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Cooperation Is Competition’s Armor


From the Spin Doctor vaults (first published in 2011)

Everyone knows that two heads are better than one. And that scratching my back makes me scratch yours in turn. And that there is strength in numbers when resources are pooled together under a shared purpose, resulting in better and more lasting outcomes.

Yet competition is running circles around cooperation. Why?

In simple terms, competition drives innovation. It forces one to reach beyond one’s abilities and excel, enabling people to achieve the impossible. There is nothing like necessity to make one exceed oneself.

But things often get out of control and turn nasty. Too much conflict can hold innovation back, or rather trap it inside a self-serving and self-reinforcing loop of attrition, turning it into a detrimental, closed loop of conflict that serves nothing other than the conflict itself.

The reason is passion. Passion can get out of hand, leading to excessive and destructive behavior, some of which harms oneself as much as it harms others.

2011_08_19_Spin-Doctor-Cooperation-Is-Competition-Armor_2Enter partnering up. Instead of competing wantonly one can seek help. A certain amount of cooperation is necessary, mandatory even, for individuals to progress and for innovation to grow in ways useful and meaningful. But herein lies the problem: cooperation as a concept has become tainted. It is a term bursting with connotations of weakness, inability, freeloading, cop-out.

Let’s examine this proposition for a moment. Take a world of competitors and cooperators. How does the distinction between them arise in the first place?

In plain terms, those who are strong and able to accomplish things on their own, compete. Those who are not, those who can’t make things happen as they stand, cooperate. Everything boils down to strength and personal ability.

The explanation is simple, simplistic even, but it provides insight on the undercurrent forces behind general behavior across parties. Those who do not need much help deem those who need lots and lots of it needy and weak. The haves and have-nots stem from the do and do-nots, the can and cannots, the go-it-alone and the lend-me-a-hand-will-you-because-I-can’t-pull-it-off. It leads to a divide between people according to their abilities, or more accurately, to what they have to show for themselves.

It’s a solid way of looking at things, but perhaps a little harsh and not very conducive to creating future opportunities. Disrespect for those who can’t make the grade by those who do is understandable – we’ve all been in a situation where we were forced to repeat ourselves three and five and sixteen times because the people we were speaking to just didn’t get it; remember how that felt and how you reacted at the time? – but it also presents various problems. A gap between the got-it and most-definitely-did-not-get-it is created. Jaded relationships are formed and a certain righteousness emerges.

Not the stuff progress is made of.

Watch this space for Part 2