Competition. It’s a common enough word, but also one, it turns out, that is frequently misinterpreted. Particularly in business circles, it’s tended to be understood as ‘kill or be killed’; screw over whoever (or whatever) you have to screw over to get ahead of the oppo; survival of the fittest.
Watching Mo Farah win an astonishing 10,000 metres gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics tonight, one of the most interesting things about it was actually who came second – not a Kenyan, not an Ethiopian, but Farah’s American training partner, Galan Rupp. It reminded me of something cradle-to-cradle design guru, Bill McDonough, observed in a great TED talk of his – that the word competition stems from the Latin ‘competere’, to ‘strive together’.
Striving together. Getting fit together. Winning together.
In its original sense, that’s what competition is really about, and it puts a very different complexion on what it means to win – not so much survival of the fittest as survival of the ‘fittingest’. It isn’t about competition as we’ve come to understand it – combative, kill or be killed, where your success is predicated on the misfortunes of others; it’s actually much more about collaboration, where people demonstrate the capacity and ingenuity to carve a niche for themselves beyond the world of the zero sum game.
In short, it’s about finding a way to create shared value and increase the size of the pie for everyone, rather than fighting over how to cut it up.