How to Explain Coopertition?
There was a great discussion in the BattleBots thread (Is FIRST Like BattleBots?) and it brought me back to something I struggle with a lot when I’m trying to encourage people to watch and hopefully help in FIRST.
I can’t seem to concisely explain what Coopertition really is. When you’re talking to non-FIRST people, how do you explain Coopertition?
Just like my comparison with BattleBots, my explanation of Coopertition gets overly complicated and dry. You can see this in my earlier post on it: Coopertition in the Real World.
There were so many good responses in the BattleBots discussion. I’m really looking forward to hearing about all the different ways this community explains Coopertition.
Honestly, I don’t.
If someone brings it up, the response is “It’s some funny word that First trademarked and thinks makes their program less confusing.” Largely the same sentiment goes for “GP” (gracious professionalism): both get used as catch-all terms by First and participants alike, and they end up even less meaningful.
At one point I had a decent enough grasp on how First HQ was defining all of their special terminology to explain it to a layperson, but it was never worth the effort.
The non-FIRSTified dictionary definition for coopertition would be “engaging in a cooperative action that benefits both parties in a competitive environment”. Mainly because that’s the definition of the real word “coopetition”
I’m not sure where this desire to invent new language comes from within First, but it seems like a shortsighted desire to boil the program down into a few, nice, organization-specific buzzwords. As a somewhat jaded participant, it elicits eyerolls.
I think that coopertition is a huge part in the whole First community. Just going to past regionals so many opposing teams demonstrate helpful cooperation with one another. I’ve never seen anything like it and feel very lucky to be a part of such a great community. I remember once I asked a team for a specific part that they didn’t have and one of there team members decided to walk around the pits with me and help look even though they didn’t have the part. There’s really no other definition to describe First and gracious professionalism.
I’m paying attention to this thread because I have the same issue. I have these slides dedicated to it in our team/FIRST intro presentations, and I skip over them every time I go through it saying something like “Meh, none of this will make much sense until you’ve been in the program for a while”
“Coopertition” is trademarked, but “Coopetition” is not. But, functionally, have very similar meanings. It’s not a FIRST-exclusive concept, although it is very much a aspect that is important to the FRC experience and ideal team conduct.
Hand-wringing over adding an R to the word is missing the point. A lay-person or prospective mentor isn’t going to notice whether or not you pronounced the R.
TL;DR: Coopertition is good sportsmanship.
I explain it this way:
If you go to a football game and your star quarterback forgot his shoulder pads, but the team your playing against gives you a set of theirs so that you can play (even though it’s against them) at your best level.
That’s coopertition. It’s an ideal that manifests in helping others regardless of who’s side they’re on.
Coopertition: competing with other teams while simultaneously helping them to compete better, regardless of the outcome
I appreciate the sportsmanship angle, but I think something has to be said about the 3-on-3 competition format of FRC.
For me, the 3-team alliance system is what lets me sell the idea of FRC to educators who are otherwise so focused on education equity as the #1 priority that they recoil at the idea of private school teams funded by NASA and Google dominating every competition while low resource teams struggle to get their robot moving on the field.
I frame it this way: because of the 3-on-3 format, every match there’s at least one small thing you could improve about your robot to help win the next match, and the system incentivizes your alliance mates to help you do it. I think it’s genius.
To me that’s coopertition.
I always think of this scene from the Princess Bride when trying to describe coopertition:
“insist on everyone being healthy before they’re broken” is a great way of thinking about it. Let’s all help each other be at our best, then let’s play as hard as we can against each other.
The other genius aspect of the 3-on-3 that plays into coopertition is the idea that you are never wholly competing against each other, but will also be working with each other toward a common goal. Sure, you might get your clock cleaned by a powerhouse team, but then in the playoffs you might get the chance to work with them and learn from them.
There are no strict “friends” and “enemies” in FIRST. Everybody is a potential alliance partner someday.
I think this definition from the Wiki entry (edited for context) is helpful:
Individual teams cooperate with each other to reach a higher value creation, if compared to the value created without interaction, and struggle to achieve a competitive advantage.
FIRST has designed a unique competitive framework that explicitly highlights this dynamic.
Its more than good sportsmanship–its actually building up the competitive ability of your erstwhile competitor when your are allied.
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