June 19, 2012 | Leadership, Workplace Culture + Practices

A funny thing shows up when you look up the origins of the words cooperation and competition in the dictionary. The word cooperate comes from Latin and means 'work together'. The origin of the word compete, which is also Latin, is ‘seek together’.

Although their origins are similar, their meanings today are very different. In fact, the way we live in the world today positions these two concepts on opposite sides of a playing field. Two parties cannot both be in competition with each other and be able to cooperate with each other.

If the original meaning of compete seemed more harmonious, how did the word evolve to become something today that denotes overcoming, overtaking, and overpowering someone else—the antithesis of harmony? More importantly perhaps, where does the desire – or maybe it’s a need – to compete come from?

Competition in the Business World

In business, we become competitive when someone has something we want (and think we don’t have) or when we perceive a threat to what we do have whether that be market position, customer base, product mix or even profitability. So we use the legal system to try to protect our intellectual property, and we put restrictions on what we can and cannot do or say. In relationships with our perceived competitors, there’s a curious dance that happens that’s a combination of charm, grace, and cageyness to see who will jump (or fall) first.

There is separation in competition.  The U.S.has been the top dog in the world long before the end of the Cold War, and there’s a price to pay for maintaining that position. If you compete and lose, you disappear. We only pay attention to the winners, not to the losers.

In the renewable energy industry, China has appeared as a competitive threat. As a result, we have seen tariffs and trade restrictions put into place in an effort to protect companies and market share on both sides.

Cooperation: The key to our industry’s future

But what if we were to see ourselves more as equals? How would we learn to work together as partners heading in the same direction for the same purpose? How could we build upon each others’ strengths to work toward a common goal? What are the opportunities we lose out on when we overlook the possibility of cooperation?

In my opinion, the future of industry in the world will be more about cooperation and less about competition. Through cooperation, we can start to be real with ourselves and each other, and perhaps design a new dance of harmony that could have far greater impact than the divisive effects of competition.

Additional Reading:

Solar Industry Unites To Avoid a Major Solar Trade War

Competition vs. Cooperation