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