Saturday, July 27, 2013

Cooperation vs. competition

I was just up in Canada, in Stratford, at the truly great world treasure Shakespeare Festival. It's sort of easy to claim this for our own, first because it's within driving distance and the accents sound like us and Ontario looks almost exactly like Ohio.

But it's in Canada, you know? A different country! Their money has colors (and not just green)! They pronounce the "U" in "house" as a separate sound!

So we went to dinner with a couple there. They'd both lived in the US, so of course we asked if they noticed any differences. "A thousand subtle ones," one said, and gave a few examples. And the one big one-- Americans are competitive. REALLY competitive. Not "we won the gold medal in hockey the last Olympics" competitive (the Canadians are pretty competitive that way :), but the constant assessment-- am I better than he is? Is she dissing me? What's my place in this hierarchy? Who do I have to step on to get higher? <G>

Of course, being a competitive American, I snapped, "That might be exactly why we made it to the moon first, and you-- oh. Right. Canada doesn't have a space program, does it?" (Okay, that was low!)

But as I was working on my community of practice paper, I was noticing that these communities are usually cooperative. And it's especially striking because many of these kinds of communities (like professional networks) are actually composed of people who are kind of rivals-- Fifty attorneys in the same small city. 800 writers trying to get the attention of 6 big publishing companies. Four graduate students in the same program.

It's almost as if for the purpose of the community, they tacitly agree not to compete in this forum. That's essential, isn't it? Otherwise, can you trust? Like I've been in writing communities for a long time, and there's constant exchanges of information and wisdom. If I thought Amy Author over there was trying to undermine me to get some advantage in the marketplace, I can't trust it when she says, "Oh, Avon isn't looking for medieval novels this year." And for the community to work, we have to trust each other. Does that mean we can't compete? Or just not when we're in the "community center?"

My source for the early years of the COP I wrote about remembers that the cooperative spirit of the early year started breaking down once there was a "prize," when the "top rated" manuscripts were to be given evaluations and consideration by a big-name editor. Suddenly it wasn't a bunch of writers trying to improve and helping each other improve, but a group of competitors for the prize of editor attention. It was, in her mind, the beginning of the end (though the community still exists).

It still exists, so isn't that a success? The ones who participate now seem eager and willing-- but the emphasis seems to be more on making friends who will "vote you up" so you win the right to present to the editor.

My source has quit with some of the early members. They still keep in touch, but there's no community-- pairings, friendships, but not community.

So as I read Siemens, as he talks about connectivism and its value, I very much agree. But how does it work with American competitiveness? I have thought for years that the Millennial generation is much less competitive than my own, though I think the culture has been trying to force competition on them by making it clear that only 10% or so will be "winners" and everyone else I guess will be "losers." I love how hard the young people work to resist that, which is hard for many of them because they are such a compliant and pleasant generation and not very rebellious. They are so much more "connectivist" in the Siemen sense-- quick to form groups, eager to find consensus, skilled at cooperation. We are fortunate in this age of online that they are our students, as they are much more likely to be good at collaborating than the Gen-Xers, for sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment