England recently won their first Cricket World Cup. It was a great day (for those of us supporting them). But I also felt genuinely gutted for New Zealand, who lost in the amazing final. They didn’t deserve to lose. No one did. It was a fantastic competition from start to finish.
I felt kind of strange afterwards. I was happy, but my empathy for the New Zealand players muted my celebrations. The game was decided on a pretty arbitrary statistic (the number of boundaries scored), after what was for all intents and purposes, a draw. It got me thinking about competition and competitiveness.
Where does the drive to compete and win come from? Do we all have that drive? And what makes some wins feel better than others? Especially in the context of what we can see in the world right now.
Things feel claustrophobically competitive at the moment. With ever growing division, and the drive to be seen as right, better, and the winner. And perhaps most importantly, proving that ‘the other side’ is wrong, bad, and the loser.
This brings out the most destructive and unhealthy expression of competitiveness. Partly driven by an inability to do conflict properly. We constantly show how immature we are when it comes to handling our differences.
1. Competition Can Be Bad For Our Health
Both physically and mentally. Destructive competitiveness forces us to sacrifice our own values. We lose our peace-of-mind and sense of individual identity.
Humans want to collaborate, create, and work together. But competition can tear us away from this natural desire.
2. Competition Can Promote Shoddy Results
There is an age old myth that “competition is the road to innovation”. Researchers and business experts keep unravelling the truth of this claim.
It’s a simplistic view of what actually drives innovation. And also of what drives people to innovate.
“I want to do that” is not the same as “I want to beat them.”
Clusters form in communities of people with a common focus. In many situations competition actually hinders innovation. Whereas collaboration and community fosters a culture of experimentation and discovery. Competition encourages secrecy. It puts demands on workers to ‘get there’ faster and more efficiently. Doing it first becomes more important than making the best thing possible.
In many cases it actually slows down genuine creativity and innovation. Because competition requires you to reinvent the wheel. Rather than moving within the larger community, you have to discover things for yourself from within an environment of scarcity and fear.
If we look at some of the biggest innovations and innovative periods of history we see that it is not competition that drives it. It’s open source sharing, and people who care more about the thing at hand, than about winning some imagined race to get there first.
3. Competition Can Lead Perceptions That ‘Trump’ Reality
Success is in the eye of the beholder. We might look at the image another person puts out around what they’re doing, and think ‘they’re successful’. When we see these things we feel envy or jealousy, which are unhelpful triggers of competitiveness. They draw us into the comparison trap, which leaves us resenting their success because it feels like our failure.
Even though it has nothing to do with us. We should practice challenging that envy, and choose to be happy for other people at times like that. Celebrate with them. I don’t know about you but I’ve found in my own experience, when I do that, the world feels like a much brighter and more giving (and forgiving) place.
Competition isn’t innately bad. It’s not something we should avoid at all costs as introverts and highly sensitive people. It can add great value to our lives in many contexts.
But we must also recognise the destructive power it can have when we blindly accept a paradigm of unhealthy competitiveness. When we simplistically split the world into winners and losers, us and them, black and white, good and bad etc, it can become ugly and childish. Reality ISN’T split like that. But if we believe it is and we follow it to its natural conclusion, we all end up losing.
I don’t know about you, but I believe in a better world than that. Even if sometimes it feels difficult to see.
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On Competition and Creating Win-Win Situations
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