Competitiveness: Friend or Foe?

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Competitiveness. It can be one of your greatest assets—or it can kill you. (Yes, there’s probably a middle ground in there, but I like to start these things off with a bang.) Like fire, it depends on how you use it. So how do you know if you’re on the right track? How do you know if you’re using competitiveness for good or evil? Like many business insights, the answer hit me this morning at the gym.

My gym is festooned with all sizes and shapes of people. There are Buns of Steel® and there are Buns of Jello®. The spectrum is well represented. So it stands to reason that some people are going to be stronger than others. For example, I can’t hope to compete with the 23-year-old football player who’s lifting 300 pounds over his head. On the other hand, that 7-year-old over there on the bench press? I could totally take him. Look at him—he’s barely lifting 70 pounds. What a wimp. I can do at least 75. My point, of course, is that it would be silly of me to compete with either of these people. If I try to compete with a football player half my age, I’m going to lose. (I will win against the 7-year-old, but it’ll be a somewhat hollow victory.) However, using him (the football player) as inspiration, I can enter a competition that I can win: the competition with myself. See, I’m not going to try to lift as much as this aspiring Mr. Universe. Instead, I’m going to try to lift a little bit more than I did yesterday. I’m aware of him (how can I not be, what with all the grunting?), but I’m not going to try to be him. However, his accomplishments inspire me and keep me going. I don’t have to compete with him; I only have to compete with myself.

The Beatles were certainly aware of their competition. When a new Stones album or Beach Boys album came out, they were inspired to reach higher. And, just as I might pick up a new exercise or two by watching my friend the linebacker, the Beatles learned from their competition (for example, Paul McCartney emulated the Beach Boys’ harmonies on the White Album’s Back In The U.S.S.R.). But what really drove them was the desire to outdo themselves; to make each new recording better than the one that preceded it. The Beatles’ most formidable competition was the Beatles.

Yes, you need to be aware of what your competition is doing. Study them, learn from them. But don’t try to be them. That’s a losing game. Instead, let their successes and accomplishments inspire you to take your own game to a higher level. Don’t ask, “How can we do what the competition is doing?” Instead, ask, “How can we be better today than we were yesterday?” If you keep raising your own game, you can bet the competition will soon be emulating you.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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