Individuality is important. It helps us to develop ourselves, discover our potential and distinguish ourselves from our environment. In modern society however there is tendency of an overemphasised individualism – of the idea to compete against others, rather than seeking out help or building something together in the spirit of collaboration.
Where does it come from?
The way of permanent growth might be embedded in Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Most of us have heard the main title of his theory “on the origin of species”, but the subtitle explains it even better: “preservation of favoured races in the struggle of life”, or in other words, the survival of the fittest. That idea, that nature selects those species, which are the toughest, or actually which are the most adopted, to let them evolve. Through this process allegedly men was evolved as well.
There are some flaws to this theory, which are however not subject of this article. It is merely put here to explain, why we might think the way we think.
It starts at a young age
From a young age on we learn to compete against one another. Every now and then there is some teamwork involved, but it does not seem to be emphasised. When we attend school, we are asked to sit quietly most of the time and listen. The teachers ask questions, we raise our hands and get rewarded for the correct answers we give. When it comes to the exams we are on our own again. Only the individual performance is evaluated. From an individual point of view it does not matter, whether you’re classmates fail or not.
It is very similar when you attend college. You might form some learning groups here and there but the educational system itself does not promote collaboration, rather focuses on the individual.
In the job it might evolve to be different. Depending on your corporate environment, you may have to learn to function as a team or a unit. But on the next higher level you are again competing against other companies in an open market.
Even beyond that our society is build on the idea of competition. Whole nations compete against one another in the struggle for political or economical power.
Competition brings advantages but is heavily overrated
The constant competition might help in enhancing specific products. To be able to compete with others, you constantly need to adopt to an ever changing environment. So it seems to add to that swiftness of evolving.
The competition also helps in quickly understanding which ideas work and which don’t. You can have great ideas in your mind, but when you put them out into the real world, driven by a competitive market, you will see really how feasible they are. That way the competition helps to sort out the good from the bad ideas.
But then again one might ask what exactly are good or bad ideas. From the current perspective good means most and foremost one thing – profitable. It does however not include what impact it might have on the life of others. Simply, because we are not raised and incentivised in our education to think about those around us. We are not raised to think about the ecological and social impact of our actions.
The danger of the current paradigm
Now what might have pushed our technological advance, does not seem to be applicable anymore in a world that is deeply connected. Our actions do impact the people next to us and our environment as well.
We are currently facing tremendous ecological challenges. The planet suffers from the exploitation of its resources, the deforestation, the pollution of oceans and natural habitats and the extinction of species.
The challenges are also quite obvious on a social level. Widespread poverty, failing states, and ongoing wars are but some of the prime examples, indicating that the current paradigm is no longer feasible.
These problems appear on such a high scale, that they cannot be solved by just one person, a company or even a nation. They have to be solved by humanity.
Collaboration trumps competition
Each of us comes with unique skills and talents to this life. Talents that can be used to solve specific problems. These skills provide possibility for great ideas and solutions. But sometimes a sort of catalyst might be needed. Another person with another skill to bring forth this aspect of yourself. This is one of the beauties of collaboration. The harmonious promotion of talents within one another.
Beyond the skills it might also be specific fields of knowledge, that alone already bring some insights, but when combined with another faculty offer an even greater understanding.
To solve the complex problems of our current society, we need to draw from different faculties and combine all sorts of talents of individuals to come up with solutions that help each of us. Projects like “the ocean cleanup” are born out of this exact process and can only be formed through the combination of, in this case, experts from the fields of engineering, maritime biology, entrepreneurship, finance, marketing and many more.
To go fast, go alone. To gar far, go together
According to this African proverb, we need to shift to a more collaborative way of thinking. An approach that combines the faculties of all members of a group or a society to come up with the urgent needed solutions for the complex challenges of today.
And after all, isn’t it much more joyful and fulfilling to build and create something together that helps all of humanity, rather than fighting on your own and just for your own good?