Collaboration benefits everyone, competition benefits the winner. Are these two concepts mutually exclusive or can they be combined to form a unique type of partnership?
In July 1994 NBC launched a new cable television channel. America’s Talking was the first job for many college graduates and my first “real” job in television. We were all excited to work there with the feeling of a start up but the backing of a major network. We were also fortunate to be working on such highly sophisticated equipment so early in our careers and we were grateful for the opportunity.
Each video editor (I was one of six) wanted to prove themselves, but we also needed each other, for support and to learn from. It would have been very easy for the more advanced editors to keep their knowledge to themselves, to standout and benefit personally while the team suffered (we all know people like that, I’m sure). We chose to collaborate and shared the skills we learned. We took it a step further however by pushing each other to perform at our highest levels.
When one of us came up with a video effect, the rest of us would try to out do it, and eventually we would, so the original creator would try to improve it even more. Each day we were excited to see if our great effect had been bested. When it was, rather than feeling disappointment, we were genuinely happy for that person but set out to crush them just the same. This was a friendly competition where all involved benefited as our skills improved exponentially.
This is what professional associations are all about. When I was looking to change my career and become a financial planner I went to a couple of Financial Planning Association meetings and conventions. All of these people were competitors looking to attract clients to their firms and yet they collaborated on research papers and software and vendor evaluations, these competitors shared their best practices, the techniques that helped them to attract and retain their clients, and they did so willingly. All professional associations have this in common much like my fellow editors needed to learn from each other.
The best thing to come out of our coopetition at America’s Talking was a challenge one editor presented to the others. We had a series of 30 second spots that needed to be edited each week and they consisted of many items from multiple cameras, to music, to various effects. The goal was to pre-program all the elements so that you could edit the entire 30 second item with one push of a button. Each week we would get closer, combining some functions and automating others, until finally we had such a deep understanding of the equipment that we could program and time all the various elements, completing the edit with one push of the red button.
Our coopetition made us all excellent editors. I have continued working with many of those editors to this day and we often look back on that time as our most productive. How can you leverage the intersection of collaboration and competition in your team?