management strategy

The Logic of Not Competing

(Wordcount: 1,376) According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a rival is a noun that means:

1. One who attempts to equal or surpass another, or who pursues the same object as another; a competitor.
2. One that equals or almost equals another in a particular respect.

If my sister and I are both vying for the (realistically) limited attention of our parents, we are rivals. It is because that affection is limited that we must compete if we desire it. And our pursuit of that goal means that anything and everything else can be ignored. In fact, if my actions and behaviors do not contribute directly to winning our contest, those actions and behaviors are irrelevant and not done. Thus, with every contest my collective body of knowledge and skills diminishes, while the risk of failing in the future increases. Competition keeps me narrow-minded, unable to appreciate and value other things I may derive from my relationship with my parents and unable to synthesize new ideas outside of the competitive mindset that may prepare me for unforeseen challenges or opportunities.

In the natural world, "the simultaneous demand by two or more organisms for limited environmental resources, such as nutrients, living space, or light" is a competition. But if there aren't sufficient resources, nature adapts by reducing the number of competitors or increasing the abundance of resources. Humans don't do either, despite nature's best efforts, maintaining humanity in a perpetual state of "unnatural" competition. Why is it unnatural? Because humans compete out of greed, not necessity. Hence, eliminate greed, and you eliminate competition. Eliminate competition, and humans can adapt to survive without those limited resources. With this radical perspective, an organism (or organization) can establish a new paradigm under which it can exist.

Readers may simply call this innovation; agreed. But it is innovation outside of the realm of competition. Innovating to compete merely perpetuates the inevitable spiraling into oblivion, from which an organism will find it extraordinarily difficult to free itself from.

So, how do we eliminate greed? If an individual defines itself by societal standards, at the risk of being an unwanted non-conformist, the individual has no choice but to desire the best in our society; no one (maybe a masochist) wishes for the worst. This status, once achieved, triggers the desire to preserve it. Once preserved, we want to nurture and grow it. Once larger, we want to exert our own perspectives on it and everything that touches it. This cycle continuously repeats itself until the number of individuals with the desired status is unsupportable by available resources. Competition is born.

But the opportunity lies in the disparities in what an individual considers "best" and desirable status. The manifestation of this disparity exists in humanity's many types of governments, religions, and organizations. Relatively speaking, none are wrong or right, better or worse than the other. And yet, they all still compete without ever realizing that they cannot truly ever eliminate the other because they exist as natural adaptations to avoid competing. So, competition is not only unnatural, it's irrational.

Competition is seeded, as explained above, in large households with finite resources of value. It transitions into our educational infrastructure, where students are pitted against each other for recognition, prizes, rewards as varied as attention, candies, and grades. Blaming others to avoid accountability, hoarding opportunities and credit, and aggressive behavior are skills invariably learned to compete more effectively.

As we transition into the real world, we strive to impress our bosses and gleefully trounce others to the sounds of praise. (Pavlov, it seems, may have gotten his inspiration for conditioning dogs from humans.) As we advance in our careers, competition irrationally turns to who's got the biggest house, the best car, the favorite office, the whopper salary, the most memberships, the greatest number of vacation days, and the most talented kids. Meanwhile, we lose the ability to objectively assess our actual needs and wants and lose the ability to appreciate our individual achievements and possessions as we default our definition of an entitled existence to those of "The Jones".

The competitive mindset is the same for many organizations who blindly compete with everyone in vain attempts to succeed, incapable of acknowledging that their definition of success may not be shared by other market players, (or their customers, for that matter). Consequently, by competing, they limit their ability to acquire information and knowledge outside of what is most relevant to compete, placing unnecessary risk on their future.

"competition is not only unnatural, it's irrational."

So, who doesn't compete? In my opinion, Wal-Mart, China, Apple, Mike Bloomberg and Google don't compete with any other organization in their respective areas, despite what you may have read or studied. Who does? NYU, Detroit, the Philippines, the United Way, and Citigroup. Here's why:

- In the 1960s, Wal-Mart was nothing compared to K-Mart. Through the 70s and 80s, Wal-Mart caught up. The 90s saw them overtake K-Mart. The rest is history. K-Mart had a nearly 40-yr head start, so why did Wal-Mart beat them? Because Wal-Mart wasn't paying attention to K-Mart (or any other retailer, for that matter) investing heavily in areas that the industry didn't think made sense, such as technology. Today, that investment is responsible for reshaping every retail segment they enter, including, shortly, banking.

- China isn't competing, they're consuming. They probably don't mean to steal resources and business from other nations, they just don't have a choice.

- Apple was written off a number of times because senior management followed the status quo. But when the original founder came back and asked, "Why can't computers be colorful, instead of bland off-white like everyone else's?" consumers responded with unbelievable demand. Design, not utility, then became the driver of technology, a concept competitors weren't paying attention to in their race to compete technologically.

- His entire life, Bloomberg was a Democrat. When he decides to run for office, he approached the NY democratic machine, who forgave his ignorance and told him to get in line. Miffed, Bloomberg switched sides, and since Republicans haven't had a significance presence in NY for decades, they handily endorsed him. Because he happened to be a billionaire, he overwhelmed Democrats with a strong strategy and a clearer, louder message and won. Dems were so busy competing the only way they know how - accusations - that they failed to realize it was useless.

- Google... well, they're Google, and unless you lived in a cave all last year, I don't think I have to elaborate.

- NYU, like all private schools, is a business. They compete with other universities for funding, students, and faculty. They're currently the only school facing a graduate student strike, and the smallest endowment of all their top business-school competitors.

- Detroit is a reference to all of the auto companies and their suppliers and their inability to stop wasting money competing with Asian auto companies. Two major suppliers have filed for bankruptcy, and our largest auto company, GM, is not only in danger of losing their top ranking to Toyota, they're on the brink of bankruptcy.

- The Philippines is a country that believes itself to be more important than it actually is. It competes for outsourcing dollars against China to little fanfare, and its political infrastructure is about as serious as an episode of Jim Henson's Muppets.

- The United Way is a monolithic remnant of the days when Corporate America was the paternalistic influence in how charity was done. They insinuated themselves into the structure, only to ultimately become irrelevant as newer, sleeker charities cropped up to address actual problems, not collect money to disperse like some goodie-two-shoes sugar daddy. Failing to connect with later generations, the UW began gauging its impact on community, but being such a broad and vague impact, the average contributor found it still irrelevant. Today, like most non-profits, the UW competes with others for funding a mission that no longer matters to donors who exercise an independent choice in how they give.

- Citigroup competes with everyone and everything, including their own customers. In just under 8 years, they created a new banking dynamic, only to watch it crumble as they failed to keep everyone on the same page because they were all competing with themselves for the same customers.

Al Berrios is Managing Director of al berrios & co., an innovative strategy consulting firm advising leaders on the impact of human behavior on their strategies and on how to change their organizations to address the behavior. Write to Consumer Strategies Report at


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