Collaboration vs. competition

Published by Lori Pickert on July 18, 2012 at 06:51 AM

We often point to competition as a tool to bring out the best in people. ...

The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way. ...

Competing with yourself is more difficult, requires more bravery and leads to more insight. — Competition as a crutch, Seth Godin

I remember the first class I took — in college — that didn’t pit students against one another but instead asked them to help each other. It was a journalism class, and it was a revelation: that learning could be about improving yourself and the work and helping someone else improve as well. The class was full of positive feelings and energy — we all wanted each other to win, and we helped each other win. I thought, Is this what it’s like when you get out of school? People help each other?
Competition doesn’t only take away the requirement to set your own path, it makes it a virtual impossibility. You can’t focus on creativity, solving problems, and your own interests if you’re playing someone else’s game according to someone else’s preset rules. That means we squelch new ideas before they can even happen.
When we frame competition as a tool to bring out the best in people, we forget that people achieve the most not when they’re in competition with each other, but when they’re in competition with themselves. If the only person you’re trying to best is yourself, then everyone you meet is a potential teammate. If we’re not in competition with each other, then I want you to win as much as I want to achieve my goals. I can help you and help myself because no one has to be the loser.
Collaboration requires us to work side by side rather than head to head, and the other guy’s loss is no longer our gain. How much of our society’s life view is formed by those early years when we’re told there can only be a few at the top and in order for someone to win, someone else has to lose?



Comment by Jennifer on July 18, 2012 at 09:47 AM

Yes! And competition is everywhere, in everything. I've only been realizing that recently. The things people ask children: "What is your favorite color?" "What was your favorite thing to see at the museum?" Why on earth do we have to always be choosing one thing, or one person, and holding them up as "the best" and denigrating everything else? And then sports drive me nuts. People are either elated -- and trashing things in their exuberance -- or depressed. Why can't we focus on things that bring people together where no one has to be the loser? Even the games to play with children are usually marking somebody out to be on top, everybody else underneath. There are a few co-operative games on this lovely site (which I suppose you can't buy in the US) -- when my daughter is old enough to play games I have every intention of investing in them.

Sorry, I do realize that this comment has no coherent point, but I agree with you wholeheartedly and with vehemence -- and nobody around me seems to see it! (Except my husband, and only because I got up on my soapbox and convinced him!)

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 18, 2012 at 02:29 PM


that’s such a great point about how we always ask kids about their “favorite” this or that.

when young children play together without adult intervention, they play such beautifully cooperative “games” — playing house, setting up an outdoor restaurant, creating worlds and dividing roles and ganging together to do big things (like dig a ginormous hole or collect a whole wheelbarrow full of dandelions).

it seems like every time adults organize children into activities, they’re competitive: relay races, dodge ball, kickball, etc. i think this is because 1, adults have forgotten how to play! and 2, because adults like everything to be outcome-oriented. there’s no *purpose* (that they can see) to the way children play when they’re left to their own devices. they would rather see kids divided into teams and set to chase a goal than just playing in the dirt for hours — even though the playing in the dirt is actually packed full of more age-appropriate learning.

Comment by Khat on October 24, 2012 at 05:49 PM

I totally agree. I needed to read these comments to understand why my friends are competing with my homeschooled children by commenting on their children's successes in school. I didn't know that public school was so competitive- even in kindergarten! I emphasize everyone's accomplishments if I make any comments at all.
Maybe my friends are really feeling like homeschool is a mystery (they constantly want me to put them in school). So, thank you again. I liked the comments about play as well, something my children 8,7 and 5 do cooperatively and something my friends' children don't. Khat

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