Civility lessons from the Top 100

The atmosphere of competition and cooperation that prevades the ranks of government contractors serve as a lesson for all of us.

We can learn a good deal about respect and civility from our annual Top 100 listing of the largest federal contractors.

That thought came to me midway through the seventh inning last Sunday as I stood with 43,000 other baseball fans amid the sun-scorched stands at Washington Nationals Park midway into the seventh inning.

My ah-ha moment came when I realized that if there had been no seventh inning stretch until then, our current climate of national incivility and negativism would never give birth to such a unique and unifying custom. (There’s nothing like it in any other major sport.)

According to legend (and that’s what it really is, a legend like so much about the origins of the national pastime and its quirky customs) when President William Howard Taft rose from his seat in the seventh inning to stretch a bit during a Washington Senators’ game in 1910, the crowd rose also – out of respect for the man and the office he held. Something akin I imagine to the antiquated near universal custom of men tipping their hat when encountering a woman.

Would a crowd at Nationals Park today or any Major League stadium rise respectfully for any contemporary president, Republican or Democrat? You have a better chance of witnessing a perfect game or catching a home run ball.

Respect for the office of the presidency and general civility among contemporary society is all but dead and that applies also to our lawmakers a few short blocks away on the Hill.

From the “You lie” shout in Congress during a State of the Union address to a reporter’s crass interruptions during President Barack Obama’s recent Rose Garden immigration policy announcement, we are a nation torn apart by crude incivility and, worse, by an abject refusal to entertain the views of the other side. (Recall the politician who recently said he believed compromise was the other side coming around to his way of thinking.)

If there’s one place where civility and respect is commonplace, indeed the norm, I see it in our technology community and especially among the Top 100.

Interviewing CEOs and other top executives for the issue, I always ask about their competitors and almost always they answer candidly, citing two or three companies. In the very next breath, they’ll say, “Of course we also partner with them on contacts – either as a prime or as a subcontractor.”

You can hear the tone of respect too in each executive’s answer. And when they meet they will greet each other cordially, chat amicably and even dine together at the various tech functions throughout the year.

It’s something exemplified by the strange-sounding word “coopetition,” that melding of the words competition and cooperation.

It’s too bad that coopetition won’t become the word of the day anytime soon. In today’s confrontational atmospherics, that’s a stretch that would last all nine innings.