I have not counted the number of TV shows, either side of the Atlantic, that are based on individual competition, but there must be big numbers. Competing will get you out of a jungle, or will win you a music contract, a best baker award, a bride, a groom, cash, a job, or just a title of Winner of this Year’s Whatever.
A fraction of these contests will entail collaboration as a means to winning. Even when collaboration is part of the show, such as in The Apprentice, contestants at the end are entitled to blame each other as a means to saving their own skin. (The Apprentice is, in my view, the worst public projection of what business is really about).
We are creating a world of ‘contestants’, always competing on some form of battleground: the TV studio, radio, the school system, the company. It may be soft or hard Darwin, but it is Darwinian. Many people will argue that this is not bad, that this is life after all, and that ignoring ‘competition’, for example in the school, is not doing kids any favours. So, it’s a vicious circle in which we prepare kids to win (more than to know, to grow, to live, to love or to contribute, or to just be), which in turn prepares (some of) them to join a company to… compete, which, I suppose, makes the company… competitive.
No wonder a survey of 2000 adolescents in the UK run by The Guardian a few years ago, showed that the number one concern of this pool was ‘fear of failure’ (followed by bullying, pressure to be thin and depression).
Slight problem here. The world is interdependent. Nothing that we do today can be done out of independence, no matter where you sit: the company, society, geopolitics, business. The key competence of the Century is actually, collaboration, not competition. The laws of collaboration and competition are different. We have a societal bias for one (competition) and we desperately need tons of the other (collaboration). I have used the term ‘Competing on Collaboration’ many times in my consulting life. It’s not a clever attempt at playing with words. We need to master this. It is the top fundamental organizational and personal competence of today.
Yes, there are, attempts to inject collaboration in schools and organizations via training or gamification, but they are timid and powerless compared with the enormous pull of competition.
As leaders we need to reinforce, reward and recognise collaboration and stop reinforcing, rewarding and recognising the heroic individual contributions and achievements. It’s hard when faced with the super hero, the hyper-achiever, with a stockpile of stock options and bonuses, to say: ‘Congratulations but you don’t get the bonus. You did a great, fantastic, incredibly successful job …on your own.’
We are hitting ‘culture’, again. That means choices, for example, how people achieve what they achieve.
Featured in my latest book: Camino – Leadership Notes on the Road.  Now available in paperback.
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