Collaboration or Cooperation?

I’ve written about a possible system’s leverage point: Our collaboration. Ever since i wrote that post, i’ve caught myself mixing up collaboration and cooperation. I sense that there is a difference and i am not sure what it might be, so let’s explore!

Although the definitions list cooperate and collaborate as synonyms, they are slightly different.

Cooperate is

1 : to act or work with another or others : act together or in compliance
2 : to associate with another or others for mutual benefit

And collaborate means

1 : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor
2 : to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force
3 : to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected

I found another website that tried to tease out the difference:

  • “When collaborating, people work together (co-labor) on a single shared goal.”
  • “When cooperating, people perform together (co-operate) while working on selfish yet common goals.”

Often the goal of collaboration is defined by others, making collaboration ideal within hierarchical structures.

Collaboration is very important to keep systems working because the cooperation happens along pre-defined lines, the rules are put in place, there’s no room for improvisation.

Based on this, it seems that we want to replace collaboration with cooperation: Rather than being a peg in the system, the system and we are interdependent and self-organized around short-term goals, like a loud drum circle, rather than long-term one, like performing a symphony. The cooperative groups can self-organize as needed and dissolve once the goal is achieved, rather than become institutionalized.

All of this is also supported by the etymology of the two words, with some historical context thrown in. Both cooperation and collaboration come from Latin expression that mean “to work with,” with cooperate having the “work together with” flavor (maybe similar to “talking to” and “talking with,” the first more a monologue and the second a dialogue). In the 1940s, collaboration basically became “tratorious cooperation with an occupying enemy.”

So to put the meaning as it is most common now more succinctly:

  • We are collaborating with the system.
  • We are cooperating with each other!

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Collaboration or Cooperation? — 3 Comments

  1. …. on the other hand, i grew up with ‘cooperation’ holding a completely positive connotation…..getting along and accomplishing things …..yet, over time i noticed it was increasingly abused , to hold many negative energies now…..e.g. authority figures ‘requesting’ COOPERATION from subordintes when the real meaning we all knew in the message became: YIELD TO AUTHORITY and DON’T MAKE WAVES……

    clearly we here want the positive meanings in both words, and work for minimizing the negative ones for the sake of peace and prosperity

    • I think that’s actually collaboration. The two words are often confused, after all…

      To me collaboration is what happens when we take a job in the corporate world. Cooperation is required when we work tribally or, well, in a co-op…

  2. i’m confused, but it does sound like your conclusion is to favor cooperation……though i’m not understanding why…

    one point definitely woke me up here: i had totally forgotten that in past ‘collaboration’ seemed indeed to be reserved for the second definition quoted: cooperation with ENEMY FORCES or CONQUERERS !

    that is SUCH a powerfully negative connotation that i believe it has dominated the use of ‘collaboration’. i have only recently heard it used positively in mostly one specific community of healers.

    on the other hand

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