When I kicked off the blogparade What if…? I asked the question: What if there was no competition? Some may have wondered how I came to this question. When my sons first heard about the diesel scandal last year, they asked why there was competition. All the car manufacturers could simply work together to develop and sell a clean car. I explained them what a monopoly is and what disadvantages it brings. This satisfied them for the time being. But I never quite got the idea out of my head. The blog parade was the perfect occasion for me to collect perspectives on this question on the internet and in real life.
A world without competition
What would a world without competition look like? That’s what we tried to find out at my session at the intrinsify.me Wevent Oberbayern. Fred spontaneously said, “without competition we would probably still be sitting on the trees”. It was obvious to most people that competition is completely natural. You can tell by the kids. Who is the quickest to the jungle gym? Who has the most beautiful sand castle? As the father of two sons, I can tell you a thing or two about it. They really compare everything. It’s an incentive if the brother can count to 1,000. Competition is therefore the driver of personal growth.
But the competition does not end in adulthood either. Who in the circle of friends has completed the morning jogging course the fastest? Who has visited most cities? Who gave the most votes? Gamification is the magic word and achieves increased performance and personal growth. Competition ensures that we make it to the “next level”.
But we also considered what an economy without competition would look like. Is there only one baker, one car manufacturer, one fashion label? That would be pretty boring and monotonous. If the monopolist can still dictate the price, it will also be quite expensive. Quality will probably suffer from the lack of competition at some point. Why should you make an effort when you’re the only one on the market?
For Nadine from our round this was not a thought game. She grew up in the GDR and there was no competition. There were only two types of cars, but they were not really free to choose. Whoever was lucky got a Wartburg. Neither was there any selection of bakery products. She told the story of a baker who occasionally had another bread to offer in addition to the standard bread assortment. Then they had to wait two hours to get the rare change. Does the choice of 300 yoghurt varieties really make us happier, we wondered? Everyone has to answer that for himself. But I wouldn’t want to be without the variety of craft beers that have come onto the market in recent months. Competition therefore creates diversity. Competition provides decision options. In this context, ideas competitions and invitations to tender were also mentioned as examples. “Competition enlivens business”!
So was the question answered? If there is no growth and no diversity without competition, who would want a world without competition?
The dark side of competition
From the very beginning, the downsides of the competition also came up for discussion. Much has been discussed about internal competition in companies. Who gets the next assignment? Who gets the most lucrative customer? Who can inherit the boss at his post? Silos and trench warfare are thus created in the fight for the favour of the board, the division manager or the boss. In some companies this is used consciously. Competition between teams should spur to maximum performance. Jack Welch, the inventor of the Vitality Curve, was convinced that competition among employees ensures that the organisation continues to develop. Competition generates growth. The only question is, what does it really grow? We all agreed that internal competition means that a lot of energy is invested in business theatre instead of value creation.
At this point I would also like to make the thesis that competition can blind us. Blind to the customer’s problem, blind to innovation. If you’re fixated on what your competitors are up to, you can get on the wrong track. Who says that the product characteristics of the competitor also make me successful? It feels like driving in the rearview mirror to me.
But it is not only in the companies that are trimmed for competition. The socialization to competition already starts at school. How many children spend afternoon for afternoon instead of games and fun with tutoring to somehow make it through high school. After all, you want to be at the front. I don’t care what it takes! Does the competition also generate diversity or more standardised memory-learners? In view of a perceived growing number of losers in the game of “Higher, Faster, Next”, the question quickly arose in our round: “Did we overdo it with the competition?”
So what to do? Should competition be limited to certain areas? But where do you draw the line? Only outside the company? Does it make sense to hide competition locally and for a certain period of time? It seemed neither feasible nor meaningful to us.
Competition or no competition? What are we to do now?
We generated some ideas in our round at the Wevent. Miriam shaped the image of the cake that the competitors bake together. Of course you are in competition for orders. But as long as everyone is fed up with it, there is no reason not to “bake” it together. Nadine picked it up. What if you get an order from a competitor when your order situation is poor and the competitor cannot handle the entire order volume? Maybe he can’t and won’t grow any further right now. Christoph took up the idea competition. Instead of five individual ideas, which arise in competition and in isolation, the five sharpen and develop an idea together. What does generate a better result? Using the appropriate methods, I am convinced that the team approach beats the individual competition.
Norway is also convinced of this. Up to the age of 13 there are no winners or losers in winter sports. The fun in sport and the community feeling should be in the foreground. This will continue even if there are competitions with winners and losers later on.
Luise Freese is convinced that cooperation always beats competition:
And Matt Chevrier says that success today is always a team success. Nowadays, one person alone can only rarely solve problems. Competition in the team is therefore out of place. It is therefore better to consider how to promote cooperation rather than just letting it happen:
Who still doubts whether cooperation really beats competition, should take a look at the board game “Obstgarten”. It’s not against each other, but against the bad raven together. For a long time, my sons rather played this than “Mensch ärgere dich nicht”.
But once again nature provides us with a really ingenious answer. The forest has existed for more than 300 million years. And he’s got it with the competition. Mike Kaisers spoke with Erwin Thoma in his podcast “Inner Wealth” about the topic “What we can learn from the forest”. Erwin Thoma may seem a bit esoteric at first glance, but what he tells about the forest ecosystem is really fascinating. If the podcast is not enough for you or if you prefer to watch videos, I recommend the following presentation:
Of course there is also competition under trees. The tree wants to reach high, wants to grow. But when someone is weak and sick and the bark beetles are on the move, the competition stops. Then it needs resin as an antidote, which means increased water demand. Then the surrounding trees stop growing in order not to use the precious raw material. The common good is above growth. It is probably not surprising that in the discussion at the Wevent the concept of the Economy for the Common Good was also mentioned as a possible way forward. But I find it really exciting who of the trees wins the competition. It is the tree that gives the most. When do we give something to our competitors? The forest seems to be the blueprint for healthy competition. There is growth and diversity. And that for 300 million years.
What have I learned? For me, a world without competition is not a world worth striving for. I want growth and diversity. However, growth must not take precedence over the common good. Being successful is obviously better achieved through cooperation and without crowding out competitors.
What do you mean? Is this all just social romanticism? Do I have to put growth above everything else? This is about survival, isn’t it? Or is there any truth in the model of the forest? Where else are there examples of good competition? I am looking forward to your opinions and perspectives. As a comment under this article, in the social media or by email email@example.com.
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I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the inspirers for this article:
- My boys Tizian and Valentin for the initial question.
- Bianka Groenewolt for the idea on whatif questions.
- Nadine, Miriam, Christoph, Leo and Fred for the exciting session at the Wevent
- Ute Sommer, Luise Freese and Matt Chevrier for the inputs on Twitter
- Mike Kaiser and Erwin Thoma for the fascinating podcast on forests