Before co-operation, as we practise it, kills us
Once again I am amazed how well people can work together to achieve a common goal, whether it is to protect the planet, defend democracy or promote public health.
Well, maybe half the people work well together. But which half?
If only we could figure out which half wasn’t playing nice, we could do something about it (or them). The problem is that there are so many permutations of what makes up which half. Even worse, people keep changing their minds, their behavior, and the half we thought they were in.
And yet, here we humans are, still surviving and thriving. Astounding. But somehow puzzling.
I Win if You Lose but We Survive Together
Humans are strange. We dominate the planet mainly because of our ability to work together. Yet we compete like crazy.
Our ability for premeditated team work has enabled us to expand our horizons beyond our wildest dreams. And as our reality has expanded to match our dreams, we have increased our need to know where we fit in the scheme of things.
Here’s the really strange bit. Our sense of self-worth is based mainly on a comparison with others. I measure myself against you, my neighbor and colleague.
Sadly, what this often comes down to is that my success depends on your un-success.
Here’s the real paradox: I win if you lose. But we survive if we work together.
We have survived and developed because we tend to resolve this paradox by finding meaning beyond the expense of our neighbors and colleagues.
Walk Away if Your Deal Isn’t Mutually Beneficial
Oh, so much tough talk lately from supposed leaders about negotiating favorable deals. Tough talkers think that win-lose deals are worth fighting for. Real leaders know that win-lose deals are deeply destructive to all parties.
Genuine leaders aim for mutually beneficial deals. This way all parties want to make it work and resources are not wasted on watchdogs and enforcers.
If you cannot make your deals mutually beneficial, then walk away. I learned this lesson when I worked at a big international shipping company.
The company owned the two biggest deep-sea rescue-salvage tugs in the world. We were negotiating to merge this business with a competitor. One day our team expressed our concerns about the ‘other side.’ The senior VP in charge of the merger stopped us and said, “Either we both gain, or it’s off.” He forced us to change our approach.
Guess what? The merger was a success.
Co-Operate for Shared Unhappiness
Today we have many examples why co-operating, especially under pressure, does not work.
What does it mean to co-operate? We co-operate when we work together to achieve some end or other. But what happens when The End looms large and there is still no common end to encourage co-operation? Well, then the easiest way out is to change the differing ends until one end shapes up to be claimed by all parties as common enough to be shared as mutual.
Confused? That’s what happens when we co-operate under pressure.
The problem is that we can co-operate even if we don’t share a common end, because then the actual end is “you owe me one.” Co-operation too often co-opts the worst in us, resulting in nothing but shared unhappiness.
Try collaboration instead. Collaboration succeeds because the focus now is on identical outcomes, not merely on similar outcomes. Aiming for the same outcome means that each collaborator’s best contribution is readily sought, happily offered, mutually valued and gladly used. What’s not to like?
Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.