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Encouraging Cooperation

By Matthieu Ricard on November 18, 2013

‟Cooperation and partnership are the only routes that offer any hope for a better future for all humanity.” - Kofi Annan

The French anthropologist Joel Candau wrote that ‟Our species is the only one where strong, fair, diverse, risky, extended, and sometimes costly cooperation is observed between unrelated individuals.”

Mutual giving, sharing, exchange, alliances, and participation are various forms of cooperation within society. Not only is cooperation the creative force of evolution as it is essential in building increasingly complex levels of organization, but cooperation is also at the heart of the achievements of the human species. It allows communities to perform tasks that a single person could not accomplish. When asked why he had a team of twenty-one assistants, Thomas Edison replied, ‟If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.”

To cooperate may seem to be a paradox. From the point of view of selfishness, the most tempting strategy is that of the ‟free-rider” who benefits from the efforts of others to achieve his own goals at a minimal effort. However, many studies have shown that it is fact better for all concerned, self and others, to trust each other and cooperate, rather than going it alone just for our own sake.

According to epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: "If we think of ourselves as individuals driven by self-interest and antisocial instincts of possession, we will create systems based on punishment and reward, the carrot and the stick, and create an unfortunate and erroneous version of humanity. " On a personal level, competition poisons emotional and social ties.

In a highly competitive society, people are wary of each other. They are concerned about their safety and constantly seek to promote their own interests and social status without worrying too much about others. In contrast in a cooperative society, people trust each other and are willing to devote time and resources to others. Thus, a cycle of solidarity and reciprocity nurtures harmonious relationships.

According to Richard Layard, a professor at the London School of Economics, competition is healthy and helpful only between companies, in order to stimulate innovation, as well as improvements in services and products. It also leads to a reduction in price that benefits everyone.

But cooperation is a crucial factor of prosperity within a company. Some people insist that it is desirable to promote merciless competition among employees of the same company - or between students in a class in the case of education — in order to boost productivity and achievement. On the contrary. Many studies have shown that competition within a company is harmful, because it degrades human relations and working conditions. Ultimately, as shown by the economist Jeffrey Carpenter*, it is counterproductive and reduces the prosperity of the enterprise.

Teamwork is particularly undermined by individual incentives and bonuses. In contrast, rewarding a whole team for its performance encourages cooperation and improves overall results. Leaders and business leaders must therefore strive to facilitate trust, solidarity, and cooperation.

* Carpenter, J., Matthews, P., & Schirm, J. (2007). Tournaments and Office Politics: Evidence from a Real Effort Experiment (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 1011134). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.