[Viewpoint] The (over) competitive society

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[Viewpoint] The (over) competitive society

In a speech in 2008, the British-Danish psychologist and management adviser John Evan-Jones said that humans are tribal, hierarchical and sexual. To be tribal means that humans belong to a tribe whose members it normally will defend. It can be a country or a continent, a municipality or an interest group. To be hierarchical means that some humans in the tribe are seen as having more status and usually having authority and responsibility within a field. To be sexual means that humans compete internally, not only for spouses, but for material and nonmaterial goods.

Given these realities of human nature, an orderly society is characterized by harmony and mutual respect. Everybody is performing according to some norms of behavior. Today’s society is, however, promoting the competitive behavior of people in many ways. In schools and in companies, competition is commonplace. There is a belief that unless there is a carrot in the form of a first place, a promotion or a prize, people will not do their best.

The question is, however, whether this system is sound in the long run. We know from psychologist Abraham Maslow that people have a self-realization need, where people compete with themselves. They want to be still better in performing in an area. Shouldn’t it be enough? Are prizes needed to get people do their best?

The question is, will the overuse of competition create losers? When somebody wins, someone else might feel like a loser. So you get one gain, but probably more loss. Excessive use of competition might also make people more immune to them. Some might not even try to perform their best, because “it is always the same people who win.”

Today, teamwork is in high demand and for teams to be hot and to work for the common good there has to be some egalitarianism.

Too much competition internally in a school, company or other organization can create envy and feelings of defeat. How many people feel defeated when you promote a person? Why not instead praise every person in the organization who grows and succeeds or any person who grows in a self-realization manner? Then you will motivate every person to compete against oneself and grow, to the benefit of him or her and of the organization.

Schools and organizations should promote personal qualities or “soft” skills. Imagine if organizations nurture and promote these qualities and look at the resulting job performance. Instead, schools and organizations promote competition among people, which is not especially beneficial for teamwork or personal well-being.

But shouldn’t we promote competitiveness within organizations, because companies are profit-seeking entities, which compete with other companies? It follows from the tribal, hierarchical and sexual concept that companies will try to get the best position in the market as possible, as will the decision makers in those companies. They want for their companies as they want for themselves.

A company cannot operate outside its capabilities, even if it wants to. So a sound competition will be for the company itself to compete against itself. Then there can be a sound sharing of markets, where all companies produce and sell according to their capabilities. Capabilities can be widened and enhanced, so that dedicated companies can grow and be more competitive in the market as individuals can grow in a self-realization manner.

Consumers constantly develop new ways of satisfying their needs, and few consumers have preferences totally alike. This makes room for a multitude of suppliers for a certain type of goods or service. There is room for many companies offering these preferred products. The market can be in harmony for many years with evolutionary product development, until revolutionary technologies disrupt the market. But then the circle starts again with new players or companies shifting into the new area.

In the past, students were graded too, but their grading was confidential and private. Now everything has to be disclosed and published on the wall for the public eye. What is the meaning of this? Who benefits from this?

A buzzword today is “study hard.” This kind of pressure or regimented lifestyle might even remind one of work camps and the theme “work hard.” In this setting, everybody was strictly controlled. The softest of the workers broke down, but the others just found their way. They pretended to work without giving a wholehearted effort. Don’t you think that students and people in the workforce do the same? The answer might be further control, but the outcome might be the same: an even poorer effort. What comes out of this vicious circle? Probably only apathy, low interest and low commitment. A basic psychological law is the law of belief and conviction. You are what you believe you are. For employers and school masters they get what they believe in. If they believe in controlling their subordinates’ output all the time and in detail, they might get according to their demands, but nothing more. No excitement, no love. The best motivator is to praise people for their commitment so they can grow individually and internally compete with themselves. The school masters at graduation ceremonies should shake hands with all students and congratulate them for their efforts during their studies as opposed to just praise a few prize winners in the face of all other students. Let people realize themselves.

*The writer is an associate professor at SolBridge International School of Business, Woosong University.

By Jens Graff
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