Sunday, April 17, 2011

Shopping for Horus

Walking through the Khan al-Khalili Market in Cairo I met a clairvoyant merchant.  He welcomed me into his shop and let me peruse around at his amazing collection of ancient Egyptian graven images.

At one point my eyes alighted on a delightful sculpture of Horus.  He said, "You probably can't afford that one," and pointed me to another one that he thought was in my price range.  I asked, "How do you know what I'm able to afford?"  He said, "Because I watched what you paid attention to when you came in, and they were all items within a very specific price range.  My guess is that you have less than $10 in your pocket right now."  He was right.  He was able to assess my liquidity as easily as a doctor estimating visual acuity using a Snellen chart.  It left me with an interesting concept, you can measure a man by how he limits his vision.

There have been tech projects I've worked on over the last decade where I believed the scope my colleagues were considering was due to their perspective on what they thought was within their grasp.  (Either restrictions of wallet, market scalability or marketing potential)  Often what we think is possible is constrained by our perceptions of our resources.  Within an individual company, your perception of your own resources and your potential is often definite.  It can limit your thinking.

What I like about being in business development is that we don't have to constrain our thinking by immediate "build vs. buy" decisions within the company, which tends to limit your ambition by your existing pool of assets/capital.  Instead we can look for partners in the market who offer us scale of marketing that we ourselves do not have and offer them in trade resources that we have which they lack. 

In my field, entrepreneurs tend to dream scenarios of market saturation with their product.  That's unrealistic, but their drive leads to the invention of disruptive technology advances that can get us part way there.  In actuality you can get further through synergistic partnerships than you can by Pinky & the Brain's "Try to take over the world!" mentality.  As Charles Darwin put it: In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."

It is collaboration, not competition that wins the day.  While I am fine with haggling, I prefer the collaborative synergistic negotiation.  I prefer to trade in a way that makes my counterpart much better off than I can in a haggle over fixed resources.  Collaboration can't happen in a merchant transaction.  The merchant and I had to compete in our negotiation until we found an appropriate margin for him that was palatable to my skimpy wallet.

In the world of direct commerce there aren't many synergistic trades.  I might have dreamed for an alabaster Horus, but it was clearly beyond anything that was likely to happen.  Merchant transactions are one to one ratios of assets.  His flexibility on price was limited by the margin he needs atop what it took him to acquire the product himself.  Little in this transaction can lead to him being exponentially benefited from the transaction.  He said that he wanted me to have a Horus, so we haggled to about $5, at which point we were both happy.

Fortunately, in the world of technology, we can render services to each other that are far greater than our limited capital resources. That's why it's my sandbox of choice.

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