Jon Husband – About competition and collaboration

I don’t know much about the Asian or oriental world, but in the occidental world it’s taken as sacrosanct that competition is fundamental to human nature I think. And this goes back to the Adam Smith’s free market and yayaya. I’ve never been convinced by any of the arguments that competition is necessarily fundamental to human nature. I understand well that we are animals, I understand well the issues of survival and status and legal and power and social hierarchy and so on. I’m not sure if humans are not capable of evolving to a next step, and arguably, in the very long arch of time – that’s what some of the discussions today are about – do we have collective intelligence and can we act on it, as opposed to staying in the market mire of …, you know, we’re all red fanged and tooth and really talk a nice game, but if we have to eat you we will?

So, that’s what got me into thinking about that, the struggle. That said, just like OD and other things, I think there’s a long slow sociological, cultural, psychological evolution that we’re all participating in. When I say, ‘slow’, I mean generations, I don’t mean 5 or 10 years. So, we have seen over the last 20 or 30 years, you know the term ‘coopetition’ as well as I do. And there are many arguably collaborative efforts between competitive companies and people for that matter. I think, when you look to the sports world, I think, top athletes compete but they also collaborate. They share information.

The way I think is different today than 20 or 30 years ago, is that when you have competition, innovation, any improvements in design, in manufacturing, in the delivery of services, is copied very, very rapidly, anywhere and everywhere. And so what that means for a company in terms of wrestling with the issues of: how do we compete, do we collaborate, how do we collaborate, is that… I think, the first thing is that these two competing and reinforcing forces will make the ecosystems very clear. What I mean by that is, a company, what it needs to do is understand what do we need to… In other words, are there any essential parts of what we do that we just cannot collaborate on and that we cannot share on? But my point is that all it does is it will make it clear, or it should make it clear for companies. Then we are also wondering about, at the individual or at the small group level, the tension between fellow competition and collaboration. What I’m left with in thinking about these things, is that both individuals and both companies will have to ask themselves on an ongoing, I think periodic, basis: where are we competing and where are we collaborating, why are we competing and why are we collaborating?

And the only thing that this question brought up to me is two options. One is, I think the key issue for today’s workplace in terms of the pressures to move towards collaboration and to also identify the differences between competition, collaboration is this notion of incentive. Should people be incented to collaborate versus should just this be the basis for work design? I am biased. I don’t think fellow collaboration should be incented

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