6 ways to collaborate with so-called "competitors"

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Some might think it strange, even paradoxical, that I am a consultant with such a passion for collaboration. Consulting might not be as cut throat as stock brokerage, surgery, or advertising, but as increasingly more people are working freelance most would call it competitive.

After years of cultivating clients, of trying to differentiate myself in both overcrowded and underrecognized fields (communication/design and data visualization/graphic recording, respectively), I’d like to think I’m somewhat cured of the antiquated notion of competition, and thereby freed from the scarcity mindset it is rooted in.

I’ve had so many relationships go so many directions that I now understand what’s really important: compatibility. We are not playing a “zero sum” game as we often unconsciously believe. Rather, I think it is, or at least can be, more like a playful game of “tag, you’re it.” Individual identity (including perceived status) doesn’t matter nearly so much as the connections we create with one another (which perceptions of all sorts can either facilitate or get in the way of).

Here’s how you know I’m a real collaboration junkie: I even try to go the extra mile and embrace so-called “adversaries.” It’s because I know that the people we are different from, those who challenge our assumptions, the ones who show us where our edges are, they can help us learn quite possibly more than anyone else.

I believe that when we ally with those who are our most unlikely allies, it can fuel our creativity in unimaginable ways. Here are some ways I have partnered with those whom I choose not to think of as competitors but rather more like “co-players.”

  1. Co-learning. Whether it’s taking a class to develop skills, joining a professional group, or connecting over coffee, we can learn so much just from meeting those people who share our interests and passions. By sharing our experiences and insights we deepen our understanding of the problems we wish to solve and the solutions we propose. Mentoring can offer a way to co-learn too, provided it doesn’t become trapped in a master-student dichotomy.

  2. Co-reaching. I think I prefer this term over the more common one: referring. Any good marketer or collaborator of any kind must have a wide network, and I think building one shouldn’t just be about self-interest (that doesn’t work anyway). We can be of greater service to all of those we know when we are humble enough to see connections we can make and are caring and committed enough to make them.

  3. Co-publishing. This is another way we can leverage one another’s networks. Whether we’re writing books, blogs, or social media posts, when we work with one another to craft and share a good story, it’s bound to be more meaningful and more impactful. (Speaking of which, I do a lot of guest blogging, so let me know if that might be something we could partner on.)

  4. Co-teaching. This is a way we can leverage one another’s knowledge. I love co-teaching because it always means the student gets so much more out of the session, class, or workshop. Plus, I think it’s a great way to model to others how working together is essential for creating stellar results. Speaking of which there’s also...

  5. Co-creating. Like co-learning, this is one way that we are familiar with working with one another. I’ve worked on proposals and projects with other consultants and I’ve also subcontracted with them, where one of us takes more of a lead. If you’re accustomed to working on your own, it can feel a bit experimental at first, but even when I get frustrated by the messy process I always end up knowing that it’s worth it for the outcomes as well as the learning.

  6. Co-leading. When we have a shared vision for where we’d like to go and how we’d like to get there, why shouldn’t we go together? Yet this is where the myth of competition is the most pervasive and potentially toxic: We think only one person can lead. I’ve learned otherwise. Not only can we build something new side by side but when we do it’s simply better. (By the way, the Denver Data Storytellers is always looking for more co-leaders, if you’d be interested.)

What do you think? How have you partnered with so-called competitors or adversaries, or how might you? Please leave a comment below to share with all readers!

You might want to check out these guest blogs I’ve written too: