True, up to a point. But, there’s a problem with leaning too heavily on competition as a core driver of innovation. Which is that you unwittingly risk capping your own willingness to birth genius at whatever level your closest competitor gives in at.
Let’s say you’re a running a team of hacker/entrepreneurs working on a new platform or business model. You know you’ve got three others out there all working on the same problem. It’s insanely complex and takes a huge amount of time, effort and, depending on your efficiency and burn-rate, money.
You and your competitors are humming along, pushing each other to work harder, faster and smarter.
A few months in, one competitor can’t handle the quest any more and bails. Okay, you figure, so it’s down to you and your two remaining friendly foes. Every time they announce a breakthrough, it half-pisses you off and half inspires you to dig deeper, create from a truer place.
Innovation swirls all around you. But then the VC who funded competitor number two pulls the plug on them, leaving them still jonesing to be the ones who create the coolest stuff, but flat out of money. They fold. Now, it’s just you and one other. That’s still enough to keep you pushing hard, but you don’t feel the pressure quite as much any more. You start to wonder if you can win the innovation derby not so much through breakneck revelation, but through surviving the war of attrition.
Then, sure enough, it happens. Your last remaining competitor crashes. Leaving just you.
If your core motivation for innovation was to kick the collective asses of those around you, you may feel like you won. But, pretty quickly, you wonder why you’re still doing what your doing. And because the thing that most drove you to continue pushing the creation envelope was beating other people, you stop working so hard, digging so deep.
Your capacity to create stalls at the place at which your last competitor dropped off. You’ve beaten them, but you’ve also beaten yourself from that moment on.
Because you’ve only delivered on the promise of what your longest surviving competition could handle, rather that the innate potential that lies within you.
The greatest entrepreneurs, artists, hackers, athletes and dream-makers in all fields know that nobody matters but them. Their greatest achievement to date is their only real competition.
The highest performing athletes compete against their own personal bests. They build better, cooler stuff because they live to push the envelope of their own capabilities.
So, yes, competition against others can be a powerful incentive to act. But, be very careful about leaning on it too much or for too long. Or you may find yourself tops in your field, but still far from what you know or innately sense you’re truly capable of. And a long way short of making manifest the gifts you’re capable of bringing to the world.
Create, first and foremost, in the name of coming alive, not leaving others dead.
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