When Collaboration is the Key to Success!


Victory is dramatic. Sports, movies, games, and other entertainment grab our attention by portraying success as one person's gain at another's expense, in a "zero-sum" game.

Success as one persons Gain.

Zero-sum game plots are used in stories SO often that we subconsciously assume life works that way exclusively (thanks "availability bias"!). The danger here is the lost opportunity of not collaborating in "positive-sum" games, which are WAY better for you long-term and which represent how much of life ACTUALLY works.

When to Compete

Competition is a simple concept - a fight over finite resources. It is ever-present in much of the animal kingdom where scarcity can be very real. We humans inherited this basic fight-or-flight response in addition to developing more complex cognition. It is easier (and safer short-term) to assume everyone is a threat than it is to question that assumption and investigate. So, we default to laziness and risk aversion when in fact we should only compete in select circumstances.


Compete when ALL of these are true:

1) The rules of engagement are clear and enforced - The definition of victory is objective.

2) Your actions do not affect prize availability - Only victory maximizes your outcome, even if the prizes are unknown or of variable value.

3) Success at others' expense serves your long-term best interests - Success only affects your resources and not your relationships.

When to Collaborate

Collaboration is complex - "Is this even a fight?". More outcomes are possible, so more moves must be considered. Resources may remain scarce, but they're not fixed. Success' definition changes from victory over others to maximization of what you value.


In contrast to competing, collaborate when ANY of these are true:

1) The rules of engagement are unclear or not enforced - The definition of victory is subjective.

2) Your actions affect prize availability - You can maximize your outcome by approaching the game creatively.

3) Success at others' expense harms your long-term best interests - Success affects both your resources and your relationships.

Which of these two sets of criteria are true more often in real-life? You guessed it, collaboration! Competition is entertaining to spectators, but it's rarely optimal for the players. The simplest way to illustrate this is to think of the resources expended in both scenarios. During competition, resources are expended to achieve opposite outcomes, so many cancel each other's effects out and the total ROI across all players diminishes.

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During collaboration, resources are expended on achieving the same or similar outcomes which benefit (and usually optimize) the wellbeing of all players in the long-term. Collaboration is simply less wasteful.


So how do we maximize what we value (including others' well being) when we recognize the opportunity to collaborate?

  1. Define victory. What aspects of life do you value? How much do you value each? Maximize THAT.

  2. Get creative about how you behave. Grow the pie publicly instead of eating your fill privately. You’ll soon have more than you can eat.

  3. Don't start fights, avoid them when you can, and win them quickly when you must. Fights are expensive, especially opportunity costs.


Competition is almost never necessary and almost never optimal. Your success need not require others' failure. Long-term self-optimal behaviors are counter-intuitively virtuous (generosity, empathy, honesty, fairness, teamwork, etc.) because most reasonable people will treat you in kind and you’ll both benefit from shared infrastructure.

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Concluding with an example, consider our VanCity Life Coach network. We respond to interested clients collectively, discussing among ourselves who is the best fit and will create the most value for them. We will each attract clients through this process because we each offer unique services/approaches, even if there is some overlap. This strategy strengthens the VanCity Life Coach brand image, so the size of the market will increase with time as clients' breakthrough results increase referrals, in a virtuous cycle. We are structured this way to prove that your success is our number one priority!


Allen Funston, P.Eng., MBA, LSSBB

- Founder, Sentient Future Consulting, Vancouver B.C.

To Schedule a FREE Consultation with Allen, Contact Us or Email: info@vancitylifecoach.com.