Developing Your Cooperation Potential: Lessons from the ISS
Cooperation is a performance leverage whose potential has long been underestimated or misused (we are partners!). To grow, companies have tended to rely on their own organic resources or have chosen to make acquisitions.
However, the economic, technological and societal challenges are such that “going it alone” has become, if not a stupidity or a dead end, then at least too slow and too expensive. To face our challenges, we must learn to cooperate. For anthropologists, this is THE skill that allowed homo sapiens to succeed. We, their descendants, have this potential and this desire within us. Today, we have to learn how to bring it back to life and develop it on a scale as ambitious as the one that allowed our ancestors to survive the cold, hunger and wild animals.
The emblematic example of successful cooperation is the ISS.
The idea of the International Space Station was born under Reagan. Faced with the magnitude of the task, the USA took on board Canada, Japan and then Europe. And when the destruction of the Challenger in mid-flight deprived them of a launcher for many years, the Clinton administration opened up to the Russians. They had a reliable launcher capable of carrying large loads and a lot of stakes in space. This is how the ISS was born and has ensured a continuous manned presence in space for 22 years. However, the obstacles to cooperation were legion: strategy, language, culture, technology, politics, economics, intellectual property, etc. Even the war between Russia and Ukraine did not stop this cooperation. What will probably put an end to the ISS is the projection towards a lunar station and its structural wear.
What are the consubstantial conditions of success of the ISS that can enlighten our terrestrial cooperation?
- The pivotal point of a cooperation is the convergence of the objectives of each actor towards a higher, even more ambitious objective. It federates and boosts the objectives of each actor. This is the image of the stepladder. By climbing the first step on their own, the two actors can only reach a limited objective that is very far from the other’s. By climbing to the top of the stepladder, both actors will reach a much more ambitious and common goal: learning to live sustainably in the space. The objectives “underneath” are specific for each one: preparing a mission to Mars, managing satellites, testing materials.
- The certainty that one needs the other. Cooperating generates rather pleasant interactions but this pleasure is not an end in itself. We cooperate because we have to in order to be more efficient. Each partner has unique financial resources and know-how that are essential to the success of the project. The Russians brought what they had developed for the Mir station and in particular the refuelling technologies. The Europeans brought their technology and their ideas for scientific experiments.
- The price to pay is lower than the gain. Any cooperation will generate efforts, renunciations, painful arbitrations. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the final benefit is greater than the price to be paid. The greater the gain, the more acceptable the cost of cooperation. And the more cooperation becomes a habit, the lower the cost. We will discuss this in another article.
These three laws are essential to lay the foundation for your cooperation project, but they are not sufficient. They must be anchored in a culture in action, A World of Cooperation. We will detail this World in future articles, but here I will focus on two key components, two Worlds of reference:
– The Inspirational World: to “find” the ambitious goal that can be shared, we must think outside the existing framework, we must see higher, further, differently.
– The Merchant World: cooperation is about winning. It is pragmatic, opportunistic to take advantage of contexts. It is not bureaucratic, it is not a system to be operated.
These 3 Laws + 2 Worlds should help you to question your desires or your ideas of cooperation, and to lay the foundations of your World of Cooperation.
In future articles, we will give you other keys and other examples of successful cooperation.