Scott H Young

Do You Need to Be a Competitive Jerk to Succeed?


Competition doesn’t motivate me. I can’t be the only person who feels this way, but looking around I feel I can’t be in the majority. Business, sports and life seem to be dominated by people who thrive on conflict with other people. Do you need to be a competitive jerk to succeed?

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I’ve found competition actually de-motivates me. I find I can run a race faster if I’m not trying to beat the other runners. Games where you face off against another opponent can be fun, but I’ve always preferred close matches to simply winning at all costs.

Are you conjuring enemies out of thin air?

Competition is based on having an opponent. If you are used to seeing challenges through the lens of competition, you can sometimes invent an enemy. Even if none exists.

Having an actual opponent sometimes requires a competitive edge. But in most pursuits competition simply isn’t important. Inventing an enemy keeps you from thinking rationally. You will overvalue potential threats and become blinded to opportunities.

When I was interested in shareware games development, I saw many people that misapplied the competition lens to starting their business. Some of the symptoms included:

  • Idea Hoarding – Nobody really cares about your ideas. The chances of someone stealing them are minimal.
  • Direct Comparison – Competition naturally makes you compare any strategies or concepts to your opponent. This can be useful if there are only one or two opponents, but if you are a small fish, dealing with thousands, it can stifle you from innovating into new areas.
  • Fewer Bonds – Conflict forces you to separate people into allies, enemies and neutral parties. This causes you to cut off bonds with other people that you might otherwise miss.

Focus on inner talents rather than external threats.

I believe seeing the world through competitive eyes becomes useless once your opponent becomes “everyone else.” Few life pursuits have specific opponents. Health, relationships, hobbies, life and even most career moves pit you against many, not just a few.

Competition also stifles you by pushing you closer to your opponent, rather than your natural abilities. A study offered participants to spin a wheel designed to stop at either the numbers 65 or 15. The study then asked whether participants felt the percentage of African countries in the United Nations was above or below that number. After this guess, they were told to estimate the actual percentage.

Even though the numbers 65 and 15 are entirely random, people still held close to those numbers. Those who randomly spun 65 on the wheel guessed closer to 65 and those who spun 15 guessed closer to 15.

Although this study wasn’t specifically about competition, I think the same effect can occur when people compare themselves too closely with a specific opponent. The result is you might cut off opportunities that don’t specifically compare with your target.

The alternative to this competitive drive is to base decisions on your own strengths and creativity. W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne call this a “Blue Ocean Strategy.” Where you seek out empty spaces where innovation hasn’t been felt and avoid the bloody, “red oceans,” where competition is overwhelming.

How to tame your killer instinct:

  1. Cut Zero-Sum Thinking - Zero-sum thinking only works when competition is extremely narrow. Although you could argue that relationships, business or success is ultimately a competitive act, this isn’t useful when your competitors are in the billions and they aren’t paying attention to what you are doing.
  2. Cultivate an Abundance Mindset – The lens of scarcity isn’t useful. Truly innovative ideas, quality and ingenuity increase the amount of pie, rather than just giving you a bigger slice.
  3. Proactive, not Reactive – Reactive decision making is in response to a specific threat. But the best decisions are usually quiet. These are decisions where you sit down, even in the face of threats and carve out plans that can have results beyond just protecting yourself.
  4. Stifle the Green-Eyed Monster – Keep envy in its place. When another’s success doesn’t directly impact your own, avoid making decisions based on your own frustration or jealousy.
  5. Practice Compassion – Redirect your energy into something positive. Whenever I feel the urge to seek conflict, I try to channel that energy back into purpose. Asking myself what I can do to help others instead of just myself.

When should you use your competitive drive?

  1. Opponents are Specific – Competition is useful when you are facing one or two, not hundreds or thousands.
  2. Opponents are Aware of You – Strategy is useful if the opposition is aware of your maneuvers and will try to outwit you. Trying to sneak around someone that isn’t listening is a waste of energy.
  3. Opponents Threaten You - Even if opponents are few and aware of you, if their actions lack the power to significantly harm you, don’t worry about them. Merit based competitions such as academics, performances or skill testing require you to focus on your own talents rather than worry endlessly about an opponent who can’t harm you except by doing a good job.

What are your thoughts on competition?


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11 Responses to “Do You Need to Be a Competitive Jerk to Succeed?”

  1. ZHereford says:

    Although I’m not a competitive person, I do find myself measuring my performance or skills against those of others. It’s really the only way to gauge how well I’m doing at certain things. It’s not to put myself or anyone else down.

