Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Competition to Collaboration

I’m rambling again on a topic that will always arouse me. Competition vs. collaboration. Admittedly, competition stretches one to the limit. And corporate houses, therefore, thoroughly enjoy creating such an environment. They are so blinded by what needs to be done in the immediate future that they don’t care for the cost at which the performance comes. Especially because the cost is intangible in many ways, invisible in the short run, and anyway unattributable or untraceable in the long run. In some rare cases, it doesn’t really matter to the corporate house because the impact is just on the competing individuals or other third parties rather than on itself.

For that matter, even schools and families exploit the fact that competition can get people desperate enough to prove themselves as better than others. To be labeled as the best is - unfortunately so in some ways - a universally motivating factor. The biggest assumption when it comes to competition is that everyone has to move or is moving toward the same goal. It demands the best out of you, especially if you're the kind with a big ego. Competition is nothing but a challenge in the disguise of your competitor. It may be a challenge to prove your ability, endurance, responsiveness, innovativeness, potential, peak performance levels etc. Methinks, if a collaborative environment can propose a similar challenge will it deliver the goods of competition (peak performances) as well as collaboration (innovation, noble objectives, long term well-being)?


Yayaver said...

I believe in collabaration than competition untill you have to choose someone on merit basis. Liked your article.. I also hate 'Employee of the month' by companies as this sows seeds of jealousy and politics in employees..

Nimmy said...

Welcome back, Yayaver. It's been a while! :-) Thanks for the comment. You're right....if there's just one slot that has to be filled, what method can we possibly adopt other than comparing the people vying for the slot? "Employee of the Month" is such a debatable idea...isn't it? While it could be designed to inspire others, it could also lead to politics....true...!

Caveman said...

Wow!! I got down to posting a reply and suddenly found that i had gone into two pages on my word document. And there’s no way i’m going to log a comment that’s 5 times the size of a post. So, i’m going to keep my reply as brief as possible :)

I think you’ve got it only partially correct when you identify ‘being the best’ as the motivating factor that leads people to compete. In fact, that is just the wrapping, Nimmy; the candy inside is actually quite different.

We have two fundamental questions on hand: What is it that motivates human beings to compete with each other? And, what is the goal towards which they compete? To answer these questions i believe it is important to understand the psychology of groups, why they came into being and what the dynamics within them ‘is’. To comprehend this, we’ll have to go back 40,000 years in history (perhaps even more) to look at the structure of a ‘tribe’ and the constant struggle for survival within it as well as it's struggle with its external environment.

I’m not going to elaborate on the analogy of a tribe vis-à-vis a corporation, because that’s going to take up a lot of space. So let me highlight my understanding in a nutshell. “It is the inherent ‘fear’ that a scarcity of resources will lead to impoverishment, that leads human beings to first collaborate with each other and then compete amongst themselves - for control of the limited resources on offer, and the eventual ‘power’ that comes with it as a by-product.”

Human beings collaborate out of a ‘fear’ of becoming impoverished. However, it is this collaboration that gives rise to a fear of being at the bottom of a structure and losing out on valuable resources which are hard to come by at that level. This leads to competition within groups. (Maslow’s hierarchical theory is a platform built on this postulation).

Competition is unavoidable amongst people. That however doesn’t mean that competition is bad or that ‘human beings are not capable of competing while adopting the positive aspects of collaboration’. It is to create just this kind of environment that you talk about - where the good of competition, vis-à-vis peak performances, are delivered, while retaining the positive aspects of collaboration, wrt. innovation, noble objectives and the long term well-being of all, that leaders set organisational values as the framework within which to operate, while identifying goals and targets for a group of people to achieve. Of course, the need to maintain the status quo of ‘power’ within an organisation is also a reason why these values are framed.

Anyway, the inherent fear within all individuals of losing out and the need to get ahead by any means available, is what drives the requirement of groups to have common objectives, values and culture. At the micro level, these groups can be families and at a macro level, these groups are countries; and in a holistic sense – humanity.

This leads us back to the subject of the need to constantly redefine ‘common’ ethics so as to maintain the collaborative spirit within a competitive environment (to deliver the positive aspects of both). But, i doubt if the negative effects of competition, which include – walking over others for personal gain, getting ahead by any means possible, as well as corruption, can ever be rooted out, barring a spiritual upheaval amongst all societies that interact with each other, or if resources are in abundance, or if resources are equally distributed amongst people (which communism tried and failed to do).

