The Art and Science of Playing Nice

Oh, the internet. The home of dog videos, presidential memes, and listicles. Also the home to basically every idea ever. Honestly, it’s nearly impossible to have an original idea these days. Issues, products, initiatives, brand names. All spoken for.

It seems nearly every market is cornered, making competition stiffer and room to insert oneself or one’s idea slimmer.

Some industries and initiatives are leveraging the crowded marketplace and using it to their advantage, understanding that playing nice and sharing ideas makes them stronger, allowing them to make larger strides and achieve greater results.

Back in the day [read: the 80s/90s], technology companies—Microsoft, Apple, IBM—held their products, software, and codes close to the vest. They were in a virtual arms race, all seeking to be crowned the leader in the hottest, fastest growing industry.

But today, many technology companies are bucking that trend for openness and transparency. They understand that as the world becomes more digital, they must work together to meet the growing demand. The Open Compute Project is an example of the power of knowledge sharing, with many of the top tech companies vowing to share their infrastructure, design, and efficiency tips with “competitors.”

The tenet of collaboration over competition is also popular, though not necessarily a new concept, in the nonprofit sector. There are a lot of people doing a lot of good for a lot of causes. So when causes and goals line up, working together and supporting each other only serves to amplify messages and increase impacts.

For example, one of our clients is working to reduce underage drinking in North Carolina. This is not a novel concept; it’s one that has support from many other organizations and initiatives across the state. So, rather than operating in a vacuum, our client has committed to promoting and participating in the good work being done by like-minded groups. After all, a reduction in underage drinking is a win, regardless of who gets the credit.

Collaboration is also a key to success for the medical community. Just this year, an international team of researchers uncovered groundbreaking findings in the genetic drivers of adrenal cancer. Because of the infrequency of adrenal cancer—it only affects two in every million people—one institution wouldn’t see enough patients to generate meaningful research. For this reason, the international collaboration was critical to the research and the discoveries.

This idea of collaboration trumping competition is one that is also preferred by the youngest generation in our workforce. In a 2015 study, 88 percent of millennials say they prefer an environment that is collaborative over one that’s competitive. The process of sharing ideas and brainstorming together can breed richer, more fruitful products and build trust and teamwork across an organization.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good competition. I do live in the heart of ACC basketball after all. But, in some instances, the competitive advantage should be replaced by the collaborative advantage and the understanding that we truly are stronger and smarter together. [This post not brought to you by Hillary Clinton.]