“A horse never runs so fast as when it has other horses to catch up and outpace.” – Ovid
One of the important characteristics of the UK social housing sector, distinguishing it from most other business sectors, is the lack of direct competition between the sector’s participants. Unlike, say, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer or Expedia and Kayak, the majority of housing providers are not competing with each other for tenants (i.e. customers) and are generally good at sharing and pooling their respective experiences and knowledge.
“Whether it’s Google or Apple or free software, we have some fantastic competitors and they keep us on our toes.” – Bill Gates
However, this lack of competition between housing providers and the scarcity of choice for existing and potential tenants (compared with, say, the private rented sector) is almost the direct opposite of the business, financial and cultural environment needed to foster innovation. In short, competition keeps you on your toes and makes you strive to do things better, cheaper and faster than your competitors.
Without any strong external competitive stimulus, housing providers arguably need to look more closely at their underlying principles and raisons d’etre and use those as their catalysts for innovation (as distinct from, say, growth or regulatory compliance). At the same time, housing providers should make the very best use of their peers’ knowledge and experience. After all, based around a model of ‘co-opetition’, there is an absolutely incredible amount of accumulated expertise among our sector’s business and technology teams.
“Ideas are like rabbits; you get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” – John Steinbeck
And in the absence of direct competitors biting at your ankles, return to first principles and ask yourself: what are we fundamentally trying to do and why are we doing it?