Collaboration, Not Ligitations: “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Collaboration, I Learned from Beer”

FEATURED STORY “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Collaboration, I Learned from Beer” Collaboration, Not Litigations

Since 1907, brewers Anheuser-Busch and Budvar have been involved in over 100 court cases surrounding the use of the name Budweiser. It is a classic ‘David vs. Goliath’ battle of the brands. Each side argues their respective claim to the name, and when the judge makes their ruling, the winner does not sell more beer, and the loser does not sell less. The argument for protecting the value of brand identity does not even hold up in this case because the two beers really could not be more different.

These two are not collaborating, they are litigating, and given the repeated theme of ‘greater collaboration’ in the industrial valve market it is entirely possible that “Everything I ever needed to know about collaboration, I learned from beer.”

By Chad Pilbeam, Contributor

Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser and Bud­var’s Budweiser do not taste the same, their packaging looks nothing alike, and even the price points are different. This makes the likelihood of confusion (a common claim with trademark disputes) inconsequential.

When Anheuser-Busch loses and can only put ‘Bud’ on the label, it will still taste like ‘Budweiser.’ And when Budvar loses and must go by ‘Czechvar’ on the label, it is still the same Czech Premium Lager created in 1802. The cost of litigat­ing is measurable, but nothing is mea­surably gained.

Who Said We Need Collaboration

Perhaps Anheuser-Busch can puff their ego given their win-loss record in court, but the ‘scoreboard’ does not pay the bills or sell more beer. Budvar gained public favor by being the proverbial ‘David’ who stood up to ‘Goliath,’ but a simple cost-benefit analysis will show that they gained nothing either. Litiga­tion cost both of them; would collabo­ration have benefited both? Perhaps by collaborating people would be drinking more of both beers because they shared a story of Budweiser’s history. This sells better than any story about winning in court, and it has been said that ‘good stories make beer taste better.’

Industrial valve ‘Thought Leaders’ and ‘Rainmakers’ who work in the field, the cubicle, and the C-Suite talk about collab­oration being ‘vital’ to the industry. Per­haps they say this because of the looming 2050 zero-emission requirement. Maybe collaboration is vital because of the need during the recent supply chain challenges. Is society scarred by the financial crisis of 2008 and remembering that there was no recovery alone? It could be argued that all the above are fair statements, but it is also fair to say that ‘collaboration is vital’ is only a buzz phrase. It satisfies the quote requirement when giving a speech or an­swering an interview question, but words without action are inactions.

One would be hard-pressed to find any industry professionals who say, ‘collabo­ration is a waste of time’ or ‘we can go it alone’; simply saying ‘we need to collab­orate’ does not get results. Collaboration involves specific and deliberate action; it is not an organic event, it is intentional. Some might even say that the act of col­laborating is altruistic, which might ex­plain why it is so hard to attain. Selfless acts and making contributions are the basis of working together, but it requires people to give something of themselves, whether it be time, resources, or effort. So, how then is it possible to bring peo­ple together in the first place, and how does one continue collaborating?

Taking opportunities to get out of the ‘bored room’ and head to the ‘taproom’ can facilitate networking. Beer can help – if it does not, it can at least act as an example. A look at the beer industry demonstrates how competitors collabo­rate in an (altruistic?) environment that results in industry-wide success.

When there were hop shortages, brew­ers collaborated and shared their sup­ply. When there was an aluminum can shortage, brewers shared cans. While these are just two examples of selfless collaboration, brewers have demon­strated repeatedly that collaboration can lead to innovation.

From the Courtroom to the Taproom

Rewind to the year 2004 when there were less than 2,000 breweries and finding a unique beer name that did not infringe on someone’s trademark was not that difficult. If a brewery wanted to name their beer Sour Me Unicorn Farts, it was available (it is not available any longer, because today, there really is a beer named Sour Me Unicorn Farts). De­spite the long list of options, two brew­eries, Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing, both brewed and released a beer named Salvation.

Choosing to avoid the courtroom, the brewery owners met in the taproom and decided to allow the other to use the name without dispute. Not only did they continue to sell Salvation, but they created a third beer by blending equal parts of both brews. That beer’s name is Collaboration Not Litigation. This in­cident was almost 20 years ago, and people are still talking about how their partnership is the epitome of industry working together and innovating.

None of this has anything to do with valves unless one considers that engi­neers, project managers, field managers, technicians, maintenance crews, install­ers, accounting departments, salespeo­ple, and executives in the valve industry all have a desire to collaborate. These same individuals also cite that they need to do a better job of collaborating.

Improving communication and becom­ing more collaborative is a perennial goal of any organization. Some peo­ple still call this ‘synergy’. Regardless of what it is called, the valve industry wants more of it, collaboration exists, but still, they want more.


What does real collaboration look like?

Consider the challenges facing the indus­try regarding the 2050 mandates for zero emissions; many have the same ques­tions and concerns. How will valve indus­try leaders and innovators work together and solve these challenges? It will take a deliberate step toward working together. Someone, a supplier, a technician, a CEO, will have to act. Innovation, compliance, knowledge, and progress all depend on it. There is an interdependence on others in the industry, and it is easy to partner with people we like, but innovation can even come from those who disagree.

The capture of fugitive emissions, com­pliance with regulations, and improved valve maintenance practices were all col­laborative efforts. People gathered and shared talents, time, and ideas. Attend the conference, volunteer for the com­mittee, serve as a mentor, share non-pro­prietary findings, lobby for change with others in the industry, or become an edu­cator. Network and get noticed. This ap­plies to introverts as well, because even those who prefer to stay hidden benefit from collaboration. It is not as if the call to action is to sell all of one’s possessions and pilgrimage to a distant land while forsaking friends and family. The call is simply to do more than just talk about what the industry needs, and start being part of what the industry solution is.

Final Thoughts

Very few people are remembered for being self-serving or hyper-competitive, and if they are, they are remembered for all the wrong reasons. Those people may win the day or the season, but their efforts may soon be forgotten. In short, ‘go-getters’ are rewarded daily, but the valve industry will remember the ‘go-givers’ for a period much longer.

Remember that collaborative efforts may end in failure, but not every fail­ure is due to a lack of communication; sometimes the participants are simply speaking a different language. Whether it is the supply chain, government regu­lation, environmental concern, or valve performance, the industry has common goals. When the collaborative goal is met and litigation (or conflict) is spared, it is worth sharing a pint of beer with whoever contributed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chad Pilbeam is a contributor to KCI Publications and promotes his Beer Logic™ mantra of “Everything I ever needed to know, I learned from beer.™ He is a professional writer, public speaker, podcaster and radio host, and marketer who loves beer and is a Certified Cicerone®. Chad lives in “The Great Beer State” of Michigan, USA. Follow Chad @chadthebeerlogicguy and @whatsontapradio.
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