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The Consequences of Competition: Conversation Summary - July 2022

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

A glorious sunny day, and a COVID-19 peak in Victoria led us to have a small group and an outside session. The colourful Lorikeets in the tree above us came to join too, producing some competition in noise, which seemed appropriate for the question we were exploring:

What are the consequences of encouraging competitiveness in our workplace and communities?

"I don't like competition", was one of our opening comments. "I don't engage in it".

This opened up a plethora of thoughts, considerations and explorations of competition, the context of competition and the intended and unintended consequences of it.

We agreed that the construct of competition makes a difference. Those in artistic fields felt that it diminished the ability be truly creative as it produced pressure that closed mind and stifled the thought process. Those in corporate settings felt it lowered trust and increased stress levels.

Community groups were also discussed as competition for grants and funding is often rife, but it was agreed that within this setting there are often collaborations that occur that create co-operation between community groups that wouldn't otherwise exist. It was, however, acknowledged that being beholden to the grant funding model can create difficult intellectual property battles in areas such as health sciences or other areas of innovative exploration, often where scarcity to large funding arrangements exist (ie, scientific research).

The intended and unintended consequences the group came up with were:

Intended Consequences

- Motivates - self and others

- Growth (personal and professional)

- Pushes individual and groups to improve and strive for excellence

- Promotes individualism (the strive for the personal best)

- Enables us to tap in to our potential

- Sparks creativity

- Increases productivity

- Gives individuals the chance to assess their strengths and weaknesses

- Increases the quality of work

- Creates focus and can increase stamina

- Reduces dissonance - keeps people distracted and 'in-line'

- Creates feelings of 'fun'

Unintended Consequences

- Scarcity breeds competitiveness and this trait is easily manipulated

- Encourages a 'winners are grinners' culture which diminishes diversity

- It's reductive and causes people to lose sight of the bigger picture, particularly in settings with Key Performance Indicators that are narrowly focused

- Encourages a 'survival of the fittest' mindset

- Supports an alpha-male, patriarchal construct

- Encourages sabotaging behaviour (particularly in highly competitive IP driven environments)

- Pain of losing can out weigh any sense of gain and create deeply negative emotions*

- The societal pedestal of the 'super-man' - athletic superstars are lauded

- Inequality is perpetuated

- Co-operation is diminished as winners coset their knowledge or skills

- Trust decreases

- Stress levels increase

*Loss Aversion is a cognitive bias that describes why, for individuals, the pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining.

Are there examples where cooperative, low competitive societies have thrived?

Skara Brae is a Neo-Lithic site in the Orkney Islands of Scotland which could be considered an example of early co-operative living. The site dates back to 2500BC and shows evidence of cooperative farming at a very early stage of human existence. There is archaeological evidence of creative pursuits, but no evidence of weaponry.

This moves me to remember a Tyson Yunkporta quote, from his 'sand talk',

"We want shelter, food, strong relationships, a livable habitat, stimulating learning activity and time to perform valued tasks in which we excel'. Is this only achievable in a competitive environment?

I leave you pondering whether we MUST have competition and whether the unintended consequences out weigh the intended ones.?

References / Further Reading

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