Collaboration in companies: from Coopetition to Collaboration

Card's author : Hélène Laxenaire - SupAgro Florac
Card's type of licence : Creative Commons BY-SA
Ideas developped by the author in the field of cooperation within the book or conference :

Long live the co-revolution: for a collaborative society by Anne-Sophie Novel and Stéphane Riot

Introduction: this is not a full review of this work, but a summary of the chapter on Radical collaboration

In their book Long live co-revolution: for a collaborative society, Anne-Sophie Novel and Stéphane Riot describe collaboration between enterprises differentiating coopetition (a portmanteau word : competition+cooperation) from radical collaboration. For two years, they promoted Radical collaboration within the network Entrepreneurs of the future

The interest for enterprises to cooperate

The term competition comes from the Latin word competere which means to search together, to make efforts together ; thus, originally, there was no notion of adversity or aggressiveness as is the case today when one talks of competition between companies. The idea is not to suppress this, since it is also a vector of innovation and emulation, but rather to reduce the burden caused by an overly aggressive competition and to reduce it specifically in those cases when competition is useless or even dangerous. In this line, the authors note that the first advantage of companies cooperating is the reduction in costs linked to inter-company conflicts, something that should be an interest for all company CEOs! These costs have been estimated to amount to 50 billion Euros in France each year, according to the American researcher John W. Henke, based on projecting the situation of the American car industry.

The evolution of cooperation between companies

Adam Smith's theories on the interest of competition and those of Joseph Schumpeter on creative destruction have taken root in the economic sphere. But since the 1980s' some companies realised that networking and setting up strategic alliances brought relational advantages and allowed accessing more resources. Then, in the 1990s', faced with the increase in research and development costs, in parallel to the obsolescence of objects while the convergence of technologies allowed for scale economies, some companies decided to collaborate in developing products with a longer lifespan using components that could be reused by several companies/

Collaboration allows solving common problems

Especially goals linked to the environment and sustainable development. These goals can stem from companies sharing convictions or from legal requirements imposed from outside. Fighting against a bigger common enemy: this is how Google participated in developing the browser Firefox within the Mozilla foundation, when it is actually competing against its own browser Google Chrome; all this to destabilize Microsoft Internet Explorer, the market's giant.


The term coopetition was created by Ray Noorda, the founder of Novell, and became popular in the work by Nalebuff, B. and Branderburger, A. Co-opetition, a revolutionary way of competing and cooperating, Village Mondial, 1996. This is the alliance between cooperation and the market: we cooperate for certain things and compete for others. For the authors, cooperation between a company, its providers and its customers lead to products and services that are similar and therefore to potentially increasing the market share. In addition, this alliance can allow penetrating into new markets by joining forces. The conditions for coopetition require a study on inter-dependencies between companies, defining a concrete goal and an agreement to share the effort and the gains.

Examples of coopetition

  • In 2009, the Prufock Café in London created an “unloyalty card”. Customers had to go for a coffee at cafés from the competition and show their card to get it stamped. Once the card was full, customers could go back to the Prufock Café where they were given a free coffee. The goal was to retain customers of the Prufock Café by showing them that they served the best coffee, but also to force the managers of other cafés to guarantee the quality of their coffee, since they know they face competition. This also allowed bringing a stream of new customers. Ultimately, however, the main goal shared by all was to find a creative answer to the expansion of Starbucks cafés.
  • Fiat and PSA created a joint subsidiary that manufactured commercial vehicles of both brands, allowing scale savings by using the same components.

Radical collaboration

The term radical collaboration appeared in the United States in 2009. Three CEOs of competing companies in the field of green technologies (genGreen, 3rdWhale and Creative Citizen) decided to establish a “radical collaboration” scheme that was facilitated by the fact that they shared the same values and the same conviction on ecological emergency.
The difference between coopetition and radical collaboration is measured by evaluating the competition advantages and shared elements of “intimate” intellectual property. In radical collaboration what is shared is a highly differentiated added value (production secrecy, R&D); in coopetition the benefit is scale savings. Participants in the “unloyalty” card do not share their recipes or their knowledge on coffee.
Radical collaboration favours open innovation approaches, it is not about collaborating together to create a predefined product or service, but about developing an ecosystem to share knowledge and skills that will allow innovation to emerge. This innovation is not necessarily technological, it can also be social. And it emerges both from company collaborators and their customers.

Examples of radical cooperation

  • The field of the environment is very often convergent. For example, collaboration between the NASA and the ESA (in a context of strong competition) regarding environmental issues: managing space waste, the life cycle of satellites and the impact that launching spacecrafts has on biodiversity. This cooperation takes the shape of exchanges between specialists and a joint creation of new materials that are more environmentally friendly (to replace those that were going to be banned since they were too harmful)
  • Green X Change is a platform created by Nike, Creative Commons and Best Buy to share research. Anyone who is interested can put their innovations on this platform by choosing a licence that draws inspiration from free software and that allows other companies to benefit from the invention. This licence allows the owner of an innovation to choose who can have the rights. The idea behind this is to allow companies in different industries that do not compete against each other to share the fruits of their R&D. This platform is finding it difficult to expand outside its founding companies, but its authors see in it a huge potential driver of extending radical cooperation.

Recommendations by the authors for a Radical collaboration

  • Explain the concept, beyond the representations given in French to the terms “collaboration” and “radical”, which have a different connotation in English
  • Changing one's reflexes and one's vision on competition, open up to new opportunities.
  • The four pillars of a relationship: goodwill, reciprocity (also having goodwill with oneself), clarity and freedom to innovate (elements mentioned by the authors of the work: Juliette Tournand, La stratégie de la bienveillance, Inter Editions, 2007).
  • Being sure of the long-term; collaboration requires time to get installed and only shows an effect in the long-term
  • Creating a context that allows participants to be free and to engage spontaneously in reaching a negotiated and consensual solution together. Not distributing tasks between companies, like one would do in a collaborative process
  • Sharing skills and knowledge
  • Ensuring that contributions are complementary: linking the individual interest to the collective interest
  • Anticipating everyone's responsibilities: responsibility for the success or failure, financial setbacks, intellectual property
  • Transparency in the exchanges during the project and communication to all members
  • The simpler the process, the greater the chance of completion
Short introduction of the book's author :
  • Anne-Sophie Novel: doctor in economy, journalist specializing in sustainable development, founder of the collective blog Ecolo-Info, member of the network Entrepreneurs d'avenir.
  • Stéphane Riot: founder of Nove Terra, expert in sustainable development and accompanying the human factor in organizations, a member of a research group and prospection groups for new economies and organizations (bio-imitation, neurosciences, psychopedagogy, management…)
Literature references : NOVEL, Anne-Sophie and RIOT, Stéphane. Vive la corévolution !: pour une société collaborative. Paris, France : Alternatives, 2012. Manifestô (Paris), ISSN 2258-9325. ISBN 978-2-86227-711-0.