When Competition’s Paradox Means Defeat

Does Competion Ensure Defeat?

Is the competitive approach Americans crave – also a force driving us out of the game?

“Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.” (Wendell Berry)

NPR showed rivalry’s problem, by contrasting  Finland’s winning model.  Finland’s stated distaste for unabashed competition, opened access for national excellence across schools. Ours? 

Cooperation Launches Growth

Compare Finland’s winning approach to U.S. test-based struggles. Have rigid tests handed unfair advantages to a few while excluding our brightest minds?  Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of  Centre for International Mobility, showed Finland’s as a winning team:

In my country … we believe in cooperation and sharing. Cooperation is a core starting point for growth.

Imagine what pulling-for-all could do across your  organization.   See dividends rise! Check out the new tug-a-war between what NY Times calls individual creativity and group creativity.

Do you agree that the origin of Apple’s greatness speaks to the power of collaboration? If so, you’ll likely also agree that rivalry shoved togetherness dangerously off-course across our nation.

In spite of competition’s flaws we default mentally to strap on blindfolds and oppose, attack or displace, rather than build. Some claim that current US contests hand  money and power to a few greedy sharks who buy unhealthy influence over all. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Do you see Competition as Barb or Brain Booster?

Some suggest that social competition may be the reason for bigger brains and few disagree with scientific evidence. My question reaches beyond mere cranial capacity. What  ethical influence does warfare and competition play to shape brainpower?

Brain gurus such as David Geary show positive proof of growth through competition. Any negatives though, to smack-down-matches you’ve observed lately?

Does peer rivalry increase antagonism or foster benefits?

We know from neurogenesis that people improve their lot by beliefs moved into winning tasks. We also know that competition increases IQ when people  improve a personal best. It’s opposite how competition works against intelligence – when one goes after another with self-interest or unfair advantages. Who’d attribute fairness to a fox hunter’s advantages against a common fox with far fewer resources? Compare that inequity to personal growth that adds to collective gains.

Run that extra mile, write a finer essay, rebuild a better prototype, swim faster, and you literally reshape your brain chemically and electrically for higher intelligence.  Even simple competitions, can alter brainwaves up or down. The jury’s still out however, if competition adds or reduces brainpower for a more successful life collectively.

Does Social Media Hurt or Help Competition?

Research is sobering. Scientists suggest, for instance, that constant Facebook, Twitter and Bebo rivalry, can actually decrease attention spans, foster instant gratification, and encourage self-centered warfare. Through competitions for followers, or one-up-ship news reporting, people reboot their brains to live winning results in the moment.  Over time?

No surprise that competition alters brainpower, yet further investigation may offer fresh insights about negative or positive effects to the human brain.  Benefits dominate some research and yet we’re warned of definitive ways competition can hurt more than help.

Before choosing competition or collaboration consider effects of each on brainpower:

How Could Competition Mean Fewer Losses?

1. Use tone to build goodwill. Even within competitions,  tone tools open opportunities for life-changing dividends. In healthy rivalry, tone draws success like the moon attracts tides on an ocean shore.

2. Network to enhance wisdom. Fuel your brain with chemical hormones for growth and learning, by planning times ahead to engage others, rather than merely racing against them on a dime.

3. Interact across ages and cultures. Get to know people who differ from you and emulate their diverse offerings. Connect more with people unlike yourself to learn from and value differences.

4. Ask great questions. Listen, then act on hot answers that refire your efforts. To read or hear alone, works less magic in the brain than to act on answers from 2-footed questions.

5. Put feet to new beliefs. Change even deeply held assumptions, when others hold finer ethics up to the rainbow. Weigh differences, forgive fast and let go often.

6. Run from cynics or bullies. Propose competitive solutions to problems raised. Opposite abuse or toxic competitions, lie steps toward peaceful solutions, from multiple intelligences.

7. Link to high performance minds. Build  with those who lead change for improvements. Facilitate innovative minds and lead fixes for broken systems, that trap hebbian thinkers.

8. Engage opposing views. Show strengths in alternative perspectives, by stepping out of comfort zones to embrace unexpected answers that lead to visible improvements.

9. Try new technologies. Rarely is it easy to learn new online skills but each time you step up to a new plate, you stretch and exercise your brain’s working memory for competitive edges.

10. Send growth zingers to peers. Draw from serotonin to affirm competitor’s ideas and share your own insights when appropriate, to offer genuine encouragement.

Here at the Mita International Brain Center, we use smart skills to create  communities that compete, win and grow together. Skeptics and naysayers will always be with us, yet each day offers every chance needed to join brilliant minds who advance our world through healthy rivalry at the peaks.

Would you agree that competition against self  powers-up brains for consensus-building together? It also harnesses differences into wins

What’s your take – Is competition a barb or a boost to brainpower?

Perhaps more importantly, How can we achieve more sustainable wins together?

