Winning is deeply engrained in western culture. We love winners and immortalise those who succeed at the highest level. People proudly pronounce they’re a “winner” because to be a “loser” is to admit weakness and invite shame. Competition is built into all that we do. We fight to be heard, we compete for resources and we struggle to get to the top. We want leaders who can beat off the competition and make sure we come first – or do we?
Someone once said to me – “you are not competitive, are you?” I frowned and before I could answer, they said “No, I think you are competitive, but you don’t mind if you lose”. That fitted much better with my self-perception. It also led me to the idea of healthy and unhealthy competition.
Human beings have been competing for a very long time, so there must be a good reason for wanting to win. Ultimately, I think it is about survival. Survival becomes important in a world where there is scarcity or danger. If losing means annihilation, then competing to win becomes a good strategy. The underlying motive (however deeply buried) is fear.
Acting out of fear comes at a price. It drives us to win at all costs, diverts our energy onto outwitting our rivals and by definition creates losers. We may have won and ensured our survival (for now), but what damage have we caused on our way to victory? This “unhealthy competition” is probably being practiced by many businesses today as they fight for market share and survival.
I think there is another way though, and want to share some ideas with you. Let me start with the idea of consciousness. Most of us will act collaboratively with those in our family and local community. We are aware of their needs and they are conscious of ours. We achieve more by working together than we do by acting alone. What if this awareness was extended to the rest of the human race? If there was a genuine sense of connection then the idea of fighting each other for resources or power would make no sense. The drive to win (for survival) would be pointless – it would be like having a competition between your feet, when you are out for a walk, to see which one is the best. In reality you need them both to work together to get the best results.
Next, I looked at the concept of scarcity. If I think about the world’s resources we have a choice. We can either fight each other to get our share, or work together to see how we can use what we have more constructively. I suspect there is more than enough for us all to live comfortably – we just haven’t worked out how to do it yet. I also bet we could do get there a lot faster if we tapped into our collective creativity.
This is where the concept of “healthy competition” comes in. Competition undoubtedly sparks innovation and creativity. I love the idea of pitting my wits against my peer group to see who can solve a problem first. What is different to unhealthy competition is the motivation behind wanting to win. Fear of annihilation is replaced by the pleasure of creation. Gone is the desire to grind my opponent into the dirt. In its place is the exhilaration of the challenge and the opportunity to test myself and grow.
So to answer my question; do we want leaders who can beat off the competition and make sure we come first? My answer would be – maybe. I wouldn’t want to follow someone who was driven by fear, but I would be delighted to follow someone who promotes healthy competition and who is conscious enough to recognise the benefits of collaboration.
Who would you prefer to follow?