Competition LO18049

Leslie Lax (
Sat, 9 May 1998 17:13:55 -0700

Replying to LO18032 --

Ed, you wrote:

>To summarize: I think that whether one cooperates or competes is first a
>question of values or philosophy. Second, it fits into their personality.
>Some people are more passive than others

I have been following this thread with interest, and trying to make
meaning of all the different ideas and interpretations that have been
offered. As with many conversations, it often takes time before we begin
to appreciate similar meanings for a given phrase or word. I have tried
various interpretations that I can understand, and have not been able to
reconcile passivity with co-operation.

Co-operation does not, in my view, come from passive acceptance of
another's view, direction or actions: that would be capitulation. Nor is
co-operation a middling medium, where neither party is satisfied with the
outcome: that would be compromise. As I understand co-operation, it is a
very active process of listening, making meaning of, and reaching a
collaborative understanding of how to proceed (towards improvement).
Successful co-operation will always end in a win/win situation.

Competition, on the other hand, is aimed at establishing dominance, of
person, belief, strategy, action etc. This process involves convincing
the other(s) that one's own particular view is correct and that the other
views are not correct. This is not usually a process of learning, but of
proselytising. Learning through competition, where learning does emerge,
is often an unstructured, and perhaps even unexpected by, product.
Learning (leading to heterogeneity of ideas and broadening of
perspectives) is not the focus of the process. Instead, domination
(leading to homogeneity of ideas) is a key element of competition.

Having said all that, and strongly believing that co-operation is a
preferred method of problem solving and situation improvement, I can not
say that there are not circumstances where competition is not a valid
approach. However, I believe it has very limited application and one
should be convinced that the relative cost of competition outweighs the
cost of inaction due to the often lengthy processes involved with
co-operation. Co-operation is a considered and often time consuming
process, promising (and usually delivering) high returns following a
period of sometimes protracted process.

To mix threads a little, competition seems to want to satisfy the desire
for speed, but runs a risk, often realised, of reaching sub optimal

I can provide some examples. While I was in South Africa recently, I was
engaged in working with communities that had recently acquired land
through the redistribution process of the land reform programme. However,
government was in a hurry to get the programme under way, to be seen to be
delivering. Planners were engaged to work with communities in a
collaborative process. To give credit, some did try, initially. However,
given the breadth of issues, limited capacity in the communities, novelty
of the problems, the pace of the consultations, and a very clear belief on
the part of the planners that, as experts, they could improve the
situation, the process soon immerged into competition - a systematic
process of domination of the planners over the community to implement the
planners' ideas of what would work in those communities.

The results of the process were very defiantly sub-optimal, in my opinion.
A plan was provided to the community, which did adopt it. However, very
soon into the implementation phase it became clear that the plan was just
not feasible: it did not satisfy the peoples most urgent expressed needs;
it did not account for the communities cultural views, beliefs and norms;
the process did not help to build capacity in the community (there was
little learning in the community) so that management difficulties become
very clear very soon; and there was no common understanding about what the
plan meant for the community (lack of effective communication). The end
result was that the community would not (and I believe correctly so, in
this case) implement the agreed to plan, and had to incur substantial cost
to review community needs and planning options. Had the planners and
government been a little less hasty and opted for the more lengthy
collaborative process of co-operative participation, the end result would
have been effective in terms of costs, meeting the community's need and
timely implementation.

Our unit had adopted a co-operative participative approach to rural
development, and while the process took longer than some of the more
direct "expert" driven interventions, the resulting improvements appear to
be longer lasting and deeper than those from processes which provide more
immediate but limited benefit. The slower processes provided systemic
situation improvement, with continuous learning and change, while the
faster options led to systematic improvements that had to be structurally
revisited at great cost and dislocation every six months or so.

Thanks for listening. I'm still listening. My posts tomorrow or next
month may be radically different, but I hope that difference is the result
of a process of active emergent learning rather than passive or forced
adoption of beliefs. Passive acceptance is, I think, often a process
following competitive loss.


"Leslie Lax" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>