Opinion

Jack and Suzy Welch

Today vs. GMA: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

By Jack and Suzy Welch
April 27, 2012

Pick any hot topic over the past decade or two – tax policy, Social Security, nuclear power, American Idol, you name it – and if you put a dozen people in a room, you’d get a cacophony of opinions.

But ask those same people, “So, what morning show do you watch?” and you’d just as likely get one big chorus back, saying, “Today, of course!”

The Today Show’s ratings domination is legendary.

Actually, make that “was” legendary. During the week of Apr. 9, the program drew 13,000 fewer viewers than its longtime (and formerly distant) rival Good Morning America. The loss, as was so gaspingly reported, broke Today’s epic 852-week winning streak.

To which we say, “What a lucky break!”

No – not for GMA, but for Today, because its loss means something very exciting is about to happen. The show is about to start experiencing business as it should always be experienced by every organization: as if each and every day were the last quarter of the Super Bowl.

Gordon Gekko famously proclaimed greed to be the central tenet of business. What tripe. The real, galvanizing truism about business is that competition is good. In fact, it’s great.

Look, competition is what makes work more than clocking hours and turns it into something powerfully exhilarating, something about pushing harder, reaching farther and building the future. How? By making companies think smarter, run faster and operate more sharply. By driving teams to coalesce and getting people to share ideas across all sorts of boundaries. By sparking innovation in everything from product design to process engineering.

But perhaps best of all, competition transforms work because it takes people’s focus off the Byzantine internal workings of a company – who’s got the bigger cubicle, who went to lunch with the boss on Tuesday – and puts it where it belongs, on the external world of customers and market dynamics. It replaces the all-too-human proclivity for office politics with a much more productive fixation on results, as in, “Let’s promote that new guy Sam right away. Sure he’s a little rough around the edges, but the customers adore him.”

Competition, you see, is all about having the guts to make status-quo-busting decisions on a daily basis. It’s about playing as though you’re not winning even if you are. Yes, that’s hard, especially when your numbers are all right. And especially when you’ve been comfortable for a good long while. But if you ever hear yourself saying something like, “We’ve got things under control,” slap yourself. If you don’t operate in a heightened state of paranoia about even the competitive threats you cannot yet see and don’t want to imagine, you’re asking to decay, or worse, to be demolished. Just ask RIM, Nokia, Circuit City, Sony and Best Buy.

Of course, it practically goes without saying that the biggest beneficiaries of heightened competition are consumers. When companies are trying to outdo each other, obviously the customer experiences the upside of the fray. (Indeed, to see the reverse of this theory in action, all you have to do is visit your local DMV to witness the mind-numbing effects of monopolies in action, so to speak.) The good news is, when consumers win, so do many of the companies creatively competing to serve them. It’s the ultimate virtuous economic circle.

So, sure, the people on the Today team must have felt disappointed when their winning streak hit a wall. But to repeat, we’re excited for them. We’re excited for any company that gets to experience that kind of exhilaration – and the flat-out fun that a good competitive fight brings to the game of business.

And like millions of other customers, we can’t wait to enjoy the results.

Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 21 years and is the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University. Suzy Welch is an author, speaker and the former Editor of the Harvard Business Review.

PHOTO: ‘Today’ show host Ann Curry talks with fans during Meredith Vieira’s final show in New York, June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Jack and Suzy know nothing about competition. GE’s profits during Welch’s tenure were fueled by tax legislation (sell-lease ’80s tax law that let GE lend back airplanes to airlines that they sold the day before to GE), near -0- corporate tax rates, raiding employee pensions, etc. When the financial bubble couldn’t be sustained, the new ‘financier’ GE, that was Jack’s great creation, nearly went bankrupt except for US government bailout.

For those of us in a truly competitive environment – holding onto our jobs or just finding one – GMA and the Today Show don’t quite fit into our scheduled viewing since we are already at our jobs or on the streets looking for one.

If Jack and Suzy or really so eager for true competition, then have them explain why Exxon enjoys such low corporate taxes and huge credits through depletion allowance, why Amazon can sell retail without paying local sales taxes while the local mom and pop shop on the street do pay sales tax. The list goes on. Through corporate America lobbying you have subsidies and tax giveaways to the largest corporations, yet small businesses (where most job creation happens) get nothing. Is this a competitive environment that American capitalism that Jack and Suzy are talking about?

Posted by Acetracy | Report as abusive
 

Competition is the best thing that can happen to any business. Yes, it gets the creative juices going and spurs innovation and transforms work. And as you say, it is probably the best thing that can happen to the iconic Today Show. Jack and Suzy, if anyone knows how to package competition into a winning package, it’s you! But I also add that whether in the media business or any other, communication is critical. Never stop thinking about your competition, but also, never stop thinking about your audience or customers: what are their needs; what do they need to hear right now; what are their challenges and how can I communicate solutions that are relevant to them? Keep your eye on competition AND audience–that’s a winning combination. Very insightful post, thank you! Loraine Antrim, https://twitter.com/#!/loraineantrim

Posted by LoraineAntrim | Report as abusive
 

The winners and losers are at it again,
Life is a game, and always has been.
Our winners have rigged the game from the top;
That’s why they want it never to stop.
“Keep playing the game, it makes us all rich,”
But that’s only true if you’re in the top niche.
With six billion strong we need to begin
To figure out ways in which everyone wins.
It’s not as much fun for those with a lot
To share all the loot with those who have not.
But maybe it’s time to begin a new day
Where life’s about more than children at play.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive
 

Is competition best for the long term interests of customers or does it encourgage short term thinking at the expense of long term planning?

Posted by Alistair2 | Report as abusive
 

The initiatives are playing a critical role in changing GE, but the most significant change in GE has been its transformation into a Learning Company. Our true “core competency” today is not manufacturing or services, but the global recruiting and nurturing of the world’s best people and the cultivation in them of an insatiable desire to learn, to stretch and to do things better every day. By finding, challenging and rewarding these people, by freeing them from bureaucracy, by giving them all the resources they need—and by simply getting out of their way—we have seen them make us better and better every year.

We have a Company more agile than others a fraction of our size, a high-spirited company where people are free to dream and encouraged to act and to take risks. In a culture where people act this way, every day, “big” will never mean slow’

BIG SWINGS!

We see size differently… we appreciate the one huge advantage size offers: the ability to take big swings, big risks, and to live outside the technology envelope, to live in the future
‘We see size differently.

Posted by Neilwal | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •