Fogelman College of Business and Economics
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Cooperation, Not Competition

From Short-Sightedness to Fore-Sightedness

I've noticed, in our city, far too much short-term "us vs. them" thinking taking place. To advance as a city and as a university, we absolutely must get out of the mentality of viewing anyone and everyone as competition and instead start cooperating with each other at every level. It's the only way to move ahead.

Whether that means School A vs. School B, Department A vs. Department B or the University of Memphis vs. any another organization in the city, we'll all have more impact if we stop competing and start cooperating.

Tigers vs. Grizzlies

Take, for example, our city's key athletic teams. Are the Memphis Tigers and the Memphis Grizzlies competitors? On one plane, yes. They're competing for fans' dollars. But to see it that way is to take a very narrow view. Instead of thinking of the Tigers and Grizzlies as competing for a share of one small pie, we have to figure out — together — how to create a bigger pie. Here's how the teams can, and should, work together:

  • Tigers players, especially hometown players, are a source of city pride. When a former Tiger is recruited by and plays for the Grizzlies, it attracts and enthuses local crowds, which is great for the player, the city and both teams.
  • A successful NBA team makes the city more attractive, not only bringing in more tourist dollars in the short run but also bringing in new executives and new corporate dollars in the longer term. These new executives support the city, support the university and send their children to the U of M.
  • The Grizzlies, too, support the city, making charitable contributions and giving back in innumerable ways.
  • And finally, there is the "source of pride" factor. We can't even begin to do this justice, however much we might sermonize.

The fan base for these team may partially overlap, but fans are more likely to support both teams when these types of synergies are created.

University vs. Community

Tremendous opportunity for cooperation exists here, but the university has to take the first step — the university must be useful to the community, and the community in turn will be useful to the university. Let's take one example - the one of  Fogelman College adding value through its 4Cs program.

At a recent function, I was talking to a local bank executive about the business-ready students Fogelman is producing. He said, "If you have such students, send them over. I'm looking to hire people like that right now." He didn't say, "Send me students with more than five courses in accounting." He wanted students who were business-ready, who had mastered the 4Cs. A few minutes later another executive from the same bank walked up to me, and while praising the facilities at which the function was being held, remarked that he had been in there before. He added, "Yeah, it was for some 4Cs function." This executive was a "4Cs trainer" for our students. One executive from a company helps us, and another finds that help useful for the company itself. That's synergy.

Athletics vs. Academics

Is this really a competition? I would argue that it's not. Consider this: A student is considering two schools with equally strong academic programs. One school has a strong athletic program; one does not. Which school will that student choose to attend? Almost certainly, the answer is the school with both.

Athletics and academics are two sides of the same coin. By having a strong athletic program, the university increases its pool of strong students and strong faculty, which then builds upon itself. There's nowhere to go but up, and there's no way to do it without working together. Not to mention, donors are more likely to make contributions to the university if its academic and athletic programs are both doing well.

Professional Schools vs. Arts & Sciences

Competition exists here — it always has — but it should not. What Arts & Sciences schools do very well is arm students with critical thinking skills. These critical thinking skills are imperative in any career, whether it be in medicine, engineering, anthropology or business. On the flip side, the business skills imparted by a school like Fogelman are vital in any career, as well. Artists, writers, nonprofit executives — all of these professionals must learn to balance a budget, handle an important business transaction, survive in an organization. Working together to find and create synergies between our professional schools and Arts & Sciences programs is key to our mutual success.

Where do we go from here?

Within the confines of a company, there's a boss who might say, "R&D, you cooperate with Marketing and come up with great products." That boss might implement policies and systems and rewards to make people cooperate. But in the greater context of the community and the university, there is no boss. Nobody can tell university administrators to work with Michael Heisley to form synergies between the Tigers and the Grizzlies. No one can tell a FedEx executive to recruit only local, business-ready graduates. There has to be a gradual build-up of synergy among leaders on all sides who will extend their hands and motivate other leaders to cooperate along with them.

If and when it happens, we'll have our cake and eat it, too. Cooperation doesn't mean we'll do each other favors we don't deserve. It means we'll partner with entities that bring value to the strategic alliance. It'll be a win-win, all the way around. So why is it not happening right now? The answer – think Prisoner's Dilemma, think cooperative and non-cooperative games, think rallying the troops by pointing to an external enemy. To turn away from sub-optimal equilibrium, the college and the university have to take the lead.

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Last Updated: 5/16/12