Why Is Competition Good?

Was flipping channels and came across a story on Russian TV about the first object on the moon. Courtesy of the USSR the Luna 2 landed (well, intentionally crashed actually) 50 years ago today, September 14th, 1959. Haven’t seen it anywhere else and may have forgotten except for this amazing world of new media where international viewpoints are as accessible as the local sports scores.

Luna 2 woke up U.S. politicians and scientists a little like a snooze alarm repeating two years after Sputnik 1 flew by, helping drive a space race that motivated scientific effort through the 60’s and well into the 70’s. Nothing landed safely until Luna 9 (again U.S.S.R.) in 1966. The list of stuff that was crashed into the moon getting ready for brave crew of Apollo 11 is really quite long.

Would the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. have had the political will to spend the resources necessary to drive science the way they did during those frenzied years if not for their mutual desire to show each other up and be first? (Of course I could have done without the cold war, but man, those moon shots — as cool today as they were back then. And Tang, don’t forget Tang.)

There is no question that there were men and women dreaming of going to the moon. But the stakes were so high, the achievement seemingly so out of reach, the benefits difficult to understand…

Could the resources have been marshaled,  the countries motivated, and the brainpower focused without the competition?

50 years later, how has innovation changed?

Can you think of one industry that hasn’t moved forward faster and farther when a competitor was right on its heels?

How many projects are stalled because ‘no one else has thought of it or no one else is doing it?

What is it about us as humans that the desire to win (or fear of losing) can motivate groups more than the desire to simply be great?

And what does this mean in our own personal efforts to innovate, create, and excel?

What triggers your starting pistol?

Photo courtesy of NASA.
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14 Responses to Why Is Competition Good?

  1. Kay Lorraine says:

    Nice Post! I couldn’t agree more – competition is stimulating; but only if you are a natural entrepreneur. For some people, competition is defeating and that’s a good thing ’cause it helps weed out those who shouldn’t be in the marketplace anyway. Nothing like “Natural Selection” to thin the herd.

  2. Brad Shorr says:

    Fred, It’s a pretty well established rule of marketing that people are more afraid of pain than eager for gain. There are exceptions of course, but for most of us pain has very concrete implications, whereas gain implies a somewhat nebulous state of happiness. Still, I think most competitive situations are a mix of pain avoidance and desire for gain. Sure, we may take pleasure from beating our rivals, but we also feel pride in a job well done. However, if our rivals aren’t pushing us, we may rest on our laurels – something we would never do if were afraid of getting whupped.
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..How to Research Keywords for Your Business Blog =-.

  3. salman sajid says:

    Fred, it is really a great post and i never knew that it was USSR that launched the 1st object on Moon. It is quite good to know the interesting facts, definitely they would help a lot. Competition is very much a necessity and it cane of great help for many of us.
    .-= salman sajid´s last blog ..Tears to Tiara Episode 24 =-.

  4. Hi Brad, Well said. It may be that competition is what pushes us to go beyond the ‘good enough.’

  5. Hi Kay, I’m not sure competition only works for the entrepreneurial at heart. The power of competition to motivate can move many groups of people to accomplish surprising things. I’ve been recently thinking about ways it might work to benefit social services and health care. While the economic win drives most of us, so does the idea of being first or best – which can come from many different achievements. Thank you for visiting and adding to the discussion!

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Fred,

    I would say that there would be little doubt that competitive forces act as a stimulant for creativity, and off the top of my head, I would have thought that there would have been at least two reasons why this is indeed the case.

    First, there is the ‘pain’ to which Brad refers to above, whereby fear of the consequences of being left behind by the competition (both financial and emotional consequences) – very few of us would find the prospect of being ‘left behind’ a particularly pleasant prospect.

    Secondly, there is the extent to which the behavior of others influences that of our own. Whilst some people are naturally blessed with a truly pioneering spirit, and will be prepared to go places that no man has gone before, I feel that for many, our behavior is influenced by that of others. If no-one else is exhibiting particularly innovative behavior in our field, then it may all too easy for us to sit back and feel as though we have reached the top or gone as far as there is to go. But if others are hot on our heels, this tends to have an impact on our propensity to feel that we can go further and that there is more progress to be made.
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..Back home/back online! =-.

  7. Hi Andrew, I think you’re identifying here our tendency to stick in a safe zone. Why stick our necks out if no one else is. Probably why being part of a team can be so empowering. You have folks watching your back and others pushing to move forward. Nice to hear from you again and to see your adventure ended safely!

  8. Hi Salman, Thanks for visiting and commenting. It’s always interesting to me which historical facts get promoted in various places. Here in the U.S. the focus was on our own space successes most of the time.

  9. LaVonn says:

    The wise learn many things from their enemies.

    – Aristophanes

  10. J.D. Meier says:

    I always think competition is a good thing.

    I have noticed that the cycles are shorter for both resource technology (such as fuel injection) and information technology (such as presentation technologies) has gotten shorter. I think this has interesting implications on life design. You used to be able to go to school, learn something, get a job and switch once or twice, then retire. It’s a new game.
    .-= J.D. Meier´s last blog ..My Top 10 Lessons in Life =-.

  11. Pingback: Reading break | Managing Leadership

  12. …and keep friends close and enemies closer. 🙂

  13. Big implications for education and continual learning cycles. No longer learning to blacksmith but learning to continually learn how to blacksmith and if necessary, give up on blacksmith stuff and move into plastics. Knowledge application flexibility so that you can add value in any system. Scary, exhausting and yet exhilarating all in one.

  14. Andrew says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Fred.

    You have hit the nail right on the head – the tendency to stick within our safe zones is precisely what I was talking about.
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..Back home/back online! =-.

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