Deal or No Deal… How to Sniff Out a Bad JV

Having been in this business for 10 years, I can say I’ve met lots of wonderful people and I’ve learnt lots from them. I’ve even had good mentors (even if they didn’t know they were mentors in the first place) and I’ve had good karma to meet some amazing personalities too.

Yet I’ve also met people who like to think of themselves as visionaries and big idea generators. I don’t mind listening to them. You can always sharpen your thought patterns if you listen long enough.

These folks like to include the term ‘win-win’ in their discussions. (Just like everyone says, think out of the box. Like what the heck? People who usually use this cliche in their conversation/speech don’t have a clue what it’s about. I say, why think out of the box if you don’t even know what the box is? What is it with people egging others to be creative when they have no idea what being creative is? Being creative is NOT about mashing colours, typefaces, using the latest cool tool, etc. But I reserve my two cents for another blog post, worthy of its own title.)

The problem is, many people don’t understand the term ‘win-win’.

Wired to Win

I first heard the term when I read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He encourages everyone to think win-win.

Thinking win-win means you subscribe to the fact that life is not a zero sum game.

In the past, people always felt they had to win because it’s the only way, the only goal, the only thing to be in life (a winner). They didn’t want to be losers. Losing meant losing face, losing whatever it is you’ve bet your life on.

It also meant that if you don’t win, you’re a loser.

And that’s awful.

That destroys your ego and self-esteem. You’ll be too embarrassed to face your friends and family.

We’re all wired to win. That’s why we’ve won the game of evolution.

Winning makes us feel good.

But Covey isn’t necessarily wrong.

Your Hands Won’t Be Empty

Thinking win-win means finding a way where both people win. It also means not looking at whatever you’re doing (be it business or life) as a win-lose situation or a situation where scarcity plays a role.

Thinking win-win means there’s enough to go around for everyone.

Abundance prevails. Abundance is the key word. Abundance is a shift from the old mindset of ‘not having enough’ (or scarcity) to ‘having so much that we need to know how to portion it out’.

We just have to think harder to come up with a suitably abundant deal or proposition for everyone so that everyone walks away from the table with satisfaction.

No one has to lose. No one has to end up empty-handed. This means you don’t have to play a zero sum game.

It’s a game of abundance where we decide how best to share out what we currently have.

Now this mindset is what win-win is about. It’s about cutting a good deal where 2 people gain and leave with a feeling that each one cares about the other. Not about ripping people off. Not about trying to outsmart and outcon the other.

The Secret of Win-win

Over the years, I’ve been approached with such ‘win-win’ propositions – far too many. But these people who think they’re offering a win-win deal are just offering nothing because they don’t understand that at the very heart of win-win is this: empathy for others.

Without empathy, there’s no win-win. Without careful and thoughtful consideration of how and what it means to the other person, you’re kidding yourself about win-win. You can spew this term over and over but you’re not living up to what it really means.

Win-win means thinking of the other person BEFORE you think of yourself. It means understanding from that person’s perspective totally. It means seeing from their eyes.

Bad Examples of Win-win Propositions

Here are some bad examples of so-called win-win propositions which I’ve heard or received in the past. I share them here with you so you can see what’s wrong with this win-win deal. (I’ve decided to spare these people the embarrassment by using a pseudonym and not their real names.)

1. Sally proposes that we set up a PR agency together. A win-win deal, she says. She’s based in KL and we’re based here. The company is hers but we work on a profit-sharing basis (how I despise this term!). “If I get any PR enquiries from Penang, you go and talk to them lah. You do the writing too. I will only come up to Penang if they need extra help and backup.” Let me simplify it for you: Sally proposes we do ALL the work up here while she goes about in KL representing the company. She’s not doing marketing either (we do the marketing here since we have our web design clients in the Northern region). Anyone can smell a stinky deal like this from a mile off.

2. Wally proposes that we work together on a win-win basis (don’t they say that all the time!). He doesn’t want to pay upfront for a website redesign. Since he has some products to sell online, “why don’t you create the website first and then we co-market the products. Once the products sell, I share 50% of profit with you. Isn’t it much better than getting a design fee which is only one-time? The profits are continuous.”

Hahahahaha, OK, I am so rolling on the floor laughing now. Number one, I don’t know which stupid JV (Joint Venture) seminar he has been to but clearly he has been taught NOT to put money upfront, not even for his own business. Tsk! Tsk! I am wary of people who cannot and would not commit money. It either says they’re so cheapskate or they just can’t take risks. If they can’t take risks, why are they going into business in the first place? Might as well stay home and watch TV. Number two, don’t fake generosity. It shows in the greedy little words you say. It also smells bad like sweaty socks. If I wanted to JV with anyone, it’s with people I can trust.

3. Bally comes to me with one proposal similar to Wally’s. He runs a printing company but has been eager to go online to sell his printing services. He has no idea how. So with audacity that’s funny if not idiotic, he proposes something similar to Wally. He doesn’t want to set up an ecommerce store (his miserliness won’t allow it) but he wants to sell his printing services using a profit-sharing basis without putting money upfront. He wants all the good stuff, won’t do an iota of work, won’t even want to help promote the website (assuming we’re doing it for him), and says, “oh but I will share half the profit with you.” You think people like that will share their profits? Think longer and harder.

The Secret of Winning a Deal

You know what stinks about their deals? They are not thinking about others – the empathy is missing.

They’re just thinking of making money for themselves and they want to use other people’s skills, experience and products.

They think they’re smart.

They think this is win-win.

No, this is not win-win. It’s called big-time stupidity.

To create a good win-win deal, think with your heart and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would it still be a sweet deal if you were on the other receiving end of the deal? Would it still make you excited if you heard such a deal?

If it isn’t a sweet deal, if you feel cheated, if you feel taken advantaged of, taken for a ride, been conned, then why in the world would you present this deal to others? (As we Chinese say, have you no heart? No morals? No principles? No ‘dhau dhe’?)

But it seems there’s a number of unscrupulous, greedy and lazy people out there. And I generally stay away from them.

I say no deal.

To your JV success,


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