How can we collaborate with competitors?

One fascinating session I had the privilege to attend dealt with “The challenge of collaborating with competitors”. The economist Milton Friedman argues that “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud” (Friedman, 1962). Unfortunately, many companies have agreed with this view for a very long time. This prevailing dogma makes it tricky for any organisations that are hoping to work together, especially on projects related to sustainability. The session I attended was a workshop that gathered together representatives from a variety of companies and got them talking about the challenges and opportunities regarding collaboration.

It isn’t easy for companies to work with their competitors, with profit being a major driver of business anything that could be seen to offer an advantage to the competition is viewed very negatively. There can also be problems with regulations, if competitors work together and gain a financial benefit from it then they could be accused of colluding. Hearing from organisations trying to work their way past these issues was very interesting, they set out the ways in which they would be happy to work together and those in which they wouldn’t. Collaboration is important in many industries, take information security for example. The idea of sharing information about new threats and vulnerabilities with other organisations is one that has been happening for a long time. It is recognised that everyone is better off from this practice, all organisations are trying to protect their data and that of their customers, sharing information helps reduce risk and provides a positive bonus to all.

This same idea can be applied to sustainability practices, the notion that “a rising tide lifts all boats” was mentioned in the meeting and serves to provide a great analogy of what collaboration can achieve. If large corporations begin to work together more they can have a wide-ranging and lasting impact on the planet. There were several enlightening examples provided at the meeting of how collaboration is helping to change the world. One compelling story explained how a group of around 75 mayors of cities in the states were coming together to help fight the Trump climate agenda. These people may not seem like traditional competitors but they were all competitors in the sense that they would fight each other for higher elected posts nationwide.

Humans are unfortunately myopic, deep down we all believe that we will live forever, that despite what we hear about problems facing the environment everything will work out somehow. This is not going to happen unless we all work together, we have finite resources on our planet and need to move towards a more sustainable method of living. It was great to see organisations talking about working together, we can only hope this translates to real life collaboration projects.

Edward Meadowcroft


Friedman, M. (1962). Capitalism and freedom. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago


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