On June 4th, I hosted the Whale Hunting Women Summit in Indianapolis, Indiana. The event provided inspiration, motivation, and direction for the more than 165 women who attended.
As part of my own presentation to the audience, I talked about what I see as the movement from a culture of competition (a 20th century idea) to a culture of collaboration (a 21st century idea.) I have written extensively about this concept, as I believe it is critical to understanding how the new global economy works and, especially, how it tends to favor women’s traditional ways of working and leading.
The argument goes like this: the 20th century U.S. economy was dominated by a “military-industrial complex”, focused on a military model of strategy in which there is a winner and a loser, and favored an aggressive model of leadership. By contrast, the 21st century economy is dominated by consumer power, fueled by international connectivity, and favors a collaborative model of leadership. And by the way women tend to be very good at leadership in that model.
But . . . some very competitive women are in the audience and on the podium. After me! Former Indy Car racer Lyn St. James. And Head Coach of the WNBA Indiana Fever Lin Dunn. And they say—Barbara, you are wrong about competition. We want to win! Competition is what we are all about!
So, I have been missing something. Re-thinking my advice and my position. And I understand, of course women are competitive. Of course we want to win at whatever game we’ve chosen to play. What is my real point then? Two things: One, don’t compete against your own team. Two, collaborate to create a competitive market.
Here’s what it comes down to. In a sporting league, there is a tremendous amount of collaboration among potential competitors. The owners (of the teams, the sponsorships, or events) collaborate on game rules, governance principles, media rights, financial models, recruitment, expansion, schedules, play-offs, benefits, bonuses, etc. etc. Before there can even be a competition, essential collaboration creates the level playing field.
In other words, the so-called adversaries must collaborate with one another at very high levels in order to create the environment in which they can compete. And that’s what I’m talking about in my case for collaboration vs. competition. As business women, we should focus on the league, the playing field, the environment in which our companies live and work. We should focus on the collaborative energies and opportunities to create the best of all possible worldwide “leagues” of business. Within those leagues we can and should be competitive. But first, we have to collaborate.