It's Not Pie.
When I opened Juniperseed Mercantile’s first brick and mortar store, we were the only zero waste shop in town. That meant that when customers needed something like Unpaper Towels, bulk laundry powder, or Johnny Drops, they came to us.
Now, years later, there are multiple shops that sell zero waste, sustainable, and bulk products. Customers can head over to any number of places to pick up what they need.
But you might be surprised to learn that I don’t think of these other shops as competitors. Instead, I see them as collaborators.
How an Abundance Mindset Shapes My Perspective
A useful way to understand scarcity and abundance mindsets is to think of a forest ecosystem (former teacher here, I can’t help it!). One way to look at a resource like water, for example, is to imagine there is a limited supply, and that each tree is in competition with its neighbors for its share of the water. Like pie. There’s only so much, and everyone wants as much of it as possible. But in a healthy ecosystem, the trees are a critical part of the cycling of water. Through their use of water, they actually give some water off through their leaves, which is returned back to the ground as rain again. The ecosystem benefits from an abundance of trees, using and transpiring water in a cycle that affects every other part of the system beneficially as well. If there were fewer trees, there would actually be less, not more, water available.
If I was stuck in a scarcity mindset, I’d start to worry that there wouldn’t be enough business to go around. I’d feel anxious about these “competitors” taking away customers and might begin to resent them for having successful businesses of their own.
Since I’ve been able to cultivate an abundance mindset, I’m able to see these other zero-waste shops and other micro-manufacturers as collaborators, and even friends. When one of us succeeds, we all do. We are creating a culture of sustainability, and that’s a rising tide that lifts all boats. And through collaborating, we’ve been able to help one another grow.
Choosing collaboration over competition has been invaluable in my business and life. Later, I’ll be sharing five ways collaboration has helped me — and how it can help you, too.
What’s the Difference Between Collaboration and Competition?
Competition and collaboration are words we use often, but what do they really mean in this context? Let’s start off by taking a closer look.
Noun. The act or process of working together towards a common goal or vision.
Synonyms: cooperation, teamwork, alliance, partnership
To us, collaboration means working collectively toward a common goal. When we collaborate, we see other people or businesses around us as teammates rather than threats.
Noun. a contest or rivalry for a “win” – supremacy, a prize, or advantage.
Synonyms: rivalry, clash, struggle, fight, match.
Essentially, competition sets up a dichotomy of winners and losers and sets us against each other. When we compete, we see others as obstacles or opponents rather than allies.
5 Powerful Benefits of Choosing Collaboration Over Competition in Sustainable Small Businesses
Collaboration is a key value of my business — it has been from the beginning. And over the years, I’ve seen the benefits of this mindset again and again. Here are 5 ways I have benefitted from collaboration, and how you can too!
When You Collaborate, You Develop Meaningful Relationships
Working together gives you a chance to get to know others, develop common ground, and create positive memories. Think of a time you were part of a great sports team or a successful group project. Even if you don’t remember specific moments, odds are you remember how you felt as part of that group working towards a common goal.
Having these meaningful relationships matters. The more authentic relationships you have, the more likely you are to feel a sense of belonging and wellbeing. And the less likely you are to feel isolated.
During the hardest part of the COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I started a cohort of Colorado Sustainability Businesses, and we met weekly to share our trials and tribulations, and exchange feedback and ideas to help each other survive an economically uncertain time. We also made use of the extra time we all had on our hands to hire a consultant, Parker McMullen Bushman, the founder of EcoInclusive, to guide the start of our work acknowledging and dismantling white privilege within the sustainability sector. Being a part of that cohort required each of us to be very open, honest, transparent, and vulnerable. To this day, I consider the people in that cohort to be some of my closest friends as well as my most valued professional network connections.
Collaboration Gives You Access to New Resources and Skills
Better social relationships and mental wellness aren’t the only benefits of closer relationships. Having a community also means you have access to resources and skills that you wouldn’t otherwise. And, on the flip side, you can offer your skills and resources to others who need them.
Recently, Jake, who owns Two Ravens Soap, and I spent a couple of days skiing together and visiting each other’s workshops. We shared tools, techniques, suppliers, strategies, and feedback with each other on just about every topic under the sun! Each of us had specialized knowledge and experience that the other didn’t have, and that we’re happy to share with each other. Now both of us have new resources, contacts, and skills that allow us each to function more efficiently, sustainably, and profitably.
Collaboration Strengthens the Whole Community
In the scenario above, you both win. This is how communities thrive: by making use of everyone’s strengths to solve problems and grow together.
I don’t believe in a zero-sum game in life or business. A zero-sum game means that in order for you to succeed, you have to take something from someone else. Picture a pie. If you take a piece, your friend can’t eat it. And if you give it to them, you can’t eat it. This may be true about pie, but it isn’t true when it comes to community.
As the only two shops in Littleton who manufacture bath and body products on-site in a brick and mortar store, it would be easy for Jake and I to see each other as “The Competition.” But we don’t see it that way. I tell my customers all the time that I wish there were local neighborhood soap/body care/home goods shops all over town. Every customer who buys handmade products from Jake, or any other artisan maker, is making an investment in their local economy. They made an intentional, potentially less convenient, purchase in order to choose slow, quality, nourishing products, rather than buying from Amazon or a big box store. This customer now has a taste for quality products, for the sense of community that comes from shopping at a small business, and for the cascading economic and environmental benefits of finding ways to meet their needs in their own neighborhood. I want Jake’s neighbors to buy his products. Of course, I also want them to wonder about my products, and try some of them too. And vice versa. I hope that they will buy enough of both of our products to know which ones they love the best. Maybe some of those favorites are mine, and I truly hope some of them are his, because I want us to both be successful.
