How does your business function? Operating from a belief that the pie is big enough for everyone to share, do you seek partnership and collaboration with others in your field? Or does the presence of competition feed your desire to offer a better product or service? In essence, do you embrace collaboration or competition? For most, the answer to some degree is both. There are times, when motivated by a shared interest or just the desire to be helpful, we collaborate. And, at other times, the presence of competition drives us to perform even better.
Traces of these competing voices can be found in our tradition as well. It may be a stretch to say that the rabbis encouraged collaboration, but they certainly demonstrate a commitment to preventing businesses from cannibalizing one another. According to the idea of hasagat gvul (“invading a boundary”), the rabbis teach that businesses may not encroach on one another’s space. With the hope of giving businesses necessary room to thrive, according to hasagat gvul, one cannot open a gadget store down the block from another gadget store.
Aside from this form of protectionism, rabbis also warn individuals from yored ltoch umanut haveiro (“going into your fellow’s business”). The Hebrew is telling of the rabbis’ thinking. Yored literally means “descending”; by going into your fellow’s profession, and thereby taking business away from her or him, you are bringing yourself down - a not so subtle condemnation of character.
On the other hand, many other sources affirm the value of competition. Our tradition affirms that it is in fact the yetzer hara (“evil inclination”) that motivates human achievement. A desire to get ahead fuels an individual's ambition, but simultaneously helps advance society. The Talmud affirms that competition often facilitates a better result. The sages teach that the advancement of knowledge is, at least in part, a result of kinat sofrim ("the jealousy of scholars"). Of course, Kinat sofrim has application beyond Jewish studies. In any field, the successes of an other, is a very strong motivating force.
The presence of both more collaborative and competitive voices in our tradition reminds us that finding the right balance is critical. May each of us find an appropriate balance, allowing us to simultaneously grow both our pockets and our hearts.