Cooperation and Competition

Competition, while a powerful motivator in innovation, is not the only ingredient needed for successful, sophisticated solutions. Despite how we characterize innovation and design, nothing is created in a vacuum, and no solu­tion is successful without cooperation between people, including design teams, partners, sup­ply chains, and customers.

Competition, while a powerful mo­tivator in innovation, is not the only ingredient needed for successful, sophisticated solutions.

Cooperation is often misunderstood as being unnatural. Competition has been drummed into our heads as the driver of natural evolution for so long that we often classify cooperation

as merely a human invention. The fact, how­ever, is that all sophisticated systems, includ­ing nature, have required cooperation on lower levels in order to support competition on new, higher levels. In time, often, these higher levels are standardized, and cooperation leads to new innovations that compete at yet even higher levels.

For example, this book would not be pos­sible without a high degree of cooperation in production, manufacturing, distribution, and even language. If we didn’t agree on grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and morphology as much as we do, we wouldn’t be able to communicate with language. Language, in fact, wouldn’t exist, and without it we wouldn’t be able to discuss such abstract concepts as cooperation versus competition. This is always the case when we learn a new language or when we learn about new systems, like sustainability.

Cooperation is often misunderstood

as being unnatural.

Nature is awash with examples of cooperation (evolution itself wouldn’t be possible without it), and it is the only reason why complexity develops. Competition may be the mechanism by which new innovations succeed or fail, but cooperation is the foundation on which in­novations occur. In our drive to support in­novation and improvement (evolution, in other words), we often discount cooperation, which directly limits our ability to create complex­ity. We shouldn’t be afraid of cooperating on standards, systems, and understandings be­cause this is a necessary precursor to higher – order development and advancement. For all design—especially sustainable design—it’s imperative that we cooperate on some levels in order to succeed at others. As designers, we must be aware of where we (and our clients) need to cooperate in order to understand the best opportunities for competition.

Competition may be the mechanism by which new innovations succeed or fail, but cooperation is the foundation on which innovations occur.

In addition, while cooperation means work­ing together, collaboration implies working together toward a common goal. As designers, we both cooperate and collaborate with a range of stakeholders. Not everyone has to be work­ing toward the same goals in order to cooper­ate. However, you will find many stakeholders whose goals already align if made clear: cus­tomers, suppliers, retailers, waste collectors, and so on. But you won’t find these opportuni­ties to cooperate and collaborate if you don’t look for them.