By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.
I got to thinking about competition after watching two different TV series on Netflix. One was about a bunch of women working in a real estate office selling pricey homes in the Hollywood Hills in LA. The second was about a group of video TV stringers selling their spontaneously filmed videos about overnight news (mostly crime, fires or accidents) also in the LA area.
In each case the participants operated in a fiercely competitive market place. It was very interesting how they related to each other. After all, each of them was involved in a competitive situation – where someone typically “won” while someone else “lost.”
Almost every one of these people recognized that the nature of their work created competitive situations. What I thought was interesting was how each of them internalized the nature of their work.
Some of them were so fiercely competitive that they worked in an immoral or unethical way. They attempted to use any trick they could to “win,” sometimes using fraudulent techniques to create an unfair advantage over their competition.
Others simply accepted the competition but in a more genteel way. They understood that sometimes they would win and other time they would lose. Their methodology was to compete in a fair and “honest” way. They did not attempt to undermine their competitor’s ability to compete. However in each case the objective is to win. So the one using unfair techniques will simply say: “I didn’t do anything wrong – I was just competing.”
If you broaden your perspective about this you see an environment where competition is present in almost everything you do. For example, if you are an auto racer (let’s talk about Formula 1 – also known as Grand Prix racing).
These lunatics race around a closed course – where on straightaways they can reach speeds of 220 mph. If you want to pass the car in front of you most of the time the only way to do it is to try and brake later and deeper into a corner – thereby passing your competition. Only problem is if you selected the “inside line,” and you are about even with the other car/driver, you assume he can see you and will “give way” to let you by.
However, often, especially if one of the drivers is a bit less than “honorable,” they might attempt to cut you off and not letting you pass by also taking the “inside line” closing the difference in track position.
Often in these situations, their wheels may touch causing both drivers to spin off the racetrack knocking both of them out of the race. Each driver will probably say: “The other guy cut me off” – thereby creating the contact between the cars. “It is his fault and he should be disqualified.”
The racing stewards will review the video and make a determination as to which driver was at fault. Again, even the driver found to be at fault would say: “I was only competing.”
In the animal kingdom, the very large cats (lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc.) will make a kill then drag the dead animal into the weeds to feed. If they are part of a family, the other family members will gather also to feed. However, the “king” of the pack (the Alpha animal) will get to eat the best parts and will growl and swipe any of the others who attempt to take its place at the “best” feeding position.
Then hyenas will often show up and attempt to steal the kill. So it is simply a competitive situation where the most fierce animal will eat better. I don’t think these animals think that it is a competitive situation. They simply want to survive – so they will fight sometimes to the death to defend their ability to live.
In competitive professional sports, say football, the players are paid very well. Even the least important player on the field (say a lineman) may still make $4 or $5 million per year. So what do they do? They train extremely hard such that they can continue to “make the team” for the next year.
But each position on the team has players competing to make the team. Many of them will use surreptitious means to gain a physical advantage over the others. They used to “juice” – use anabolic steroids to become stronger or faster than the next guy – often with devastating consequences over prolonged use. Now they test for these performance-enhancing drugs.
Again, the fiercely competitive nature of the sport has many of them trying to gain a competitive advantage over the others. (Why? – a rhetorical question – to earn $5 million per year or more for as long as they can.)
I always think of what the great coach Vince Lombardi always said: “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.”
If you can’t accept this premise – then I suggest you should be in some vocation where being genteel and uncompetitive allows you to make a living – say raking leaves.