they announced their unswerving love for each other. Before their witnesses the swore that they would support each other, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer and to love and to cherish what they had achieved. Indeed, apart from the “honouring each other’s body” bit of a marriage ceremony, you would have thought Dave and Nick were life-long buddies. Last week, they were knocking seven bells out of each other live on TV as they argued each other was, frankly, useless. A week in politics and all that.

What the media doesn’t tell us, is that all the knock-about stuff we are fed is not the daily routine of most MPs. In fact, much of the work of Parliament is done in committees, where MPs of different parties work together, in harmony. They see each other in the bars and cafés, the are invited to the same set of events, share dressing rooms at TV studios. They are all mates anyway. The “yah, boo sucks” of politics makes for dramatic TV and great headlines, but isn’t an accurate reflection of what really goes on most of the time.

True, there’s back stabbing. True there’s “negative briefing”. And true, many are “in it” for pure personal gain. But on the whole, much of politics is rather mundane. Perhaps that’s why the media has “gone mad” with their coverage in the past few days; it’s been the most exciting thing that any political correspondent has ever seen, because most of what they have to report on is just so “ordinary”.

So – even though it has doubtless been tough – getting the British Coalition Government together has probably not been as awkward as many of the commentators would like us to believe.The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were never that far apart in the first place.

Think then, how far apart are Google and Microsoft? How much separates Microsoft from Apple? Not as much as the business commentators would like us to think, either. Apple staff know people who work at Google. And people at Microsoft go to conferences where they chat over coffee with their opposite numbers at Hewlett Packard, for instance. Indeed, how do you think people from, say, Adobe, end up working at Microsoft? Well, they network with their buddies in other companies, so that when jobs come up they can be “on the radar”.

Wherever you look, whether in business or in politics, there is often more co-operation than meets the eye. Indeed, much of the media video you have seen from “rival” channels covering the UK election are actually from shared cameras. Rival newspapers share distribution systems. Software companies share knowledge by working together on “open source” programs. Digital camera companies share hardware and almost all of the “netbooks” you can buy are, in fact, the same inside with hardware and software shared.

Joint ventures of all kinds surround you. If each netbook “manufacturer” had to do all the development work themselves, we’d end up with much higher priced products as well as well as such wide variation there would be little commonality making it difficult for us to choose or use the items. Go to China and you will find enormous research parks where American high-tech companies have thousands of researchers all working together in harmony, sharing ideas and information.

Some of the world’s leading products and services were borne out of joint ventures – Google’s Android phone, for instance, or the Amazon Kindle. Several leading cars are jointly developed by rival car manufacturers. And in the world of pharmaceuticals you’ll find competing drugs firms selling the products they jointly developed. Joint ventures – coalitions if you like – are immensely common and, from the evidence we see in the business world, hugely successful.

So, ask yourself this question: “Am I trying to run my business, all alone, by competing with similar companies – or am I trying to find joint venture partners in similar companies so we can achieve much more together, than we could apart?”.

History tells us that, in business, co-operation frequently achieves much, much more than competition. And – perhaps we are about to discover – the same is true in politics.

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