It is a commonly held belief in our culture that competition is good for our professional and personal development, our business growth and our economy. We believe that competition motivates people to work harder and the most talented individuals win out over those less competent. Survival of the fittest, right? Competition seems to be in our DNA from the first time we compete for our mother’s attention, to our quest to get the best grades and get into the top schools, and finally, to our desire to rise to the top of our profession for recognition and higher compensation.
In her latest book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than The Competition, author, Margaret Heffernan, challenges us to look at competition differently. It does not bring out the best in us. In fact, Heffernan makes the point that competition causes us to focus solely on the end goal, the prize. We lose out, not only personally, but businesses also lose their ability to innovate and succeed in today’s economy.
I asked Margaret if she thought some degree of competition is good.
Margaret Heffernan: I think people are competitive. I think they’re competitive enough. I think we have doubled down on competition, to a point that is backfiring spectacularly for us. And I think that, while it has got us to where we are – good and bad – I think it’s severely implicated in many of the corporate scandals that we’ve seen unfold; in many of the corporate failures that we’ve seen unfold. I think it won’t get us to the next stage of business, which, you know, aspirational companies want to reach.
Bonnie Marcus: When you say competition doesn’t result in the best rising to the top, you’re really saying that people who compete better make it to the top, not necessarily the most talented.