As soon as I read that the common topic for our #CompelledTribe blog posts this week would be competition vs. collaboration,
I was on high alert.
I bit my tongue.
I was on the defensive.
Collaboration, yes. Competition, no. This has been my mantra.
Nevertheless, I decided to set aside my gut reaction long enough to really think about this.
So, here’s the monologue I carried out with myself:
Me: Is there such a thing as healthy competition?
Me: Yes, I think so. For example, team sports are competitive because you’re competing against another team. At the same, it’s an example of healthy competition because there’s a lot of teamwork and collaboration involved in order to win.
Me: So, I can imagine how collaboration can work to make an institution, organization or workplace competitive in its field.
(Pregnant pause right about now.)
Me: And, what about toxic collaboration? Does that exist?
Me: Absolutely! Collaboration that is mandated with little to no planning or inclusion of participants’ voices and expertise is likely to fail. Human beings crave voice and choice. When we don’t get it, we don’t do our best work.
So, now that we’ve established that both healthy competition and toxic collaboration are possible, we can suggest the opposite to be true: toxic competition and healthy collaboration are also possible. Can we then further argue that competition and collaboration can co-exist, perhaps even thrive, so that we can get the best of both worlds?
What if we consider (healthy) competition, but against ourselves? What if the truth of the matter is that we are always competing against ourselves, even if we’re not aware that we are? What if the purpose of competing against ourselves is to make ourselves over? To create the next iteration of who we are? A better us?
Now, that idea reminded me that competing against others is never fair. Why? Because we are all different. We have different perspectives and experiences. For example, some of our students know how to do school, while others do not. Is it fair, in the sense of effective student learning, to have students compete against their peers for the highest grade or the best score on an assignment? I don’t think so.
Should we therefore eliminate all forms of competition? I’m not sure that’s desirable or even possible. However, we can promote instances of healthy competition whenever possible.
This is the kind of classroom and school culture that many of us strive to create – (healthy) collaborative spaces where students can safely explore learning and make themselves over again and again (healthy competition) into better and better versions of themselves.
So, what do you think? Am I just confusing the issues here? What is your thinking on competition vs. collaboration? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.