In the beginning of human existence, there were few interactions with other humans and other living things, over a very short range, maybe at most a few miles with smoke signals or loud horns.
However, these few interactions could be brutally competitive. If you didn’t compete successfully, you might end up as someone (or something) else’s lunch! Humans and other creatures socialized and learned to cooperate to become better competitors, to share work and ideas, and fend off predators!
In one sense nothing has changed since those times. We are still social, competitive, although thankfully we don’t have to worry too much about being eaten by a large animal! In another sense, everything has changed because transportation and communication have given us access to everyone and everywhere at any time.
Whether we like it or not, competition is a part of life for most humans, in their personal and professional lives. Whether it’s a race among five year old children on a school track, or competing for a multi-million dollar contract, or simply wanting to one up the neighbor, almost everyone competes to one degree or another. While competition can be thought of as driven by one’s ego, it is also a way for us to strive to improve our lives and the lives of others. Some competition is potentially or actually terrible, such as an arms race, or war, and some competition is truly harmless, as when old friends sit down to play a game of cards.
Recent advances have made an immense change in the nature of competition. In professional golf, the Ryder Cup used to be fought over by a U.S. team vs. a team from the UK. It was a big deal for the U.S. team to go to the UK for the competition, or for the UK team to come to the U.S. As the U.S. became dominant over the UK, the UK team was expanded to ‘Europe’. Europe has been dominant in recent years and there is now talk of expanding the U.S. team to all of North and South America! But should Europe include Russia? And will it become a 3 way battle now that Asia (and Australia) have an immensely talented pool of golf players. The point is that professional golf is now a very global sport with no one nation dominating. Every player has no idea who might come and beat them on the final day. The good ones though are smart enough not to worry about that and focus on doing the best they can, adapting only if a competitor does something outstanding or disastrous!
In business and politics we hear a lot about ‘globalization’ which essentially means that the competitive marketplace is global. Today you might be competing with a business in the next town. Tomorrow you might be competing with a business on the other side of the planet. Certainly being aware of your competitors is good, and you can adapt your game plan based on what you learn about them, but sometimes companies obsess on their competitors and forget to get their own houses in order. Like many things in life, it’s a tricky balancing act.
A global marketplace and social scene however, means you really have no idea who you might be competing with over time. Even in established businesses with high barriers to entry, such as finance, partners might be acquired by competitors and overnight the landscape is changed.
Furthermore, with instant communications and easy access to anywhere, spheres which in the past might have been limited to a handful of competitors now have hundreds, thousands, millions, and soon billions of competitors.
We may one day see a global ‘talent’ contest, where anyone anywhere can compete.
This hyper-competitive world can be thought of as Infinite Competition and we should all be aware of it and plan our lives accordingly.
(to be continued…)