If you can't join them, beat them: turning competition on its head
It's funny that the notion behind being successful always starts with the individual: how can I be the best at what I do? How can I thrash everyone else at their game? And once you've had a good go at that - once you've done everything you can in your power to get to the top on your own - only then should you join them. Only then should you work with others and collaborate. But if everyone truly lived by this rule we would be left working with only two types of people: the first with a huge chip on their shoulder, still trying to force their way to the top, and secondly those unambitious people who gave up too early and think oh well, I tried but now I'll have to work with_________(Fill in uninspiring group or company here) for the rest of my life.
But what if we turned competition on its head? What if we tried to collaborate first? What if we tried to work with people who inspire us and complement our skills before we've even attempted to be an individual success?
That may seem like somewhat of a contradiction coming from someone who works for herself. Why didn't I set up business with anyone else? Why didn't I stick out my previous job for the rest of my life? There comes a point in your career when you have to take control and just try stuff out; experiment and make mistakes without it being on anyone else's head. There comes a point when you need to be on your own to find out what you're really about, and thankfully that's paying off. But that doesn't mean that my ethos is all about myself or only about what I can achieve. Now I work for myself I try to collaborate much more readily - I want to both encourage other creatives and make time to connect with those that inspire me.
But trying to collaborate with others does not come without its challenges. Sometimes when you seek to join people (and by that I simply mean to connect and try to find ways of working alongside one another), you can be misunderstood. Although I make connections in order to sell my services, ultimately I want to work with people who share similar vision and who want to produce really, really good work. But I'm no fool in thinking that everyone wants to collaborate in the same way, or indeed that I'm always the right person to collaborate with. Still, it can be a challenge to approach other businesses in a way that shows interest without making ourselves too vulnerable in our quest for better work and ideas. And it leads to the question, if we are to seek to collaborate, how can we express a desire to do so without being misunderstood? How can we express an enthusiasm to work with others without compromising on our own vision? Can we do so and still be the best in our field?
Since working for myself I've had lots of great opportunities to work with inspiring people. I have a network of 'clients' (human beings) who I can keep a good relationship with. With each job, they ask me to take on board their vision for their project and bring my own ideas and solutions to the table. And every time I feel like I am joining something - I am working alongside people and listening to what they want. It is a collaborative process. It's not about me trying to force my ideas on someone, and it's also not about being forced into producing work that doesn't fit my ethos or passions. Collaboration is king, for me at least.
Does that mean I'm not competitive? Of course not. I want to kick ass at what I do. I strive to be better - the best, even. Doesn't anyone? But aside from joining people to collaborate with, having competitors can also be a great way to drive your work forward. There's a difference between communities of people within the same industry, and those who actively seek challenges spurred on from competitive, like-minded people. In a sense the banter is collaborative: you're actually aiding each other's progression by egging one another on to do better, but ultimately you want to be best. This can only come when you've fully understood your competition – when you've joined their side for a moment to figure out how to do so. That's not about being devious or insincere, it's about genuine recognition that people are bloody good at what they do and that you can learn from them in order to be even better, in the same way that they can learn from you.
Who do you want to collaborate with and who do you want to beat? It's worth thinking about that and whether there's even a difference between the two. People misinterpret being competitive as being ruthless; leaving others by the wayside on the quest to get to the top. No, that's just being an arse. Being competitive simply means making the best your priority. Sometimes the best includes other people. Being the best doesn't mean being underhand or ruining any chance of ever working alongside your competitors (or more fool you). And sure, it's a nice feeling when someone chooses you over another competitor, but rest assured, there will be times when the opposite is true - that's life. How you handle apparent failure will either drive people to you or repel them. Do you slag off your competition? Do refuse to interact with them? Is your only interest to 'beat' them? Or could it be that your competitors may even be your best collaborators?