Two very different definitions, easily confused.
compete (verb) — to strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same
compete (verb) — to act independently to secure an exchange with a third party by offering the most favorable terms
The first definition implies beating someone, and the second implies offering the better solution. I find that we tend to confuse the two. The first focuses on another human being, establishing superiority over them. Beating the competitor, the other producer offering an exchange. The second definition focuses on the offer in the exchange. Coming up with a solution that offers more value in the exchange to the consumer. The two definitions mean completely different things, leading to completely different processes for being “more competitive.”
Competition as beating someone puts “superiority over another producer” front and center — I am more competitive when I establish superiority over someone else. Competition as offering a better solution puts “the better solution for the consumer” front and center — I am more competitive when I offer the consumer greater value.
The differences in definition stand out when we look at how to be “more competitive.” What does that mean? When you look for advise, you will find two different schools. One says, “Here is how to beat the other. Dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest.” This school believes in the first definition of competition, beat the other, establishing superiority over them. The other school says, “To offer a better solution to the consumer, find out what the consumer values, and find innovative ways to offer more of that value. Be creative.” This school believes in the second definition of competition, focus on offering the consumer greater value.
From an ecosynomic perspective, if you start from an implicit assumption of scarcity of resources (i.e., scarcity in profits, employees, consumers, inputs), then you are boxed in. This scarcity forces you to find ways to ensure that you end up with the scarce resources, at the expense of the other producer. Only one producer gets the scarce resources, so work hard to make sure it is you who gets them — being more competitive (definition #1). This tends to keep your attention on the value of things accumulated and outcomes level of perceived reality.
Our research and field work suggests that if you start from an implicit assumption of abundance of resources (abundance in business models, creativity, consumer values, potential inputs), then you tend to open up your thinking about what the consumer values, creative ways of providing more of that value, and potential processes for manifesting that creativity more efficiently. This thinking tends to lead you to collaborative practices that engage greater potential and creativity and processes that develop and manifest that creativity. A lot more energy with which to build more creative solutions, leading to solutions of much higher value — being more competitive (definition #2). This tends to open you up to working with possibilities and pathways for developing outcomes over time, valuing and engaging three levels of perceived reality.
This observation suggests what appears to many to be a paradox: being more collaborative can lead to being much more competitive (definition #2). Because I am much better at accessing higher creativity through energy-enhancing collaboration, I offer better solutions, which the consumer prefers, so I win the exchange. When coming from the beating school of competition, I would never collaborate with you, because then I am not establishing superiority over you. To be more competitive, I have to separate myself from you, thus the paradox.
The word compete comes from Latin for com– ‘together’ + petere ‘aim at, seek’. Recent findings suggest that by seeking together for a better solution, we are more likely to find one, together. Since competitive markets stand at the center of today’s discourse on capitalism, freedom, and fairness, it might be helpful to see whether we are more competitive when we collaborate.
I invite your own reflections and observations on this question. Please share them as a comment to this blogpost.