For further discourse about your brain’s role to increase wins – see also:

-          Ten Popular Idols Kill Innovation

-          Power up Brains for Consensus

-          Brainpowered Tone for Engagement

-          Values for Brainpowered Climate

7 Comments

  1. I love it Ellen! I know from running my medical/surgical practice all those years that collaborative leadership was more effective and made everyone “smarter”. What I mean is, that when I was able to engage the minds and hearts of my employees/team members, ownership and alignment soared. This created more interest in learning, extremely low absenteeism, doubling of practice revenues, outstanding customer service, zero malpractice claims (studies show that doctors who are liked are less likely to get sued – including frivolously). And, there were more benefits than these of course. “Competition” is a paradigm that needs to be change. Adaptability is much more powerful as is cooperation. When a leader is more self-secure, then she or he will see and act on new ways to grow and innovate. This is more aligned with change in the 21st century.

  2. eweber says:

    Thanks Valencia, and what a wonderful site at http://www.valenciaray.com/ You said it best! I know from running my medical/surgical practice all those years that collaborative leadership was more effective and made everyone “smarter”. Love your notion of removing cataracts of the soul!

    It will take teams of us to help this happen since we have rewired an entire nation to play competitively is what is rarely an even playing field. Would you agree that it will also take a shift to help people compete against themselves in ways that help themselves and others to win more?

    As long as money and resources (often gained by shady competitive practices) remain locked into rigid competitive mindsets – we will have to work harder to help shift the paradigm to healthier practices that include robust collaboration.

    Finland’s example should give pause to reconsider ours – unless we shut out other nations’ truth with a false assumption that we can stay on top. Love your notion of secure leaders – and that’s likely a good place to start individually and collectively. Stay blessed!

  3. Thanks Ellen, I do think it all has to start “within”. We have to first cultivate our relationship with our “Self” to become more integrated. We are so outwardly and competitively focused, I believe we’ve “forgotten who we really are”. We’ve become a society of doers and we don’t really see our own true potential or in others. I’m excited about the possibilities. I choose to give my power of attention to a hopeful future that encourages people to grow and evolve instead of more or the same.

  4. eweber says:

    Agree! Yes, we call it intrapersonal (or intuitive) intelligence – and it grows aware through use. For instance, a healthy discourse on the topic of competition vs consensus – where all could share in good tone – develops one’s intrapersonal IQ.

    Only then can we alter directions and move forward in ways that win in the bigger sense! Like you, I am excited about possibilities of rewiring directions with the brain more in mind.

    Am facilitating a new MBA Leadership course where we model how we can all become innovative leaders in a setting that wins more. We use mindguiding (or mutual mentoring) to help rewire for more innovative initiatives than flawed systems are handing us all.

    Imagine a new generation of leaders – who factor in amazing new neuro discoveries! Count me in:-)

  5. Hal says:

    Great insight as always Dr. Weber. I am an advocate for collaboration and how people help each other think bigger. Providing an environment of support and positive engagement helps people see their potential. I have always viewed competition as useful inwardly. Can I be better than yesterday?

    The New York Times article was passed around our exec team this weekend. We are planning to move this year as Infusionsoft has grown to 200 people from half that 2.5 years ago. So we are planning space. I am also working on implementing a social platform to allow our employees to more effectively create content, collaborate and communicate. We are thinking about these issues seriously. Is there any brain data you can share regarding cognitive success working alone versus in groups or teams. I feel like the energy of a group and team is critical but there needs to be space to think and ponder. A place of quiet. The NYT piece raised some interesting questions.

  6. eweber says:

    Thanks Hal – congrats on the growth! How exciting to hear the ways you help people to help each other think bigger. You said it all here!

    It’s really a brainpowered task to provide that environment of support and positive engagement that helps people see their potential. I’d love to hear more about your approach – since that is also our leadership approach here at Mita International Brain Center.

    Great notion of competition as useful inwardly, and terrific question – “Can I be better than yesterday?” Thanks for saying it so well!

    Wish we could have attended your exec team this weekend.
    Hope you will share more about your social platform to allow employees to more effectively create content, collaborate and communicate. This too is brainpowered and should get the results you are after.

    Yes, there are research and proven practices that lead to higher collective IQ with distinctive group and individual approaches. It’s not one or the other as much as it involves doing both differently. These changes involve dynamic interpersonal and intrapersonal jumpstarts!

    All the very best as you lead into deeper waters where more prolific opportunities await the shifts you are making. Let us know how we can support your efforts Hal, cause we are cheering you on!

  7. Donna says:

    I detest competition for the competition sake. I know that it’s some kind of trend in the USA but I find it purposeless. Winners of the competition are never most necessarily the best. They are simply winners of that point in time.

    As far as the competition drives some of the people to do their best, it also drives away just as much people who are equally valuable but have different temper.

    Collaboration is the key. It’s always been.

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