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Competition without Collaboration Fails Us

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I posted Margaret Heffernan's TED talk a few weeks back. Since then, I've been following her and like what she has to say more and more. In this article, she is interviewed on her research and subseqent book on how an economy based on competition has de-incentivized creative thinking, escalated cheating, and left no room for even the notion of collaboration - let alone the act of it.

Competition is biological on a certain level and fires up the reptilian brain and amygdalas. We are wired to compete - for love, food, our basic survival. BUT, when we build entire economies and cultures around competition, what are we left with?


When we are living in an economic model that is hard-wired around competion, we (1) are solely focused on outcome, (2) disassociate from people and process because they'll seem like nuisances, (3) focus on self, self-promotion, and self-rewards, (4) don't focus on other, impact, and effect, (5) cut off the higher order thinking of the mind e.g. creativity, innovation, cause/effect, compassion, and (6) are driving a deficit rather than abundant mental model.

When we "double down" on competition and make it all about outcome, results, profits, staying at the top, we essentially develop vacant people, vacant businesses, vacant economies, and vacant cultures. Yes, we are hard-wired for competition. But, we have also evolved as a species to a point where that hard-wiring is no longer necessary as an operating model and in fact, operating or teaching children from that lower part of the mind makes people and systems very, very ill. We don't live in a world of perpetual threat and are not waking up each day fighting (e.g. competing) to ensure our survival. No, we have evolved past there - regardless of what anyone has convinced you.

We've actually evolved to a point where we're being called to do something quite the opposite. If we don't start educating, behaving, and leading from and for opening the higher levels of the mind that drive creativity, innovation, mindfulness, compassion, and collaboration, we're continuing down a path of destruction, illness, and societal disillusionment.

In her research, Margaret Heffernan has "found that we're seeing an increasing number of large, global, important businesses adopt a more collaborative style both of leadership and of operations. They're proving more efficient, and I would argue, less destructive. They're not using competition to manage people."

Yes, competition to manage people is toxic and collaborative styles of leadership and operations are certainly less destructive - and even instructive. We have these outrageously brilliant and useful minds. Let's use them wisely and to their fullest potential. But, It takes guts and has to involve meaning, ethics, and incentives beyond money, biggest, best, and loudest.

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