The Day From Hell: Why Does Anyone Care?
I oversleep. The alarm did not go off and it feels late. I glance at my watch and sure enough, I’m late. I grab my iPhone to see whether I forgot to set it. Nothing works. I cannot even turn it on or reboot it. I’ll have to deal with it later. I will be late for my tennis match or have to skip breakfast. I decide to compromise and just grab a protein shake out of the fridge. Something’s wrong. It’s not cold. In fact, the refrigerator is not cold at all. Nor did the light go on when I opened the door. I try the kitchen lights. Nothing. Power is off throughout the house. I’m sure the bill was paid on time. I’ll deal after tennis.
I arrive at the court for my doubles match. The other three are already there. John says, “You’re late. We’ve decided we’re playing you.”
“What? Very funny. Yeah, I’m good but not that good.”
“No, it’s not a joke. We’re tired of losing. The three of us will stand you.” John’s face is deadpan. I look at the others and there is no sign of japery anywhere.
“Well…that makes no sense whatever. Sorry I’m late. My phone alarm isn’t working. In fact, my phone isn’t working at all. But I’m sure this isn’t April First. How about if Tom and I take you two on?”
“No. We’ve decided we’ll take you on.”
I think that sounds crazy but whatever. I’ll call their bluff. At least I’ll get a lot of exercise! “Fine,” I say, “let’s just warm up for a few minutes.”
“No. No warm-up. We’re already warmed up,” explains Tom.
“OK, fine. Just go ahead and serve.”
“No, you have first serve,” says Larry.
I quickly unsheathe my racquet and walk to the baseline, one ball in each pocket and one in my left hand. I position myself near the middle. It looks really weird to look across the net and see all three of them positioned there. “First in?” I query.
“No,” they sing out in unison. “Serve it in.”
“What is this joke, guys?”
“No joke. Just serve.”
“Fine.” I think to myself, I will play along till the joke gets old. Since I’m not warmed up, I just hit an easy serve into the middle of the box to start the point.
“OUT!” shouts Tom, who generally makes fair calls.
“WHAT?! That was in the middle of the box! It wasn’t even close to the line! Enough’s enough.”
“Our call,” says Larry.
“Yeah, it’s your call, but come on. You all know that was well in.”
Our debate, if you can call it that, is interrupted by screaming tires and a loud crash coming from the nearby street. “What the hell was that?”
No-one reacts or answers my question. Larry says, “Second serve.”
I shake my head. “Guys. We should go up there and see if anyone needs to call 911. I mean, it would have to be one of you. My phone doesn’t work.”
Don, still with a bland, blank look on his face says, “None of the phones work. That was just a car crash. Probably intentional. Let’s just play.”
I know I am not dreaming. But what is going on? “You seriously think someone crashed their car on purpose? What is with you guys this morning?”
“Yeah,” says Larry. “It’s been going on all morning. Let’s just play. Second serve. Wait. Tom! Come over here. I want to play deuce court.”
“No way,” says Tom. “I’m already here.”
Larry wields his racquet above his head and charges at Tom. In seconds, they are both bleeding profusely and keep swinging at each other. Don joins in the fray. They are completely oblivious to my shouts so I pick up my stuff and head for the clubhouse to call for help. Maybe someone put some kind of drug in the water? Just then, another screech of breaks, squeal of tires and a loud crash. Another car crash?
By now, I am jogging through the parking lot toward the front desk at the tennis club. Something is terribly wrong. It all looks wrong. Then, I notice that virtually none of the cars are parked inside the white lines meant to indicate parking spaces. Some appear to have been left in the drive. Several are on the grass and one is in the flower bed near the gym. Many of the cars have smashed windshields.
Collaboration? Cooperation? Teamwork? Who cares?
I am very grateful for readers and commenters on my blog. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been cataloging “best practices” in collaboration and teamwork in the form of Patterns. I think it may be time to “take stock” and make it clear why I am doing this, in case it isn’t obvious.
I don’t “own” these Patterns. I don’t get any money from people using them. Why should I care whether people do a good job or a horrible job at collaborating? And, isn’t life all about competition anyway?
There was a time, not so long ago, that I really didn’t think it would be necessary to “explain” why it was important to cooperate. There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought most people knew that life was not all about competition. But lately, so-called “civil society” has been so rife with uncivil words and actions, at least in the “United” States, that I think it’s time to re-iterate why cooperation is vital. I also want to point out that, while there is certainly competition in life, there is also cooperation.
Why all of life is not competition.
In the natural life of animals and plants, there are, for some species, some specific times and places for competition. That is true. And, some of those competitions can be pretty fierce; e.g., antler-smashing bucks competing for mates. And, you could say that the rabbit eats a plant and that the coyote eats the rabbit. But there are far more ways that plants and animals cooperate.
First, plants and animals participate in the recycling of material. Generally, plants gain energy from sunlight, and put some of that energy into compounds that are high energy and fit for consumption by some animals. In the process, plants also take carbon dioxide out of the air and replace it with oxygen. Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Animals eliminate “wastes” from their food and that “waste” replenishes nitrogen and minerals into the soil. Plants use the nitrogen and minerals. And, when animals and plants die, their bodies further enrich the soil for plants.
Cooperation within the great tree of life doesn’t stop there, however. Flowering plants often cooperate with each other and with bees to flower so that there is a more or less a constant supply of pollen. Sucker fish take parasites off large fish. Butterflies collaborate with flowering plants. Rabbits collaborate with berry bushes. When there is danger, many animals and birds cry in such a way as to warn others.
Let’s move on to consider what cooperation means for human beings. A single human being, however smart, will die soon after birth without the aid of more adult human beings. Apart from providing physical needs for the infant such as food and water, older humans immediately begin teaching the infant and then the child much of what he or she needs to know in order to survive. People have typically hunted, gathered, and prepared food in cooperative groups. People build shelters together. Cooperation among human beings has become more wide-spread and more complex over time. Most of the people in the so-called civilized world now rely on complex supply chains for food, water, clothing, electricity, security and learning. Dancing, playing music, playing sports, business, government — all of these activities depend on cooperation.
Cooperation and competition in sports.
Right now, the French Open tennis tournament is going on in Paris. The competitive spirit of the players is amazing! In some of the matches, shot after shot looks like a sure winner – only to be returned with another difficult-to-return shot. The players push themselves mentally and physically to the very limit and sometimes beyond. They are indeed fierce competitors.
But guess what? They follow the rules. And they show sportsmanship. No-one arranges to secretly injure another player or sabotage their racquet. The players cooperate to compete. After many of the most savage hard fought contests, the contestants often fall in each other’s arms.
In life, there is both competition and cooperation. In a world of 7 billion people, cooperation is more important than ever. In a world that relies on international supply chains and agreements and laws, cooperation is more important than ever before. In a world with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, cooperation trumps competition. The natural world has never been a zero-sum game; it has never been a fixed pie. Look around! Life has covered the planet largely through cooperation. To solve problems such as global climate change and the plastification of our oceans, we need widespread and effective cooperation more than ever. Of course, there is a role for competition as well. But competition is only fruitful within the bounds of cooperative frameworks. If we try to run this world under a non-cooperative and purely competitive framework, we will guarantee our own extinction. I had thought that was obvious to everyone, but apparently it isn’t.
That’s why I’m trying to catalog best practices in collaboration and teamwork.
Examples of cooperation:
Putnam, Robert D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-0304-6.
Author Page on Amazon.