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Competition is over-rated. Collaboration please.

I’m afraid that our United States Congress has reached a point where they are unable to solve the problems of the nation. I’m afraid that the United Nations and other coalitions of nations lack political will to actually save our species from climate change. And I’m afraid when I see unnecessary conflict in our communities.

The root of the problem is over-trust in an outdated paradigm: competition. Our political parties are competing with each other at the expense of the nation. World nations are competing with each other at the expense of the Earth. It’s not new. Civilizations have competed with each other since the dawn of history; conquering, oppressing, building wealth at the expense of others. I myself was raised with an ethic of competition, that the default objective in almost any activity was to be better than others.

Competition is not de facto bad, mind you. A competitive mindset can serve society extremely well, especially when there’s an abundance of resources. Competition has spurred magnificent human creations and inventions over the ages. Competition is a great way to generate ever higher achievements, no doubt. Yet the pendulum has swung too far. Competition has been TOO successful in generating know-how and technology to the point where now there is a frightening scarcity of resources.

Today, competition is very much over-rated. There’s a hypothesis woven into the very fabric of every aspect of American culture. It goes like this: Let two or more products/people/ideas compete and this will result in what’s best for the group. This hypothesis is the engine of innovation in business, in sports, in law, in health care, in schools, in families, everywhere.

Yet the hypothesis is not always right. We kid ourselves into thinking that when two competing interests “duke it out” it somehow betters the gene pool or otherwise makes us all better as a human race. In reality, the rule goes like this: Let two or more products/people/ideas compete and this will result in what’s best for the winner. I don’t believe in trickle-down economics and I don’t believe in trickle down benefits from winners to losers. The first way, the popular version of the hypothesis, is a myth in my opinion.

So how about a different paradigm? How about the pendulum swing the other way for a change? Towards collaboration. Imagine a groundswell of popularity for collaboration. Imagine companies rewarding teams rather than individuals. Imagine collaborative sports and recreational activities rise in popularity on a par with competitive sports. Imagine school children taught and modeled collaboration and communications skills, and rewarded for team/group success rather than individual success. Imagine people who feel marginalized by competitive environments feeling valued as collaborators. So many people in America have shut down and withdrawn from civic affairs because it’s viewed as competitive, even hostile. I have seen people withdraw from all sorts of groups and activities for fear of too much hostility. Why do we have to be so mean and so competitive with each other?

Collaborative cultures hold a place for every person to participate. No one is a loser, or viewed as “less than.” All have gifts to give. In collaborative cultures people work with each other for the good of the group, not against each other for entertainment or for individual gain. Let’s you and I collaborate with each other against a common enemy – such as climate change – instead of against each other hoping that we will make things better.

And I know that collaboration has a bad rap because it seems clumsy and slow. But collaboration is not about getting things done quick, it’s about choosing well what to get done. Working alone, I’m apt to make great progress on a useless task. Working with others I’m apt to get useful new info, learn shortcuts, and better understand how to plug in and help.

5 thoughts on “Competition is over-rated. Collaboration please.

  1. Craig – with love and respect, I believe your proposal is idealistic, but does not recognize the nature of the world.
    All life exists based upon the balance of nature. Most issues are the result of the fight for resources for all life. All animals have to seek substance, water and air to exist. Historically, animals were able to work together when there was adequate resources with the areas in which they existed. However, when resources became limited in the region, life diminished and if the animals were able to move, they would seek greater pasturers. At that point, conflict often occurred until nature came into balance in that area.
    For homo-sapiens, life has transitioned for thousands of years. As hunter-gathers, we existed with the other animals and plant life in relative balance. However, has we learned to cultivate our food and the domesticate animals, we no longer had to live a nomadic life, forming communities developing a sharing culture within the community in order to survive. Outsiders were not welcome and conflict often occurred between the communities when resources became limited.
    As we study our world’s history, we find conflict occurred because our nature is survival as pointed out my Maslow in his Hierarchy of Needs.
    I understand where you are trying to go, but until we address the population explosion that creates the fight for resources throughout the world and has caused an environmental imbalance, human’s will continue the drive for its own personal survival.
    It has been fortunate for those of us living in the United States to have developed a governmental system that has been able to create substantial wealth. We have also helped increase the wealth in many countries even though the wealth distribution may not be equal. However, as long as the population in the world continues to increase, we can’t bring the world into a balance of resources.
    Unfortunately, there will always be some disparity, which will be determined by the natural resources and the nature of the government in each country.

  2. “Collaborative cultures hold a place for every person to participate. All have gifts to give.” You are reminding me of the work i once did quite a long time ago with the Maine Time Bank – the underlying and active premises was that we all do have gifts to give, and an hour of my time sis valued the same as an hour of yours. Thanks for tackling the topic of competition – especially now.

  3. This is a wonderful statement, Craig.
    Competition is the root for comparison and comparison itself is the root for jealousy and greed. That’s what we are trained for.
    And as Shep Erhart stated: What we do to each other, we are doing to ourselves. Or better: What I do to you, I am doing to myself.
    It’s time to understand, that we are all (inter-)connected.
    Individuality will be the end to humanity. Let’s stop separation.
    The bridging way is simple: It’s called love. Not the sentimental version, although this one is also beautiful. But doing things “with love”, using love as a quality of being is – from my point of view – a first step.

  4. This is brilliant Craig. And reminds me why we can’t afford winners and losers in an interdependent universe. We all lose something when even one of us loses. Keep the revolution coming!

  5. Craig— with love, I think you are confusing some very important things in a very bad way.

    Imagine if you mediated a group effort to create a strategic plan, on one (or several) of the team members shouted down any proposed change, and offered no alternative ideas, or only clearly unacceptable options like “make me King and I’ll solve everything.” Would you chide both the shouters and the shouted at as being at fault because they were too busy competing? Of course not because one side is clearly not interested in making progress, or acting in good faith to create an effective, collaborative strategic plan That’s our Congress today, it has nothing to do with competition.

    The Stock Market is often cited as the “ultimate” form of competition that is also often faulted for forcing companies to act only on short term gain, never incentivizing long term goals? Maybe you’re not old enough to remember that IBM used to be the darling of any stock investor, and Apple Computer’s stock went down to almost nothing, the company was on its last legs, about to go bankrupt. Look it up! It hardly seems fair to now point out that Apple somehow made enough long term investments in technology to now be worth over 18 times what IBM is worth in the most ruthlessly competitive market there is.

    Your arguments here are misdirected. I encourage you to rethink how you would like to celebrate collaboration which is a wonderful thing that we all should do more of.

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