    I don’t see others as the enemy or competitors. I see us all as people with different degrees of ability or competency.

  2. SpiKe says:

    I’ve always found that if I just focus on my own performance, rather than trying to worry about beating someone’s score or outplaying them I perform much better. At the very least I can come away satisfied with my own performance. Admittedly, how this applies to a do-or-die presentation to win a big contract is another matter.
    Organize IT

  3. D says:

    Competition in my view is a self induce “drug” by some to keep their performance at its best to those who call themselves “competitive people”. Its like eustress but in a more aggressive form.

    I think most people wouldn’t go as far to challenge a large number of “opponents” but they would most probably focus on the best group or individual in the field they are competing in. This is again another assumption based on my observation in many instances where responses I receive is directed at the best.

    I feel competitions usually gets ugly, based on my personal experiences, is because when the competition gets stiff and the desire to win overwhelms the individual, they get drunk or obsessed to the point where they lose their cool and starts resorting to any means to be number one.

    I too do not enjoy competitions unless its purely for fun and I tend to perform significantly better when I am doing things for fun.

  4. Steve says:

    Scott,

    I think it’s unecessary to compete at all. I think if you create the mindset that you need to compete then you are admitting that there is a lack of, that there is not enough to go around. If you think this then you feel this and therefore you get more ‘lack of things’ attracted into your life via the Law of Attraction.

    Use the creative approach instead of the competitve approach and you will attract more creativity. I wrote a detailed post about this in ‘The Sicence of Getting Rich’.

    If you’re interested in more information then check out ‘Principle Number Two: The Purpose of Being Rich’ at this link:

    > http://www.stephenmartile.com/?p=18

    Stephen Martile
    Personal Development with NLP

  5. Eduardo says:

    Competition vs Creativity
    Most of us were raised to believe in the benefits of competition. If we worked a little harder or did something a little better than the next guy it would lead to some form of victory or success.

    I now believe we would be better served if we changed our focus from competition to creativity. The end result would be that we become happier and more successful. Less stress and more reward.

    Competition attempts to be like. In competition we analyze the opponent and copy what we think we see as successful. Then we try to do a little more or do it a little better. That sounds logical but there is a major flaw in that strategy. And that is that it breeds sameness. We end up trying to do the same thing only a little better.

    The great achievors in life are focused on creativity. Creativity leads to newness. A new way to do things and not just a slightly better way. A totally new product instead of a slightly better one.

    To create something is much more satisfying. It leads to whole new ways of doing things. It is exciting and not just a grind.

    Competition is an outdated model that leads to modest gains. Creativity can blow the doors open and do what has never been done before.

    The greatest things in life are those that you created!

    from Truthteller site….www.reddeerblog.com

  6. Gary H says:

    Scott,

    I wish some of my clients would read this. Many are hung up on their competition who don’t know they exist and have deeper pockets then they do.

    In this case, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, so it’s pointless to compete. It’s better to innovate.

    I’m not a particularly competitive person either, so I often wonder how far I will go in my career because of it.

    Happy Friday.

  7. […] “I’ve found competition actually de-motivates me. I find I can run a race faster if I’m not trying to beat the other runners. Games where you face off against another opponent can be fun, but I’ve always preferred close matches to simply winning at all costs.” Read more >> […]

  8. […] “Having an actual opponent sometimes requires a competitive edge. But in most pursuits competition simply isn’t important. Inventing an enemy keeps you from thinking rationally. You will overvalue potential threats and become blinded to opportunities.” [Read more >>] […]

  9. max night says:

    there are those that lose because they cant win and those who lose because they choose not to win. Ive never been competitive because I never saw the point. Thats why i never liked sports or contests. To me the only real appeal to sports is exercise and contests never went well with me.

  10. mindlessthinker says:

    I do not thrive on competition. My only competition is myself—I try to best my own successes, no one else’s. But then, it also helps that my way, in my experience, has always been the best way to do something. In that respect, my trying to best my successes is the same as besting the best.

  11. mindlessthinker says:

    I don’t believe in trying to compete against a person, or a company (which is driven by people). Instead, what you should focus on is competing against an idea or a product. Don’t say “I want to be greater than Google”; instead say “I want to create a better search engine”. It doesn’t matter who invented something; only the invention matters, and what you can learn from it. This mentality allows you to focus on your idea and your product, which is what you actually want—NOT the people behind the product.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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