I was piqued as I read through the definitions of family, being “a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit”, or “all descendants of a common ancestor”, or “a group of related things”. I quite fancy the third. If you think about it, while the first two are correct, and give due pre-eminence to the family unit in a home and to one’s blood lineage, for us Africans, the net is cast much wider, and includes distant relatives, family by marriage, family despite divorce, and even close friends. I’m sure you’ve heard the African saying that it takes a village to raise a child. And no words could be truer. The association being the justifier in the circumstances. After all, family is more than just sleeping under the same roof or belonging to the same lineage. It’s about community, fellowship and communion. About being there for each other and with each other. Sharing, caring, supporting, and so on – all strengthening the bond of unity we expect to find in a family. Because it’s really in singleness (of purpose, being, mind and spirit, to name a few) that true union can emerge.
I believe the concept of ‘ubuntu’, which was coined in South Africa and broadly stated, means humanity, captures the essence of the values underpinning the African family. Loosely translated, it is defined as “I am because we are” but, more specifically, talks to “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. Like the glue that bonds a family together.
There are certain behaviours that we do not expect in a family. Granted, the reality isn’t always that simple and many of these behaviours do actually present themselves. Which is a problem in itself. But let’s be idealistic or theoretical for a moment. On the understanding that families are united, there shouldn’t be any strife, wars, jealousy, bullying, competition, and so on. Because these behaviours cause divisions and break unity, and detract from that universal bond ubuntu alludes to.
Now, don’t lose me, because I’m going somewhere with this.
From as far back as my Cambridge O and A Level Examinations, where Economics was one of my majors, through my Undergraduate Degree majoring in Economics and Private Law and Post Graduate Degree in Law, to Articles of Clerkship, being employed in Private Practice as an Admitted Attorney, and then transitioning In House in an investment holding environment specialising in Legal and Corporate Governance matters, the message has been consistent. One of the factors to consider in any successful business is the ‘SWOT Analysis’, which looks at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. And specifically in the context of threats, which are the focus of this blog, to consider one’s competitors and be alive to how they’re tracking in the market relative to you. With the view that if you don’t stay ahead of them, you could potentially lose your market position to them.
I’ll admit. When we drew up Tsim & Bibi’s Business Plan ahead of opening shop in 2021, we too performed a SWOT Analysis. And came up with an indicative list of competitors having regard to the market which Tsim & Bibi operates in. This remained at the front of our minds as we progressed the business. But the more I’ve pondered on it, the more I beg to differ with this school of thought. And the idea that we’re competing with one another or Tsim & Bibi could reduce as a result of the success of any related business.
Competition, by definition, is “the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others”. It also refers to “an event or contest in which people take part in order to establish superiority or supremacy in a particular area” or “the person or people over whom one is attempting to establish one’s supremacy or superiority; the opposition”. Competition is about gaining supremacy, defeating others, and removing all opposition. A drive to rise above all and reign supreme. The idea presupposes that there’s a fight for a limited space at the top. And that the top spot is all that really counts. The insufficient room at the top being the justification for a need to compete, and enforcing the idea that you must remain above everyone else.
Now, the universe is so vast. As man on the earth, we’ve not even begun to travel the greater part of it. The concept of the metaverse is becoming increasingly applicable in this generation, and who knows the intricacies it will bring in its unveiling. What’s clear is that the earth is but a drop in the ocean. And as at the latest count, there are about 8 billion people on it. Which, for any business, means 8 billion persons to potentially serve. In South Africa alone there are 59.31 million people as at the 2020 count (which we expect to increase significantly with the census that is currently underway). If we extend this to the African continent as a whole, where there were about 1.216 billion people as at the 2016 count, all businesses operating in South Africa could potentially serve at least 1.216 billion people.
Let’s face it. It would take one very special business to serve all of these people, alone. Even at its greatest height of success, there would always be room for others. So, while it’s commendable to strive to be the best at what you do, that assessment should be primarily focused on you – how you do what you do and the results you achieve. Not on what others are doing. Because we’re all running. And for most of us, with the same determined focus to win and be the best at what we do. But this isn’t a competition. It’s a race. To run as fast and far as we can within the time we have, and do the most that we’re able to and make the greatest impact. But not with the aim of taking others out of the game. Because there’ll always be room for all of us. Even if we were all, individually, the best at what we do, there’d still be room for more to rise up and occupy their own spaces. I mean, our races are individual, unique, and specific. You can’t really compare them. Bearing similarities with others shouldn’t make you competitors. It just means as you run your race, you’ll likely see those persons running alongside you. The difference is that they’re in their own lane. And you in yours.
A race is described as “a competition between runners etc to see which is the fastest in covering a set course” or “to move or progress swiftly or at full speed”. Focus is on the self and the ground that one is able to cover, and not on others with the objective of taking them down. Undeniably, the results may be the same, but the mindset and approach is different. And this is key. When you have a mind to compete, you major on the minors. Because while it may be relevant to know whom else is out there, this is not important strategically. So, instead of cheering them on, you’re jeering at their failures and talking them down. Instead of congratulating their wins, you despise them. Because you think the more they win, the less opportunity you’ll have to do the same. That the more they shine, the dimmer your light will be.
Take a look at football, for example. I’m an avid Manchester United supporter. I watch every match, know all our players, and want the team to win. Unfortunately, this has not been the case lately, which has made watching games most painful. But I’ll leave my frustrations for another day. My point is this. Simply because we want Manchester United to win shouldn’t make the other teams its competitors. In any race, there’ll be a number one and there’ll be runners up. There’s a team that’ll take the trophy and those that won’t. And as this all plays out, the teams shouldn’t be pitted against one another but rather against their last best selves. If that performance secures the top spot, then hooray. After all, the better you are at your game, the more your star will shine. So, as we celebrate Manchester United’s wins, we commend the other teams for their successes. Understanding that even if Manchester United were to take every cup in every season in every league until eternity, there’d still be room at the top for other teams.
We’ve since removed competitors from Tsim & Bibi’s SWOT Analysis and replaced them with family. And they’re no longer threats, but opportunities. To learn, partner with, collaborate, and support each other. Now, that may go against Economics as we know it, and I’ve studied it. But theories evolve. Just like life. Nobody said we shouldn’t challenge the system anyway. And in the meantime, we’re focused on doing us. So, while it remains useful to know whom else is out there and what they’re doing, we’re cheering them. We celebrate their successes, commend their initiatives, and purchase their products. We don’t begrudge anyone that chooses them over us, because we know there’ll be those who choose us over them too. Our single driving force is to be the best cake shop in the whole world, and to shake up the cake industry in a uniquely Tsim & Bibi way. And we’re certain that if we do us with the desired excellence, we’ll only go in one direction. Which is up.
So, I’ll conclude by circling back to the definitions of family that I opened with. Specifically, the one that talks to a group of related things. I’d argue that this should be extended to include a group of related people. Because we, in the cake industry, are family too, each with distinct roles within the broader scheme of caking. It’s time to tear down dividing walls and be more united. Time to quit the negative competitive mentality and be more family oriented in our dealings with one another. Because there’s enough room at the top for all of us. This’ll ensure a unity like never before. And I can only imagine what the results of this would be!
Yours in baking,