Competition vs. Cooperation

January 18, 2017

The very divisive election in the US really came down to whether folks saw their goal in life was to compete or cooperate.

Neither candidate fully inspired the masses and both had large populations of folks who disliked them.  But their messages focused on competition versus cooperation.

Trump’s slogan was centred around the US competing more effectively.  “We lose against…” was a common refrain in his tirades, “China wins” or “Mexico wins.”  Almost all his diatribes were couched in win/lose terms.  His political competitors were “losers” or should go to jail,  He consistently bragged about his high ratings, his large crowds, and his other successes.  In short, his wins.  The basic appeal was: be on my side, I’m a winner.  If you want to be a winner too, support me.  Embrace conflict, we will win.

The almost equally disliked Hillary Clinton focused on “working together” with various groups and cooperating as a team.  She emphasized her experience succeeding by working within and cooperating with the system.  This is an appeal to a public committed to cooperating as a society to achieve success together.  The village that raises the child; the society that respects all segments of society.  Her core message: embrace cooperation, we will all win together.

It is interesting to observe that the cooperation strategy worked in the more densely populated areas where cooperation is more necessary for survival.  The competition strategy, on the other hand, worked in regions that were less densely populated, particularly rural ones, where individualism and self reliance were a higher priority for people.

The cooperating strategy is less dramatic and obviously less confrontational.  That makes for less appealing TV sound bites.  Popular entertainment has moved more and more to confrontation – SWAT teams breaking in, detectives presuming guilt, and even reality shows where survival is the goal.  We’ve noticed that reality shows have moved to measure the successes of the participants: evaluating cooking prowess, measuring how much profit the storage bin buyers made, how much fish was caught and so on.  The stage was set for drama and confrontation.

Clearly people in the fly over states were feeling disenfranchised and ready to lash out, falling out of the strategy of cooperation, which requires some trust.  For them, the trust has been broken as they saw their blue collar jobs disappearing, manufacturing going to less expensive markets, farms dissolving to large companies, coal production hampered by environmental concerns, and the populous coasts dominating public thought away from fundamentalist religion into secular tolerance.

Trump showed up to capitalize and fan the flames of this disenfranchisement with a strategy promising confrontation, seen by these disenfranchised people as a possible redemption.  Clinton, on the other hand, asked for continued trust.  These voters already felt that trust had been broken.  Even though it was a trust broken mostly by technology, environmental concerns and the successes in the developing world.

The difference in strategies was probably accentuated by gender bias as well.  Women are seen to get along better with others and be less intensely competitive than men.  So that difference reinforced the strategies and gave many people a rationale to vote against Clinton.

To go from a competitive mentality to a more unified collective one will be hard for Trump, particularly with his abrasive, confrontational personality.  Even after he was elected, Trump continued with his competitive posturing.  Nearly every statement or tweet he has made has included a reference to his competitive nature – either denigrating his opponents, minimizing his set backs, or amplifying his success, even to the point of claiming a higher vote count in his favour and crowing about his toughness.

We have often said that in team performance, cooperation is the best strategy; but the hardest to execute because of the trust required.  The risk, as was pointed out by Obama’s farewell speech, is that without collaboration, there may be a further break down and dis-uniting of the states.  We’ll have to wait and see.

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