Is Competition Out?

March 26, 2018 Open Leadership No Comments

‘Caring competition’ is a competition between people’s actions and competences, not between their dignities.

Competition is natural. That doesn’t mean that an aggressive struggle is intrinsically good. I dare say it’s not. Even if it were all-pervasive in nature – which it is not – within human society we better transcend it. We humans have the flexibility to make such an ethical choice.

Ethical may not sound like efficient

Competition is healthy to body and mind when the outcome doesn’t frustrate. Unfortunately, Western culture is pervaded by the idea that frustration is the prime motivator for human behavior. As in: one fears a frustrating lack of money so one goes to work or robs a bank… Wrong assumption. While frustration may lead to action, the most basic motivator is plain human, frustration-less desire. Thriving on that, there is no need for frustration.

Competition can be the outcome of a frustration-less desire. Additionally, a desire to be better than another person in some respect should be combined with the feeling of equal worthiness as a human being, no matter the outcome.

Competition should never be a competition in human dignity.

The opposite of this ideal is at present dividing the world in winners and losers, pushing many into a rat race of striving to be a winner. How can such unbound competition between individuals be avoided? It can of course simply be ruled out. Then we get into a kind of communist sphere, towards one of two extremes: either hyper-ruled in 5-year plans etc., or un-ruled, hippy-style communes. Both have been tried and, well, had problems.

Even if you don’t like these extremes, some kind of competition is appropriate to fuel the workplace. It’s a matter of choice. An organization may enhance competition with moderation. Apart from the moral issue, it’s a question of efficiency. Too much competition may waste a huge amount of energy. Even if not immediately apparent, too much competition may in the long run wreak havoc. It enhances an atmosphere in which distress, burnout and bullying may prevail. Therefore:

One needs to be careful with a culture of strong competition.

Especially when there is a big need for collaboration. In a highly complex environment with a need for people to work together at a highly intelligent level, collaboration may be more valuable than competition. So what to do?

Let an individual or team compete with oneself – avoiding frustration.

Then can individuals and teams also compete with each other, on an equally-worthy basis. You may put high standards while giving people the means to reach these standards. Such situations are conducive towards a feeling of flow. There is no winner or loser. Yet there is an idea of winning nonetheless, through giving one’s utmost at each moment.

This is best attainable through Open Leadership.

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