March Madness has recently come to a close. I'm referring, of course, to the NCAA Basketball tournament, held in March. This tournament pitting colleges against each other brings out the rabid fan in many people, and not just college students. Quite a few recent and not-so-recent graduates of college spend most of a month watching basketball games and rooting for their alma maters. They fill in brackets, perhaps as part of office pools, stay up late into the night to watch their teams play and often dress up in school colors.
This year I decided to be a different kind of fan. I was determined to not root for one team or another. Instead of March Madness, my experience was more like March Awareness. Don't get me wrong. I watched quite a few games. But I tried to watch with detachment. I watched to see the splendid energy, athleticism and skill on display, rather than just to see my team beat the other one.
I also watched for the teamwork, not just the competition between teams. I've discovered that when you have a myopic, my-team-above-all attitude, you tend to ignore the inspired playing of the opposing team, their brilliant tactics and strategies, and even the clever costumes worn by their fans. It's like wearing filters that only let you see your school colors but not those of the other team.
I've often thought that team sports, particularly basketball, epitomize what is best about capitalism. There is competition, of course, but also cooperation, in the form of teamwork. For the most successful businesses, these two things work in tandem.
Companies establish teams for different roles and objectives, and these teams compete against each other in completing projects and bringing in new business. But if this isn't done in the service of a larger spirit of cooperation, it only causes division in the company, which in the long run, harms its competitiveness in the marketplace.
What I'm suggesting is that competition without cooperation will not win you the ultimate prize. That is, competition without cooperation leads to "madness," but when competition and cooperation are combined, they yield a productive "awareness."
This is true of the economy as a whole. A strong economy needs competition and cooperation, the one complementing the other. This means individual companies need to find a balance between the two. The same can be said of industries. Within an industry, companies compete, but sometimes they need to cooperate, such as when an industry standard needs to be established. For example, where would we be in the payments industry without the common standards we have established? It would be chaotic, and a lot of business opportunities would be lost.
The bottom line is that companies, industries, national economies – even global economies – do better when they learn to balance competition and cooperation. I also believe individuals do better, and are more productive, when they do the same, especially in their attitudes and work style. Why not try this in your work life today.
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