This blog has been a long time coming, as I’ve been thinking about competition and its destructive force in our culture for some time, only I needed to first develop the vocabulary to effectively write about it. Last week’s post, Delicious Words and a prior post, Walking In the Light offered the beginnings of a re-definition of business language, of which we continue here with the concept of un-competition.

In business, and to some extent in the broader modern culture we tend to exalt competition as a condition and behavior that makes us smarter, faster and better. The world of sports entertainment is vast with the driving force being the investment that people place in their favorite teams and heroes winning over others. The ideal of sportsmanship and etiquette has eroded over the past few decades leaving us with the blind pursuit of the strong winning over the weak.

“Could it be that truly great achievements come from the creators and captains being driven by…a desire to do quality work, to do work that matters?”

Not to rant on modern culture here, but we have genuinely sacrificed something important and vital by accepting the mass-belief that strength winning over weakness is a virtue.

In business we have accepted the mass-belief that competition is vital to our success. The belief says that we need competition in order to improve, to be efficient, to strive to new heights. Consider this, was Michelangelo competing with someone when he painted the Sistine Chapel? Were the builders of the Golden Gate Bridge in a competition? Or the builders of Hoover Dam? Was Apple Computer in competition in the early to mid 80’s? Not really. There were some others in the field, but the field was so young that it was more about making a product that would be useful and enjoyable, which at the time no one knew what that would look like.

Could it be that the driving force behind these great achievements and so many others was something entirely different than competition? Could it be that truly great achievements come from the creators and captains being driven by a singleness of purpose—a desire to do quality work, to do work that matters?

“Could it be that competition hardens our hearts and obscures our view.”

Could it also be that achievement driven by competition actually produces something counter-productive to our concept of success? Could it be that competition drives us to win, not necessarily to do work that matters?

Could it be that competition hardens our hearts and obscures our view, preventing us from noticing those opportunities for growth of self and others—for creativity that feeds souls and nourishes our wellbeing?

It’s been observed that babies and small children of different cultures are more alike than they are to the adults of their own culture. This, I feel, is because there is something intrinsic to being human that we are taught to forget through the rearing of childhood and adolescence. In a culture that exalts competition as a virtue we forgot that underneath the push to win that we actually care about people and nature and family and doing the right thing. Embracing un-competition as the truly human way to be is the path to remembering who we are.

New Definition

un-competition |ˌənˈkämpəˈti sh ən|
The activity or condition of remembering who we are as human beings and having the courage to live that truth.

Tip of the Week

Notice the areas in which you feel competitive. Consider what it would look like for you to engage in one area or activity in such a way in which you let go of the need to win. For example, when playing board games with family and friends, or a pick up game of basketball, cooking the best meal, or physical fitness achievement, etc. Where do you feel competitive? Then practice un-competition in just one area and notice how it feels. It may feel uncomfortable. It may even feel awkward. And yet, give it a try and see what insights come from this exercise.