Embrace Co-opetition

Co-opetition means working together to achieve mutually beneficial results and this article will explore three reasons to embrace co-opetition in your business, community, school, and life endeavours.

For example, co-opetition amongst business competitors to achieve full employment in their communities is more likely to help these communities reach their potential than driving the other company out of business would achieve. Co-opetition is starkly different from competition in that competition is typically focused on winners and losers and, when it comes to business and governance, defines success by the financial bottom line, as opposed to things like well-being, happiness and/or social justice.

When I think of co-opetition, I focus less on how the competition between Samsung and Apple enhances the technological potential of humanity because of the cool things that they build to try and take market share away from each other. When I think of co-opetition, I focus on how businesses collaborate – and in some cases sacrifice their bottom line and/or take on increased risk – to enhance community well-being. Really smart people at Harvard refer also refer to this idea as “creating shared value” or “rethinking capitalism.”

In short, I think that co-operative principles drive the best kind of co-opetition.

I recently joined Vancity, one of Canada’s most successful and well known financial co-operatives, and the last few weeks of my working life has seen me rekindle much of my knowledge and passion for the co-operative movement, which I developed during a stint on the board of directors for Vancouver’s East End Food Co-op.

Being member-led, collaborative, inclusive, and educational are some of the values that make cooperatives different from normal businesses and non-profit organizations. You can learn more about what makes co-ops unique by reading about the seven co-operative principles:

1. Voluntary and Open membership
2. Democratic Member Control
3. Member Economic Participation
4. Autonomy and Independence
5. Education, Training and Information
6. Co-operation among Co-operatives

7. Concern for Community

Specifically, principle six – where co-operatives work together to achieve shared success – creates impact that is broader than just a corporate bottom line. In local organizations like the East End Food Co-op and Vancity or global thinkers, builders and leaders like Wade Davis to Barry Salzberg, people are trying to figure out how to get our global community working together more effectively to solve really, really complex problems. Here are three reasons why co-opetition (or something like it) should be the model for how we do business (and governance, education, charity, and all the rest of it), both globally and locally:

Co-opetition is Good for Business

Let’s take some inspiration for co-opetition from co-operatives, which have a highly-effective, but under-appreciated, business model that thrives on collaboration. Co-operatives exist in every sector of Earth’s economy. According to the International Co-operative Alliance, they generate over $1.6 trillion per year and the top 300 co-operatives in the world employ over 100 million people, which is more than their Fortune 500 counterparts (the top 300 Fortune 500 companies).  Canada yields approximately 9,000 cooperatives that serve 18 million members, employ over 150,000 people, and hold more than $370 billion in assets. Here’s a fun fact about the democratic power of co-operatives: with 3.3 million members, Mountain Equipment Co-op (Canada’s largest co-operative retailer) is also one of the largest democratic voting bodies in the country (just behind Canada and Ontario).

The Council of Human Wisdom is a Co-operative Place

“Every culture deserves a place at the council of the human experience,” says Wade Davis, Explorer-in-Residence with National Geographic and future Professor of Anthropology at UBC. Last week I was lucky enough to attend a Bring Your Boomers event featuring the aforementioned Davis. At the event, Davis talked about the council of human wisdom. My understanding of this concept is that it is an unofficial and/or metaphorical group of people that represent our collective knowledge and myriad potential. Davis’s reference got me thinking about how co-opetition is an idea that jives well with conversations at this table. It is a philosophy that collaboratively and inclusively draws on – and respects – all of humanity’s myriad experiences and ideas. Simply put, co-opetition is the right thing to do, even if it might be challenging and/or difficult to equally engage all voices at the council of human wisdom.

Engaging Complexity Requires Many Hands              

Speaking of complexity, Bruce Rogers’s recent Forbes article argues that leaders need to adopt a more collaborative mindset in order to tackle contemporary challenges. According to Barry Salzberg, Global CEO of Deloitte, “outcomes like economic stability, public health and well-being, high-quality education, and protection of human rights are too far-reaching for any one organization, or even a whole sector, to bring about independently. So collaboration among institutions and groups to address these issues is essential.”This trend of cross-sectoral collaboration – if not co-opetition–to achieve mutually beneficial results nicely connects with the recent growth of the sharing economy, which could be a potential $110 billion market. Fast Company’s Danielle Sacks argues that co-operating to share resources is straightforward:  “The central conceit of collaborative consumption is simple: Access to goods and skills is more important than ownership of them.” For the record, The Potentiality launched its community-building case study series with a feature on bazinga!, a social platform that helps people share tools, space and ideas in condo communities.

When it comes to sharing resources, skills and tools in a complex world, a philosophy of co-opetition not only aligns leadership and innovation with collaboration, but allows us to consume less stuff, as we are able to share what we already have. This helps everyone, but it helps the planet most of all.

So, because co-operating to achieve our collective potential is better for business, genuinely democratic, and more strategic than competing with each other to produce more stuff that we don’t need, think about how you can apply some principles of co-opetition to your life – and in your community – today.

Our world is driven by relationships and the networks in which our relationships exist, which makes this simple proverb resonate even more powerfully: “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

I think that co-opetition will take us farther.

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