121. Bill Sanders: How Creative Conflict Expands the Value Pie
Value facilitation is a creative act of imagination, design, assembly, communication, and agile responsiveness. Our Economics For Business model applies these actions in the pursuit of new economic value. Bill Sanders, an expert in contract negotiation in business, applies them in dealmaking and business relationship management. His book, Creative Conflict: A Practical Guide For Business Negotiators, provides a highly actionable model for value facilitation in contract negotiations.
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Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights
Business negotiations are searches for shared value.
Both parties in any negotiation are seeking value, and specifically subjective value. Each sees the eventual agreement on contract terms as a source of future value. Contract negotiation has often traditionally been viewed as a struggle for one side to capture the most value at the expense of the other.
But value facilitators view it differently. They first try to identify the total amount of value in a potential agreement, before thinking about the division of value.
Divergent thinking is a source of value.
In his book, Sanders refers to Creative Conflict as a positive, to be embraced. There’s no predetermined solution, and no absolutely perfect price. There are many possible solutions, and good negotiators are able and willing to continue exploring the ambiguity, and welcoming contending ideas. They are open to uncertainty. It may lead to a solution that neither party might have seen on its own.
Value potential can be mapped in preparation for negotiation.
Sanders introduces the concept of value mapping. Economists are somewhat familiar with this approach at the market level, but perhaps not at the level of individual exchange. Value mapping in contract negotiation is the mental connection of one side’s assets to the other side’s needs. The value map would include a list of concessions desired from the other side (with a subjective estimate of their importance) and a list of what can be given up by your side to generate more value for the other party. In some cases, the values can be quantified.
When presented, these lists become a value proposition for the shared outcome of the negotiation. Sanders provides a value mapping checklist as a tool to help negotiators think about all the assets they might have to bring to the negotiation, and all the areas where concessions might be sought in return.
Value mapping points to the productive end of the negotiation continuum.
Bill Sanders presents types of negotiations on a continuum. On the left-hand end is bargaining, the traditional zero-sum exercise to capture value, a purely distributive process. At the midpoint is creative dealmaking, where value mapping is applied to surface extra value so that both sides feel they gain more than they relinquish. On the right-hand end is relationship building, where the two parties enter into a partnership in which each works hard for the other party to succeed. The spectrum is one of ascending creativity from left to right.
Austrian economics has a big role to play.
Many of the techniques Sanders proffers in Creative Conflict are firmly based in Austrian economics, as he himself emphasizes. Some of the relevant concepts are:
Subjective Value: Each party experiences value in their own mind, and anticipates future value in the form of expectations, based on their own evaluative criteria. While subjective value can’t be quantified, the concept of an expanding pool of value can be considered by both sides, each from their own unique perspective.
Empathy: The tool for understanding the other party’s mental model for evaluation is empathy, the exercise of which we often stress as the entrepreneur’s primary value facilitation skill. This is as true in contract negotiation as in any other exchange.
Trust: Negotiation takes time and requires the declaration of parties’ wants and needs, preferences, capabilities and capacities, and the full functioning of the goods and services being traded. Trust is the required underpinning for these declarations.
Distributed knowledge: There are always things that the seller knows that the buyer doesn’t, and vice-versa. This is the normal (non-equilibrium) position, to be recognized and welcomed.
Uncertainty: Uncertainty is the quintessential condition of entrepreneurship. The future is unknowable. Sanders recommends the full recognition of uncertainty and indeterminism in contract negotiations. Explore possibilities rather than imposing mandatory conditions.
Heterogeneity: Negotiators are different, firms are different and have different priorities, every deal is different. There is no standard way of business negotiations. Sanders does not try to lay down “rules”.
Real time: Time is the context in which change takes place. Every advance in time brings new knowledge and more change. Since negotiation takes time, it must be flexible enough to accommodate change and avoid rigidity.
Processual perspective: The market is a process, value is a process and negotiation is a process. Austrian economics recognizes the role and influence of time — time as the context of change — at a high level of impact. Contract negotiators take the same perspective, using the time taken for the process to unfold as a means of facilitating greater value whenever possible.