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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