In Business, we talk a lot about competition. We create “compete” strategies and work to undermine other companies’ products and services. This is certainly understandable- Businesses exist to make money and in any finite game, there is a conserved quantity of spoils. More for me implies less for others. Sure, one can expand the pie but even then one can want “one’s unfair share” to use a phrase used half-jokingly (and half-seriously) by people in Business.
Yet is this really sensible, logical, or borne out by evidence? In his groundbreaking 1986 book No Contest, Alfie Kohn argues against the idea that competition is part of human nature and on balance positive. In the “I win you lose” scenario, Kohn argues, we all lose and mediocrity emerges. In Kohn’s view, cooperation, not competition, is the motive force behind progress.
In a world so defined by adherence to and belief in the mythology of the “Market, “ in which “Intellectual Property” is seen as sacrosanct, in which ownership of property is the end towards which people strive, such a thought seems heretical. Labelers will refer to it as “Communism” and dismiss it accordingly.
Yet most of us follow these principles in the one area we testify as most important: family. Do we compete with our wives, husbands, and children? Or do we cooperate? Do we compare who has more money or power or do we share according to the needs of each? Does love move us or does constant discord?
That’s personal you say, not business. But then why do we during “team meetings” and “morale events” refer to our colleagues as family?
And think about something perhaps more important: The environment. As corporations start thinking about sustainability, environmental stewardship, and the future of the planet wouldn’t it be great if they cooperated instead of hoarding their ideas as “comparative advantage.” If for instance, a paper company invented a technology to cut down less trees, wouldn’t it behoove us all if they shared it with others? If car companies found innovative ways to burn less gasoline, wouldn’t it be amazing if they shared these innovations with others?
Next time you ponder ways to create large, great outcomes in your business think about cooperation not competition. You might find great success and, ultimately, be happier.