My day job is in Exercise Science, which people seem to equate with sports. Being involved with sports (which I’m not), it would be assumed that I am a competitive person. Honestly, I really like a good competition. I like being pushed to see just how much I can do. And then when I’m sufficiently humiliated I like to talk with competitors about how I could get better.
The key to competition for me is helping me see my potential and being able to sit down and be friends with my competitors when the competition is over.
As a farmer who goes to farmer’s markets, I often stand for hours at a time in a booth next to someone who sells the same or similar products. We are competing with them to sell produce, yet we talk about what we are doing to improve our crops and we offer to help one another. We’ve visited other farms and they gladly give thoughts and ideas.
I think this sounds counter-intuitive for many, but really we’re all on the same ‘team’. Our goal is to produce good food while treating the earth right. There is an endless market for people who want to buy good food. And since ‘good’ food isn’t available in stores, we don’t have much reason to ‘compete’. We are all looking for ways to do things better and we know that if we don’t work together, we won’t accomplish what we otherwise could.
Just as we have visited other farms and looked at different ideas, we invite whoever is interested to come visit our farm. I don’t care if you steal all my ideas and grow your own food instead of buying from me at market. The more people who grow their own stuff, the better. And I know that my mother and others like her will NEVER grow their own food… so they’ll have to buy it from somewhere.
On the other hand, I recently asked a lady who makes soap about her process and what she does. Basically I was trying to make conversation, but we’re also trying to help my 9-year-old son to sell soap (currently he sells rocks, but we’re trying to help him expand his business to a consumable product that people might come back to buy from him again). We talked a bit about cleaning the gooey mess that follows soap making and we talked a little about how long it takes a lard based soap to reach trace, but I really didn’t feel that I was taking any trade secrets. The short of it is that nothing we talked about will change the way that I make soap.
Later this lady gave me an earful about the inappropriateness of asking about trade secrets when you are looking to compete with the same product. She asked me very specifically if I would give away trade secrets to my farming to someone who was looking to grow produce and sell at the same market. I didn’t really answer her because I felt that it wouldn’t have gone over well, but I really think that I would. If other people start doing what I’m doing then I should be flattered and it is time to me to innovate and do something better.
Anyway, I end up with bad feelings even thinking of how I made that lady feel and that just wasn’t my intention. I really prefer the cooperative model better than a competitive model. Why can’t we just get along and help each other succeed. There really is enough to go around if we aren’t greedy.