“Companies never compete. Its the boards of these companies that do” said a guest speaker in B-school. That statement caught my attention and struck a chord with an idea that is very dear to me. I have always felt that by helping others get what they want, you will also help get what you want and hence a collaborative effort will always lead to a very optimum outcome.

A lot changed since the last time I wrote on this blog, one of the main things that happened is I spent the past 2 years at a premier B-school. The whole idea of a B-school is for you to facilitate your personal as well as professional growth and a large part of this comes through peer-to-peer learning. The induction program here also focussed on inculcating the beliefs of how collaborative efforts will leave everyone better off. The use of experiential learning methods was supposed to leave a lasting impression in each students memory. However, this idea was very short-lived and it wasn’t long before the perennial over-achievers felt that competition would leave them better off than collaboration.

This brings me to the elephant in the room. Are we intrinsically wired to compete and is that our defacto modus operandi? As much as I would like to believe that people look out for each other since a very early age, Freudian analysis points to a competitive streak (Oedipus Complex/Elektra Complex) in kids and the root behavioural trait that leads to competitive behaviour is the fact that we tend to compare to others. If the thought is so engrained in our subconscious, maybe it takes a very conscious effort to let go of your inherent trait to do so. Some kind souls succeed in letting go their default behaviour pattern, but the main hindrance may come from the situation or people around.

Having lived most of my life in India/Singapore, I have observed that the societies here often use others as the benchmark for success. Very often, you are told to be the best version of yourself and not to compare yourself with others. That is a very potent argument because there is a very strong path dependance in determining where you are and how you have gotten there. While there are many who defy the odds, these are also outliers in all likelihood. It will take a lot for one to get immune to the comparison disease that plagues many a society around, but I do believe that it is not impossible. I have seen many inspiring examples of people who are completely at peace with themselves and that can often only happen when you do not compare yourself with those around.

Some may say that not having a benchmark to compare yourself against will make you complacent and one needs a target (read destination) to chart out the path (read journey). But the benchmark that you choose for yourself can always be an aspiration. You try and do everything you can to get to where you want to be, but being cognizant of what you have and what you do not will help put things in perspective as well.

There is no clear right or wrong. There is a need to know how others are doing but if used positively, it can lead to being a source of inspiration. On the other hand, it is very important to be aware of your journey so far and how else will you travel to get to your destination. Each one of us will have a journey which will be extremely unique. A healthy mix of competition and collaboration can do wonders and balancing these ideas is a delicate task. But just as every second-order response oscillates around the mean value, our societies will continue to over-compete and under-compete to eventually realise how these can be balanced correctly to achieve an outcome where most people thrive. The only question this leads to is how long before this happens?

“Competition makes us faster; Collaboration makes us better.”


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