Issue 03 / The Future is Cooperative

Cultivating a Cooperative Mindset

Start with the self

Cooperation is a mindset.

As we move through life, our behaviors and experiences form a lens through which we perceive the world. By altering our behaviors, we can begin to cultivate a cooperative mindset.

Cooperation starts with the self, but it creates a compounding ripple effect that stretches far beyond the constraints of competition. Micro behaviors drive macro impact.

Even with sights set on a cooperative future, competition looms as an imposing barrier. It’s culturally ingrained at each stage of our lives:

  • “Who won the game?”
  • “What grade did you get?”
  • “Why aren’t you married yet?”
  • “How’s the 401K looking?”

Recent discourse around the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ shows that we’ve interpreted Darwin wrong. Survival isn’t simply an outcome of strength and brute force as we've been told, but rather harnessing the social and cooperative abilities that make us uniquely human. We sit atop the food chain not because we’re the strongest, but because we can work together. Our communication and creative problem solving enable us to survive.

So, how do we start living more cooperatively?

We can begin by incorporating specific behaviors into our everyday lives. Combining the influence of David Rand’s behavioral science work with our own experience creating a workplace rooted in cooperation, here are five guiding principles that can change the way we work together:

Cooperation begets cooperation.

Give a little extra.

We replicate what we see. Repeated cooperative behaviors set a standard. Selfish behaviors do the same. To foster a cooperative spirit at Zeus Jones, we promote the principle of “give a little extra.” What might others’ needs be? How can we proactively anticipate and deliver on them even when it’s not expected? Put others ahead, and you'll find yourself ahead in return.

A large-scale example: Tesla decided to forgo patents and open-source their technology in 2014. Stated plainly, yet profoundly on the company’s blog: “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal.”

Create fluid networks.

Spark more interactions.

The more interconnected we are, the more interactions we can have. Straightforward enough, but consider that by creating more interactions, we put more ideas into the world for others to build on, creating exponential opportunities for cooperation. The ideal social networks have porous edges. This allows for a cross-pollination of ideas, and more opportunities to “give a little extra.”

Look no further than the words you’re reading for an example. When ideas are given voice, others are invited to engage. We’re glad you’re here.

Make cooperation observable.

Create transparent systems.

Feedback loops are essential to cooperation. Humans are highly observant social creatures, and as mentioned previously, we tend to mimic behaviors that we view as established norms. By embracing sharing and collaboration as routine social practices, this ethos of openness is normalized for ourselves and those around us.

The same principles of collaboration that inspired open office spaces are being adopted in the digital realm. With the massive shift to video conferencing, some organizations have started recording all meetings to create a more transparent work culture. A library of meetings allows coworkers to observe others’ collaboration and problem-solving and better understand perspectives across teams.

Make cooperation the default.

Provide fewer avenues for self-interest.

It may seem off-putting at first, but less individual choice is often better for the collective. Research shows that when given time to choose between cooperation and competition, people will begin to consider more selfish options. When time is constrained, however, a greater number of people intuitively choose cooperation. If cooperation is positioned as the default, we’re more likely to bypass the self-interested cost-benefit analysis and do what’s best for the group.

UX and UI are used to create more direct avenues for cooperation in nearly every corner of our digital lives. Apps, sites, and social platforms collect user data to create personalized experiences and optimize the service. By design, users don’t always realize their data is being collected. Are there ethical hang-ups with this blurring of coercion and cooperation? Absolutely. Do most of us want our data being sold to advertisers? Doubtful. But there is also a cooperative benefit to sharing data. If most people opted out of Google Maps location tracking, we wouldn’t know to exit before the traffic jam.

Envision and demonstrate collective benefit.

Imagine openly and wildly.

Most ideas never see the light of day. Social barriers and fear of judgement choke out our innate desire to outwardly express curiosity and imagination. Relegated to the recesses of our minds, ideas are starved of the cooperation they need to spark innovation. In a competition-obsessed society, we hold up innovation as an individual achievement, when in reality it’s the result of many inputs coming together from diverse perspectives. By sharing ideas, no matter the stage of development, we begin to create a more tangible vision of the future for ourselves and the those around us to work towards.

Instead of an example of this principle, how about a little nudge: Grab ahold of that idea that’s been bouncing around in your head and share it with someone. And then ask them what they've been dreaming up.

Breaking free from competition on a societal level is daunting, no doubt. By focusing on the only thing we can truly control, our own behavior, we can create a mindset shift in our own lives with effects that extend far beyond.


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