- Guest Post by V Frank Asaro
When my son, Dean, was in high school thirty years or so ago he shared an assignment with me that involved a very thought provoking concept. It related to the question of how people can compete for something, yet at the same time help each other– seemingly against self-interest. But sometimes one will gain the thing they competed for – and reach success – often to the exclusion of the other. For example, students often cooperatively study together for the final exam, yet compete against one another to be the best on the bell curve.
That set me to thinking about whether there is something – a paradigm fundamental to nature – that enables such melding of cooperation and competition to happen. Perhaps, for example, this paradigm could lead to avoidance of polarization in politics? I thought.
I read and studied and finally came to the conclusion that this fusion of cooperation and competition is in nature itself, and is even a fundamental law of the universe. It is in music, chemistry, economics, political science, business, snowflakes, everything!
I hired a handful of university graduate students, independently from one another, and gave them assignments to research various fields of thought – such as philosophy, physics, etc. – to find either support for, or invalidation of, my theory. After a summer of research and course correction meetings, to a person they came back and enthusiastically said, “Validated. “
So during the decade of the 1980’s I wrote up a monstrous treatise on my coined word: co-opetition. I did this in scraps, usually in the middle of the night, primarily to get into a zone away from the crowding thoughts of whatever trial I was in at the time. This was how I eventually could get back to sleep. The finished manuscript I titled Synthesis Between Order and Chaos, and I sent it around to publishers and circulated it among many others. Generally, they were intrigued, but in those days they wouldn’t invest in my book unless I went on a speaking tour and commercialized the idea. I was no Carl Sagan, nor did I have the time from my busy law practice to become so engaged.
The word co-opetition, obviously a contraction of “cooperation” and “competition,” has since been used by others– usually in the field of business theory, but I frankly don’t know where they got it, or whether someone also independently came up with it. It all has the same meaning, however: a synthesis of the behaviors of cooperating and competing.
But in my view, I expanded the co-opetition idea to apply universally. Order, I likened to cooperation. Chaos, I likened to competition. My conclusion: to achieve the highest level of success in any system, a melding of cooperation and competition – in varying proportions – is necessary. If we recognize that both behaviors to some extent are necessary to any equation for success, we are better able to achieve that success, or to resolve whatever problem may be under consideration.
A very brief example from my books, among many is that: Capitalism has built into it a healthy element of cooperation, i.e. ethics, fair dealing, trust. Such is necessary in order for the competition of free enterprise to work with optimum effectiveness. That was part of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
In 1989, I sent an outline of the manuscript to best-selling author Spencer Johnson M.D. (Who Moved My Cheese, One Minute Manager), who six months later, called from Hawaii and wrote me a letter, dated February, 9 1990, telling me that I must write and publish the book. Thus, I wrote Universal Co-opetition. Later, I figured that the best way to get the concepts across was to novelize the theory – a la the genre of Huxley, Orwell, Rand, and Burdick et al. So I put a story together, calling on what I know – the law and the courts and maritime issues. The Tortoise Shell Code came to life – a saga of high seas crime, ship sinking, romance, courtroom drama, fisticuffs, prison break outs, revolution, sea-going gun battles, all with the spice of co-opetition theory interwoven though the plot.
And that is the inspiration.