After writing our paper on collaboration there were several things we wanted to explore that just wouldn’t fit into the original work. We are interested in when it’s unhelpful to collaborate, examples of when collaboration has failed, and how collaboration differs from similar terms such as co-operation and co-ordination.
So on the question of cooperation vs. collaboration I decided to phone a friend, well Skype chat some friends, and get their gut response to the question:
What do you think is the difference between cooperation and collaboration?
Now please remember that each person had no time to consider their response. It’s right off the top of their heads. Despite that caveat I think we got some excellent insights.
Here are the responses.
Cooperation = working together so both of our needs get served. Collaboration = working together to create something/a higher outcome together.
Initial gut reaction is that cooperation is more shallow / surface level than collaboration which is a bit deeper – more about a shared meaning and purpose with smarts, more strategic / tactical rather than (co)operational. Other gut reaction is that it involves using technology – synonymous between web 2.0 and collaborative technology. never hear of cooperative technology. Sort of like the difference between wiki/blog shared conversation (KM) and supply chain logistics and e-commerce (IM). Fuzzy boundary though.
I think the only thing that I would add on reflection that collaboration implies that there a a “product” of some type at the end (and not an abstract one)
However as I said (and as is implied in the paper on a skim read) I think there is far too much emphasis placed on the individual and individual behaviours when people talk about this, and not enough about relationships and interactions per se. Social Atomism v Communitarianism, its one of the basic divides
Amino acids cooperate to break down meat in my stomach.
I cooperate with a bunch of people in del.icio.us to create a massive pile of tagged information.
But I would collaborate with you on tagging specific documents for a book project.
Wilfulness and focus are key factors
Cooperation costs $125 an hour. Collaboration costs $350 an hour.
Some loudthinking. My daughter and I try to cooperate with each other about leaving the bathroom clean. I need her cooperation in certain respects and she needs mine. We are about to collaborate on arranging the financing for her university arrangements. Collaborator of course has undercurrents in other languages (French for example) of helping the existing regime in a morally corrupt or sleazy way. Cooperative has a good twang in the UK because of the cooperative movement which resulted in co-owned supermarkets, funeral parlours etc with some sense of community and collective investment and return. The cooperative society – http://www.co-operative.coop/ It went through the doldrums and then has resurfaced and took some good moral ground in banking terms a few years back. As I write it feels to me more emergent. Individual morals, ethics and practices collect to create cooperation but it always stays individual somehow. Collaboration must, perforce, be a collective construct throughout. Or in the case of the wartime collaboration, the authorities, or those in power, created conditions in which individuals collaborated. I’m going round in circles here but I’ll write both words up and think about them. I suspect the only way is not to theorise but to think of actual circumstances in which one uses the word, both in public and in private life, and then see what the emergent definitions are. We could start a little trial space for the collection somewhere? I’ve a feeling I’d only use collaborate in a work context whereas I’d use cooperate much more in a private context. This is likely to mean cooperate has more meaning for me as a real word.
This is tough. I think we cooperate when we agree not to work at cross-purposes, and have an intention to help each other as need arises. Collaboration, to me, is always in view of a result — something we both want to create.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: