Humans are naturally competitive, self-interested, and stuck in a scarcity mindset. If you don’ think that’s true, hang out with some toddlers for a day; well before they have the faculties to control themselves, they will generally take what they want instead of sharing. Even a toddler with the best temperament will revert to this way of being given a long enough period.
A lot of the work of parenting is undoing this instinctual drive. Unfortunately, our larger society doesn’t discourage this way of thinking altogether. We learn to be competitive from a young age. Getting signals from others that there may not be enough to go around, so to succeed, you will have to beat out others to win.
It is certainly true in sports that there can be only one winner. But off the turf, there are many ways to win. So while you may get that competitive position at a top firm, not everyone who missed that opportunity lost. For example, one person who lost the job starts their million-dollar a year business, catalyzed by something in the interview process. Another candidate is offered a different position with less prestige, but that is a perfect fit for their personality.
When we make the stakes all our nothing, we make a 3D existence two-dimensional. If someone else doesn’t have to lose so you can win, it frees you up to help others find opportunities.
The famous Stag hunt problem by Jean-Jacques Rousseau typifies this conundrum. In the story, two hunters must decide separately to hunt a stag or a hare. If they each choose to collaborate, they can catch the stag and get 35x more food than if they go it alone and capture only a hare each.
Like the hunters, you can approach life ready to collaborate with others. When you find like-minded partners, you will produce more value, and each gain a larger reward for your work.
Here are three areas collaboration beats competitive work:
Your Home Life:
Home might be a surprising place to start, but we find ourselves wanting to compete at home in many life stages. What about your siblings? Did you ever find yourself trying to one-up them? Collaborating with them is a far superior strategy. If you teamed up with them, how many more chores could you knock out by specializing based on your strengths? You may even be able to negotiate a better allowance for your work! If you have kids, think of teaching this mindset to your kids to build their collaborative worldview.
What about your spouse? Do you keep a tally of who is doing what, building up a bank account filled with bitterness and resentment? Instead, collaborate. Find your shared goals and move toward them. Your marriage will be healthier, happier, and long-lasting.
Don’t try to one-up your co-workers. That is a game that you are unlikely to win for long – even if you win, eventually, that energy will divide and make you look petty.
The truth is, you all have the same goal; your companies success is your success. How can you collaborate to drive that success? The irony is, that kind of thinking may be the competitive advantage you need to qualify for a promotion. If I am a manager, I will promote the employee who spearheaded productive teamwork over insular competition.
Direct Business Competition:
That’s right; you may consider collaborating with your literal competition. You are welcome to use caution in this arena. After all, you may not share the same goals or values as your competition. But, just like Apple and Microsoft coming together in the late 90s with strategic partnerships, you can both benefit even when you are seemingly at odds. The newly Steve Jobs helmed Apple got a vote of confidence and capital from Microsoft. Microsoft increased its future market share by helping create a healthy Apple. In 2009, 77% of Apple users had Microsoft Office installed – in other terms, millions of more users than if they hadn’t collaborated with the competition.
The Sky Floor our own stories of collaboration vs. competition. We partner with several other agencies even though we have a solid client base of our own. We could easily say no to these relationships – after all, there is overlap in the services we provide. But since we decide to collaborate, they save money on full-time developers, and we increase our revenue and work with clients who wouldn’t typically book us. I remember when we were bidding “against” two other agencies we also work with; no matter who the client picked, we would do the work, and everyone wins.
Collaboration almost always trumps competition. If you find it doesn’t in your life, consider switching to an arena where it can – the work is more rewarding in the end.
Look for ways to increase the size of the pie so everyone can get a slice.