Reflections on Collaboration

I decided to focus my sustainability leadership opportunity on the role of competition as a driver for sustainability. In reflecting on various formal, informal, personal and work-related competitions, one of my biggest takeaways over the last year has been a deeper understanding and appreciation of the value of collaboration within competitions. Of course, there’s the oft-cited African proverb that summarizes this idea nicely –

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Last year I was encouraged by my cohort to compete in Project Drawdown’s EcoChallenge, and I reflected on that experience in an earlier blog post. Ranking as the top team in the UK, we certainly went far together, much further than I could have gone on my own, and the experience was both fun and fulfilling.

Since that experience, I have seen many manifestations of collaboration incorporated into competition. For instance, in that same blog post, I described a hypothetical game to help address one of humanity’s greatest contemporary challenges—sustainably providing the food and fiber for a global population of 10 billion people by 2050. In that post, I challenged the value of lessons of traditional games, such as Monopoly, that teach players to own everything and bankrupt their opponents. We can to be better than that, but we need to learn how.

Not long after publishing that post I came across an expansion set of one of my favorite board games, Settlers of Catan. The expansion set was based on the popular television series Game of Thrones. A wall was added to the game and players were incentivized to collaborate or else they all potentially lose to invaders north of the wall, just as in the film series. The collaborative component was a brilliant addition to an already excellent game, but it still missed addressing the very real challenge of sustainably providing food and fiber for 10 billion by 2050.

Enter Crop Trust, a newer expansion set to Settlers of Catan that incorporates both collaboration and basic elements of sustainable agriculture. In this expansion version, players must balance their individual needs with collective goals of preserving seed, otherwise everyone loses. Crop diversity must be maintained as well, reminding one of planetary boundaries, as described by Johan Rockström et al, or else everyone loses. Unfortunately, the game falls short in teaching lessons related to changes in biogeochemical flows of Nitrogen and Phosphorus, as depicted in the popular planetary boundary info-graphic—


But shifting how we play, and more importantly, how the youth learn to play, is still a great start. Now back to the real world.

I’ve made the challenge of addressing climate change personal and I have enlisted my friends, family and community as collaborators. In reflecting on my experience over the last year, I have become more open and confident in sharing what I have learned and what I am doing about it, what we’re doing about it. It has been said that we are in Anthropocene now, apparently an epoch that includes things like “fake news.” I think it’s important to take the peer reviewed research and make it accessible, digestible, comical, fun. After all, we’re in this together and the aim is to go far.

I’ve just signed up the University of Cambridge for another year of the Project Drawdown EcoChallenge. If you’ve read this far, join us by following this link, the password is CISL.