The collaborative nature of true competition

I am reading Clay Shirky‘s book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age and will share my thoughts once I’ve completed it, but wanted to share this little tidbit now.

The idea of true competition is one that really resonates with me and is something I’ve been trying to make sense of in a work and business environment. Shirky has a great description of the collaborative nature of true competition (page 102):

The spread of these [skateboarding] techniques was driven by spirited competition. We often think of competition as pure conflict, the way firms compete in a market, happy to drive one another out of business. In groups of people who know one another and share the same interests, though, competition can take on a collaborative quality. the Z-Boys competed not to end the development of skating technique but to extend it. Instead of trying to come to some final or right way of skating, or to master some hidden and uncopyable technique, they developed new styles and tricks out in the open, challenging in order to invite a response.

They weren’t doing it to “win“, they were doing it to learn, and to create, because they loved it.

If you haven’t read the book, I can already tell you that I recommend it (even though I haven’t finished reading it). In the meantime, take a few minutes and check out his TED Talk on how cognitive surplus will change the world:

You should also take a few minutes and read Luis Suarez’s thoughts on the video.

If your purpose is to win…

…you have already lost.

Competing – and hopefully winning – can be a key part of any journey, but it shouldn’t be the destination. If reaching your destination is all you have to look forward to, what happens when you get there?

Or as I tell my sons: the goal of competition is, of course, to win, but your purpose – for training, for competing – should be to learn, to grow. To have fun.

Why we work better under pressure, and why we should encourage it (in moderation, of course)

Part of the reason for my time away from this blog has been my role in planning a trampoline and tumbling meet here in St. Louis. With just a couple of weeks to go until competition begins, things are really starting to cook. And, like with many projects, there is quite a bit of what could be (politely) called last-minute running around.

We all know the experience of doing (what we think is) our best work as a deadline approaches . Or the frustration of managing a team that works this way. And maybe it is something that we should – if not encourage – at least indulge, in moderation. For what is pressure if not competition. Granted, it is competition against the clock, but competition nonetheless.

And we all know that competition, in proper doses, is a very good thing.