The tide that raises all ships is our collective success. When a zero-waste shop across town gains a customer, I don’t view it as losing a customer. I view it as one more person engaging in my community’s economy and learning about zero-waste living. If I don’t have a product a customer is looking for, I am happy to call over to The Zero Market, or JoyFill, or Off The Bottle, or Meadowsweet Wellness to see if one of them have it. I’m all about encouraging our shared customer base to explore each and every one of our shops!
As we focus on collaboration over competition, we’re able to help each other progress. And that progress will come faster and easier than if we were trying to do it all alone.
Creativity and Innovation Thrive in Collaborative Settings
One reason collaboration builds communities is because it provides a chance for everyone to bring their best thinking.
Some might argue that competition is the only thing that fuels innovation and creativity. But this isn’t the case. Human beings don’t innovate only because we want to beat someone else — we have an inherent desire to create. And when we pool our resources, we can create even more amazing things.
Have you ever been in a truly productive brainstorming session with a group? In these meetings, each person makes their best suggestions and builds on the ideas of others.
One person’s thought might trigger a key insight for someone else. And working together can help a group overcome blindspots or supply/demand gaps. A supportive, collaborative environment also makes it easier to develop solutions that are mutually beneficial. One example of this kind of creative collaboration that happened recently – I asked Brit, owner of JoyFill, “what is a product that your customers are always asking for, that you haven’t been able to find a good source for?” We compared notes on what our shared customers are interested in, and I formulated a new product that meets both of our needs.
Now, customers who are looking for a thick and rich, scoop-able hand cream with little to no scent, at the right price point, can enjoy our new SOS Healing Hand Cream, in jars and in bulk refills, at both Juniperseed Mercantile AND JoyFill. And the best part is that the customers who requested this product know that they played a part in this product’s creation as well, and that Brit and I will work together to create a solution to the next need they present to us too!
Collaboration Helps Us Work Toward Sustainability
As a sustainable business, we care deeply about the planet. And collaboration can be a crucial part of working toward sustainability.
One reason for this is that when we collaborate, we work toward a common goal together. When we recognize that we are all fellow residents of the planet and all benefit from a healthier environment, it’s easier to work together toward that goal. The other zero-waste stores and I can pool our resources and purchase supplies, ingredients and packaging cooperatively. This saves us money, and reduces our carbon footprint. We can further close our waste loops when we swap used shipping materials, exchange empty containers for refills, and find uses for each other’s scrap and excess materials. One example: over the years, we have given away approximately 1500 pounds of fabric scraps to small-scale businesses who use our trimmings to stuff toys for pets.
Taking a collaborative approach helps us create a more responsible community stewardship over resources. This helps us all make the best use of natural and human resources to make real progress in our sustainability efforts.
How You Can Choose Collaboration Over Competition In Everyday Life
These aren’t the only benefits to a collaborative mindset, but they’re some of the most important to me. They haven’t only helped me in my business, but in my personal life also. So no matter what your role or goal, collaboration can benefit you too.
Here are nine things you can do to choose collaboration over competition starting right now.
- Compete with yourself. Try to beat a personal best or achieve a new goal for yourself rather than just working to beat others.
- Celebrate the wins of others. Be genuinely happy for others when they succeed and express your happiness to them.
- Share your own wins — and your struggles. Give others a chance to build you up too. But don’t just share your best moments. Sharing your struggles gives others a chance to be authentic and lets you learn from each other.
- Address your fears or insecurities. Your mindset about competition is influenced by how you feel about yourself. Work to cultivate self-compassion and confidence and you’ll find it easier to work with and encourage others.
- Cultivate a mindset of abundance. This goes along with tip number two. Instead of a scarcity mindset, learn to feel abundance. There are infinite possibilities and opportunities available to you and to your peers and competitors.
- Focus on the big picture. When you’re too focused on one situation or outcome, you might start to feel overwhelmed or discouraged if you don’t succeed the way you hoped. Instead, look to the big picture and the long-term and remember that no failure is final unless you stop trying.
- See the collective goal. You can find common ground and a collective goal with just about anyone. Find chances to work with others on projects that benefit you both.
- Look for chances to help others. You have skills, resources, and experiences that no one else does. When you see an opportunity to use what you have to help someone else, take it whenever you can.
- Ask for help when you need it. No one is an island, so don’t be afraid to reach out to others when you need help. Giving others a chance to assist you isn’t weak. It helps strengthen both of you.
You don’t have to integrate all these ideas at once. Instead, pick one or two and try them for a while. Then notice how you feel and how you’ve progressed. Chances are that you’ll be even farther along than you thought!
Go Forth and Collaborate
Choosing collaboration over competition isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a journey of continual learning, course correction, and growth. It takes time, thought, and effort. But the benefits of cultivating a collaborative approach to life are priceless.
Do you have an example of a time when choosing collaboration over competition worked well for you in work, school, or at home? Share your story in the comments below.
Forbes – Competition at Work
Sustainability Institute – The Imperative of Collaboration