Collaborative Symbiosis

‘Cooperation has greater survival value than competition when limits are approached’.

In beginning this point it is important to first distinguish between healthy competition which is motivated by the desire for mastery and excellence, being carried out in a balanced and collegial manner, and that of unhealthy competition which is more akin to an obsessive competitive disorder. Unhealthy competition in this definition is motivated more by the desire to win at any cost than by the desire for excellence and is therefore ultimately destructive. The concept of competition is central to western individualism and following Darwin’s theory of Malthusian competition for limited environmental resources driving evolution, has been elevated to a quasi-religious stature. More recent biological and genetic modelling however has highlighted the major role of symbiosis in evolutionary leaps, suggesting that Darwinian competition results largely in the fine tuning of previous innovations rather than true macro-evolutionary change. Unhealthy competition may therefore be further defined as competition that infringes upon the collaboration and symbiosis needed for major innovation. Three negative long term outcomes of unhealthy or hyper-competition are possible to identify together with their consequences:

  • Competitive Convergence (two large competitors come to be indistinguishable) – resulting in loss of uniqueness, vulnerability to innovation from small scale competitors, inability to adapt, and eventual collapse.
  • Consumption of Competition – resulting in loss of fine tuning feedback mechanisms, followed by ossification and inability to adapt to inevitable changes in the environment, followed by collapse
  • Over consumption of resources by competitor – resulting in significant landscape changes, an inability to adapt via innovative and symbiotic macro-evolutionary changes, followed by collapse

This may be tritely summarised as ‘You draw, you lose. You win, you lose. You lose, you lose.’ Regardless of the long term dangers for organisations engaging in unhealthy competition, it appears that society at large has much to gain from replacing the central myth of ‘survival of the fittest’, with ‘survival of the best connected’. True to the spirit of bio-mimickery collaborative symbiosis as a driver of social innovation takes place both internally, within the structures of organisations (endo-symbiosis), and externally between entities mutually benefiting from working together towards a common goal (mutualism). In this way ‘The Information Age’ may come to be seen as simply a short transition on the path towards ‘The Inter-relation Age’.