Navigating the waters of business: learning from the strategies of sharks

In the vast ocean of the business world, navigating through competition can often feel like swimming among sharks. These creatures, both feared and admired, have much to teach us about strategic planning and competitive dynamics. How can we deal with a counterpart that holds huge strength and all the cards? This essay explores the lessons we can draw from these formidable creatures and how their strategies can be applied to the competitive business environment, ensuring not just survival, but success.

Sharks and business men

Eat or be eaten 

Sharks have always captured a lot of attention. Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ features on most all-time top movie lists. One of the most viewed video series on YouTube is ‘Baby Shark Dance’ by Pinkfong Baby Shark – Kids’ Songs & Stories. This catchy children’s rhyme has amassed an astounding 14 billion views since being uploaded on June 17, 2016. Unfortunately, the business world is also full of ‘sharks’. Fierce competitors with deep pockets and a ferocious appetite for gaining market share use all their power. Financial powerhouses may look to force your company into a short-term value extraction strategy. Even large customers and suppliers can use their power to capture all the money in the value chain. And now, new digital companies are going for the jugular of traditional industries. It’s a matter of eat or be eaten.However, this stark reality opens up a spectrum of strategic responses. Whatever strategy you choose, do not let your fear or admiration blind you to inaction or giving in.

1. Adapting quickly to survive in a competitive ecosystem

Just as sharks are swift and nimble, businesses too must be agile, quickly moving into new products, markets, or geographical areas to stay ahead. This agility helps you evade the metaphorical jaws of your competitors, ensuring not only survival in turbulent waters but also growth. And remember, sharks rely more on their sense of smell than their vision for navigating and hunting. As an agile company, focus primarily on picking up market signals and opportunities rather than solely relying on the visible landscape.

2. The symbiotic strategy: if you can’t beat them, join them

Sometimes, the best way to deal with powerful competitors is to collaborate, inspired by the natural world where pilot fish coexist with sharks. Take advantage of the strength and dominance of larger players by working with them or offering services that complement or support them. This might mean finding a niche where your smaller business can thrive. Address the needs of a larger company or leverage a portion of its market power to achieve your own objectives, without directly competing in areas where the larger player dominates. By forming strategic alliances or partnerships, businesses can leverage their collective strengths, gaining a competitive edge without direct confrontation.

3. Hit them where it hurts

Market leaders – the ‘big sharks’ – often become complacent, providing an opportunity for smaller, more agile companies to offer alternative solutions. By identifying and exploiting the vulnerabilities of larger competitors, you can carve out their niche, offering customers a valuable second choice.

The allure and caution of becoming the dominant shark

Attaining market dominance is appealing, as most studies indicate that market power is the primary factor for exceptional financial performance. Yet, it presents its own set of challenges. Firstly, ensure you’re a robust and substantial shark. Do you possess all it takes for an outright victory? Secondly, a strategy that focuses solely on power in every interaction – from negotiations and partnerships to collaborations – can result in mistrust and pushback from stakeholders. And remember, when (not if) the power dynamic shifts, people tend to have long memories.

Ready to explore more about strategic navigation?

Whether you’re maneuvering through the complexities of competitive markets or considering adopting some shark-like strategies yourself, it’s crucial to approach with a balanced perspective. If you’re intrigued by the strategic lessons that sharks offer and want to discuss how to apply these insights to your business challenges, feel free to reach out at or +31-6-53361249. 

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