Phew!! Okay... i’ve officially lost it. This is complete gibberish %-)

On a lighter note, Asterixs’ “Obelix and Co.” is the perfect analogy of business, economics, competition and collaboration :)


Nimmy said...

Jai, I must first of all thank you for having lost it...err....sorry, I mean....for having spent such a lot of time to respond to this post. It thrills me because we all learn from such exhaustive dialogues. (What happened to the other 2 pages?).

Aaah....you have raised an important point. Actually two important points. "Fear" and "Scarcity of Resources". Quite! It does drive a lot of people to be competitive (the others probably chicken out/surrender). But that's, like I pointed out in the post, only when the assumption is that everyone has the same goal! Right?

Long back, I came across this quote that Competition gets the worst out of people but the best out of products (in a corporate context)....wondering how true that is...!

Hey...which one of the A&O books has a longish story on Obelix and Co? Will revisit that...!

Jerry says "Bow-Wow" and *Wags tail* :-)

Caveman said...

Boo hoo hoo... you think i’ve lost it... boo hoo... sniff... :-(

Nims, doesn’t the majority have the same goal, that of power, which they aim for to have a better lifestyle than their peers or to keep up with the Joneses? Isn’t the realisation of this goal based on making lots of money and climbing up the social ladder? Honestly, doesn’t it feel a whole lot better to be driven to work or to the mall and back in a Honda or a Chevy while sitting in the back seat sipping on a Pina-Colada, dismissing that loser driving a Baja Chetak who suddenly cuts across your car with a “tch tch, what’s wrong with the world today; why can’t the government ban two wheelers off our roads once and for all”? ;-)

I don’t think your estimation of ‘others’ chickening out and surrendering is entirely correct. There is a large percentage within this group of ‘others’ whose values do not gel with the values of the ‘cut throat-ism’ exhibited at the market place. Methinks, it’s beyond this bunch to sacrifice the positive attributes of collaboration vis-à-vis surrendering themselves to the negative aspects of competition, as practiced in India, for the sake of a product that benefits only a small section of society, which eventually segregates humanity into ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’. On the other hand, a large percentage of people chicken out and surrender to their inherent perceptual fears and the need to exhibit ‘power’, thereby succumbing to the intoxication of competition :-)

“Obelix & Co.” is the Asterix comic we’re looking at.

A bow wow to Jimmy ;)

P.S. you’ve gotta give me a pat on the back for my reply, even if i don't make any sense at all... coz i’ve honestly never ever thought soooooo much in my entire life... i feel my brain bursting outta ma head :-!

Nimmy said...

@Jai: :-D Serious stuff but your real-life 'story' about the Honda Vs Chetak made me guffaw! Not because I am like one of those in the Honda or the Chetak for that matter....but a (ahem) neutral observer of the human race. (Does that make me sound more snobbish than our Honda chap?);-)

OK.....when I said others chicken out/surrender, I was only referring to others who "want" to compete but are unable to either because they lack the "killer" instinct or street smartness or whatever. But I just love the way you turned the whole thing on its head and finished off by saying "a large percentage of people chicken out and surrender to their inherent perceptual fears and the need to exhibit ‘power’, thereby succumbing to the intoxication of competition" Brilliant, I say! :-)

PS: And here's a huge pat for racking those poor grey cells....!! Chillax during the weekend if you can! Pat from Jimmy...sheesh...Jerry too! Psst....his paws are not as clean as you might want them to be, though! ;-)

Caveman said...

Hey Jerry, forget about Nimmy ol’ girl and her theory of cleanliness, what? It’s common knowledge that ‘the dirtier the paws, the better to scratch an itch with’, right ;)? What say we both ‘collaborate’ and take a lil’ chutti away from the old lady? We’ll chase cows, bark our asses off and i can teach you how to scratch behind your ear like you’ve never known before ;)

Nimmy said...

@Jai: :-) LoL! He'd want to meet you every other day if you encourage him so!

PS: I taught him to chase a few crows once and ended up hurting my throat quite a bit! I suspect he found my behaviour more entertaining than the act of chasing elusive crows :-P

Caveman said...


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