Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Competition vs Cooperation

Interesting comment from Anonymous above. I do agree in part with their comments. Cooperation is a key trait in the development and evolution of the human body of knowledge. However, I would also have to point out that the competition “clause” still applies in the two examples given. The difference is in the level of organisation.

Rather than two individuals competing, in these cases it was two countries or groups of countries. Without the competing pressure of war or national pride, the governments would not have been motivated to remove the barriers between the small units (such as individuals or companies).

Is cooperation a uniquely human trait? There are plenty of examples in nature of non-human, and even non-simian cooperation. For example wolves raising alpha couple’s pups. Or go lower in the level of complexity and look at colonial organisms such a Man O’Wars. Likewise there are plenty of examples of intra-species competition.

On a software level cooperation is necessary and beneficial even in a competitive model. If I want to write/market/sell a killer product I can’t do that on my own. Not only would I need help in writing the product (otherwise it would take too long) but I would also benefit from working with marketing and sales to distribute my product.

My post is not intended to suggest that competition is the only way. I firmly believe that cooperation through standards and patterns provides a more mature model of product development that benefits not only the end customers, but also the development companies. On the parameters of the product, standards are vital in allowing it to cooperate in an integrated environment.

I do, however, firmly believe that competition between companies in a similar space ultimately benefits the end user through driving innovation and quality. Competition does not need to be, nor should be suffered to be abusive.

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At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

same anonymous as the first time Simon.

Sure the two countries or groups were competing, but in the case of the war and the space race (for instance) the competition served to define a GOAL. They also created a sense of urgency. However, I must still assert that arriving at that goal was pure cooperation. In the case of the space race, the communists almost won!

I do appreciate your well thought out response, the line where cooperation and competition is drawn is an interesting intellectual challenge.

However, another problem that you stumble upon when drawing analogies from the natural world, and applying them to the constructed world of business is that what is natural is not necessarily good. Going down that road brings us back to what started the second world war in the first place.

When I brought up the bugbear of cooperation I had more in mind than just standards and practices, which as we know are as easily used as weapons and subverted as they are useful. As we can learn from the US Patent office, originally set up to allow innovative ideas to spread, it is now used to protect and stifle innovation.

And also, from actually working in the same company as you, (yes, I work at Visiphor, and yes I am an architect as well) I know as well as you must what kind of tripe our company (and all of others we compete against) sell to our clients under this "competitive" market.

On the one had, several of the contracts we won were pure sales jobs. Most clients are dramatically under qualified, and are unable to understand what they need, much less what they actually bought. Once the contracts are drawn up and the developers get a look at it, they say "you told them we could do what?"

On the other hand, on a number of contracts that we lost, there were clear signs that the competition had either lied, bribed or back-room dealt their way to a winning hand. And several of these, in my dispassionate observation, were very sub-standard products.

In both of the above cases, which embody the heart and soul of competition, the client loses. I have to say, this competition thing, I want nothing to do with it.

Coming out of the diatribe, I'd like to point out that, while open source solutions do not exist for the area we are in, all companies and all clients would benefit from an approach to business that is clear, and transparent... all the way down to the source. That way, the client always gets to see what it is they are buying, and if they don't like your prices, they are not locked in to your particular service contract.

Companies that fail to realize that are doomed, in my opinion. There will come a day when the customer will realize that they can demand the source, and hat's when we will see true competition.


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