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The Other Law of the Jungle

Posted on February 21, 2013 by Liz Elam in Community, Conference, Coworking, Speakers, Sustainability

I grew up in Western civilization, raised on Darwin’s, survival of the fittest worldview. No matter where you are on the evolution/creation theories, his competition, bloody tooth and claw perspective has become a pillar of our cultural heritage. It has been the prevailing influence in how we’ve run our businesses. “Eat or be eaten” and “It’s a jungle out there.”

Yes, it is a jungle out there. And until very recently we’ve been making the nearly fatal mistake of following only one of the laws of he jungle – competition. But nature requires balance. For every force there is an equal and opposite force. Yes, competition is a law of the jungle. But it is not the only law, the yin to it’s yang is cooperation and collaboration.

I first realized this a few years ago. I had several philodendron houseplants, the broad-leafed viney things. They were all in separate pots. They were healthy enough, growing, but one probably wouldn’t use the word thriving. Typical houseplants. Then one time when I was repotting I decided to stick two in the same pot.

It went against all conventional logic. Two plants in the same pot, a closed system with limited resources. Following the logic of competition one should’ve killed the other off or they should’ve killed each other off. Instead both plants began to thrive. Both grew more abundantly than they had in separate pots.

As I thought about it, it made perfect sense. Philodendrons are rain forest plants. You should see the Jurassic versions that grow in the jungles and even in Florida. The jungle is a crazy jumble of plants growing next to, under, over, on – name a preposition – jungle plants are growing that way.

For quite sometime when I shared my theory that competition wasn’t the only law of the jungle people called me a Pollyanna, or said, “Yeah, but that’s not how it works in the real world.”

Well things are starting to change. We’ve tried capitalism based purely on completion. How’s that been workin’ for us?

Now I’m seeing more and more discussion about cooperation as a viable model for business and society. A very thorough and insightful book on the idea of competition vs. cooperation is Spontaneous Evolution by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. They explore the social and political forces that lead to our obsession with competition. And provide a very inspiring argument for tempering that focus with the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. A must read for anyone who is into coworking.

Scientific American featured a story titled, “The Evolution of Cooperation” as the cover story in the May 2012 issue. On reading this article I was especially inspired by the potential impact coworking could have on generating a cultural shift from competition to cooperation and collaboration.

Studies of bat colonies reveal that individuals who see each other or engage with each other regularly tend to help each other out. (duh) In this case, bats who had gotten their fill of food regurgitated and shared with those who hand not had luck hunting (not that we want to take this analogy this far in our coworking spaces!) The bats who had received the assistance remembered and returned the favor at a later date. According to the old school law of the jungle the well fed bats should have let the other go hungry and eliminate their competition..

Scientific studies with computer simulators of large communities demonstrate there are cycles of competition and cooperation. We’ve been on a pretty long cycle of intense competition. My highly unscientific observations indicate that the tide is turning. Coworking is both a result of that shift and is in a perfect position to take leadership of that shift.

We are at an amazing time. If you are reading this you are on the frontier of this cultural shift. Join us in Austin this year as we take it to the next level.

Lydia Snider is a Community Builder for NextSpace Coworking + Innovation. She was an early adopter of coworking, joining NextSpace as a member almost as soon as it opened in 2008. One of the first things Lydia did when she joined the staff was repot the plants. Lydia is also a social media geek, constantly experimenting to discover ways to utilize social media tools to build community both on and offline and giving presentation on the topic.