Compete if it’s just to survive; cooperate in order to thrive.

Within the discussion of change, the very thing that has remained constant within the design community has been the flow of people. People are the focus of what we do, who we learn from, and most importantly, who we collaborate with, too. We need to consider ourselves not just a network but a united community. A mini colony taking up and occupying the realms of business and technology. In so very many ways, designers possess a way of thinking that is beyond attitudinal and more so cultural.

When talking about community, this implies groups within work or academic environments, studios, large design teams, even professional societies, and networks. Among them, there are endless challenges in which fall under either being competitive or cooperative.

Competitive allies

During one time or another, we’ve experienced what it’s like in a competitive environment. Competitive groups work inward and have little influence on what’s going on within the outer perimeter. Here are four ways in which these communities most thrive:

1.) Praise the individual as winner

In a competitive community, you will notice that individuals are praised for achievements. Oftentimes, the achievements are guided or self-dictated by a group or large body that have their own set of criteria. Beyond awards and recognition, you may often see one group with perceived authority giving praise to another based on merit.

2.) Focus solely on the gains

Competitive environments highlight success and tend overlook loses. When we look just at gains instead of considering other factors this simply becomes a numbers race. Numbers can skew perception. Reviewing other variables such as optimization, access to resources, and new findings can offset gains and also uncover other means of value.

3.) Hold tight to the same but subtle differences

While approaching an intersection with two (or, in few cases, three) gas stations, have you ever noticed how wickedly close fuel prices can be? The signs and where they’re positioned are the same. The kind of fuel options you have to select from, be it 87, 89, 93 octane or diesel. Also, the manner in which you fuel up is practically identical with the exception of a few small differences. This is a rather extreme instance of competition at play. If you were to pass along that gasoline showdown and drive just a mile up somewhere else you’re likely to find a better deal or maybe even a Tesla charging site.

4.) Everything is speculative with too many secrets

The ability to handle ambiguity is a great skill to hold. However, if a community is riddled with secrets without much knowledge sharing, this is an indicator that communication is a challenge. With nothing defined then the first thing in plain sight will be a threat.

Cooperative partisans

Cooperative communities are collaborative places where groups adapt and foster supportive environments. It is likely that if you’ve learned something valuable while working together then there were many entities that came together to make that new discovery happen.

1.) A unified understanding of purpose

Cooperative communities share a unique interest in understanding goals and upholding objectives. A clear and concise outline of what direction we must follow creates alignment. If this isn’t possible, even a discussion with clear takeaways and next steps is more than sufficient to consider.

2.) A shared language

Cooperative communities also understand the impact of communication as a means to inform new ideas and pass along bits of information. Words hold meaning and it is helpful they remain consistent. As we know, language is a system and it also drives culture. Without a shared language no group can communicate to mobilize themselves.

3.) An attitude of acceptance over expectance

Everyone brings a unique perspective to the table and cooperative environments look to leverage this. Collaborating in competitive communities you are seen as strong as your weakest link. Within a cooperative environment, everyone is an accepted for who they are as a means to enable what they bring forward to the group as a whole.

To narrow it down, what we do is fundamentally about our people as it is about our artifacts. As one big community with varying efforts, even the smallest instances in which we engage have an impact on our overarching commonality. Have you observed or had experiences in which fall under the range of competitive or cooperative?