“Thank you” is such a simple gesture, a daily occurrence, an acknowledgement of interacting with other humans. “Thanks!” says the person for whom you held the elevator. “Thanks, every­one” concludes the weekly staff meeting. “Thank you” writes the company in its holiday card.

All those thanks are important symbols and expressions of gratitude in our lives and livelihoods. “Thank you” is also part — often underused — of the skill of competing.

Competing and gratitude might appear contradictory. How can we be competitive and thankful at the same time? Isn’t the essence of competition to win or gain advantage? Competing would suggest that we put ourselves and the organization first, think less about others, and stay focus­ed on what we want. On the surface competing is more about “beat you!” than “thank you.”

I submit, though, that to compete well we must seek the help of many. Get­ting the job, on the job, and building the business, employees and employers alike should con­sider how a meaning­ful “thank you” impacts competitive edge both for their organization and for them personally. We’ve all heard (and said) the bitter complaint that someone “didn’t even say ‘thank you.’”  Likewise, people of all kinds, including senior leaders, must be willing to pro­vide support while expecting no more in return than a kind expression of thanks. It doesn’t work when strings are attached.

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In an essay on the “shyness” of Finland, Professor Ira Kalb of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California makes a rather strong claim that brochures handed to him by his Finnish client were bad marketing because they did not focus on the benefits of doing business with Finnish companies. “Some good ‘things’ were in these brochures,” Prof. Kalb says, “but they were buried in the body text that most people (83.3% according to data) will not read.”

Behavioral economists have shown that specific claims, especially with precise numbers, are more convincing than general claims. So, I decided to bite. The word “data” in this quotation, following the suspiciously precise 83.3%, was a link. I took a deep breath and clicked.

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Ira Kalb is a marketing professor from The University of Southern California and a marketing consultant (Kalb & Associates). In a recent post on Business Insider, he describes his marketing insights after a trip to Finland. The heading of the post is “Finland has a shyness problem.”

The gist of Kalb’s insight is that many people do not know where Finland is, or they confuse it with Sweden or Denmark, and that hurts the ability of Finnish companies to compete in global markets. This confusion, advises Kalb, is the result of poor marketing on behalf of Finland. Sounds reasonable, right?

Not so fast. Kalb pulls a classic flawed reasoning described by Phil Rosenzweig in his seminal book, The Halo Effect. Kalb highlights Nokia, the most-famous and largest Finnish firm, which had a market cap of $250 billion in 2007, and last year was sold to Microsoft for peanuts and a bottle of mineral water. Why did Nokia fail? Here is a direct quote from Kalb’s post: “Nokia has been in business since 1885, but it hired its first CMO in January of 2011…While there are many reasons for Nokia’s sharp decline, experienced marketers know that Nokia had a great fall because it was a product-driven company dominated by engineers and a bureaucracy that missed the marketplace signals because of its lack of marketing expertise.”

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