Am I More Competitive When I Beat Someone or Offer a Better Solution?

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.


A SEE Change to Collaborative Capitalism – Recommended Reading

Waddock, S. and M. McIntosh, SEE Change: Making the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise Economy. 2011, Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing.

[You can read the first chapter of the book on its website, or see an interview with Sandra Waddock about it.]

Waddock and McIntosh reframe the competition OR collaboration debate, showing how in smarter, more sustainable capitalism organizations integrate the interests of multiple stakeholders in the social and economic value they catalyze in multi-sector networks, celebrating and connecting human creativity in efficient, effective, and innovative ways that enhance the planet – being competitive THROUGH being collaborative. Read SEE Change for the framing of “how” and examples of the many groups paving the way.

Ecosynomics and Why You Care


I propose ecosynomics (pronounced “ee-co-si-nom-iks”) as the social science of the agreements that guide human interaction.  The roots of ecosynomics are eco (current usage is “relationship,” historically oikos was “household”) syn (together) nomos (rules): the rules of relationship together or, reworking the terms, the principles of collaboration.[1]   This builds on the billions of human-years of experience in the past century in learning about economics, defined by leading economists, as the social science of the allocation of scarce resources.[2]  To this experience, ecosynomics provides a framework and a research tool for understanding human agreements; agreements people have with their own selves, with others, with a group, with nature, and with spirit. Ecosynomics explains the relationship between the level of harmonic vibrancy experienced in these relationships and the level of scarcity or abundance experienced in a group.

As a framework, ecosynomics shows how a set of fundamental assumptions and the agreements that come from them can explain the extraordinary outcomes being experienced in thousands of groups globally, where these groups are operating with a completely new and emerging paradigm, based on abundance, not scarcity.  As a research tool, ecosynomics suggests, therefore, how to identify groups experimenting with new ecosynomics-based agreements, showing how to discover how their innovations are leading to much greater and sustainable efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation.

Why you care

Having looked at three levels – the three circles – of the five primary relationships and how people use these distinctions to describe the difference between the experience of scarcity and that of abundance, you might be asking, “Why do I care?”  This is a great question, as it forces me to pull everything together, concisely.

I will start with the definition of ecosynomics as the principles of collaboration.  Why would you want to collaborate?  Why not just compete?  After all, competition has led to many of the great developments in human evolution.  I take this question seriously.  When I look at “success,” as defined by the “competition” school, I find that the collaborators, as defined in these pages, are much more competitive.  These collaborators play the competitive game much better than do those who focus only on competition.  The collaborators work continuously with possibility, choosing to develop those capacities over time, out of their deeper potential, finding they can bring much greater capacities to the competitive game.  It is not that collaborators cannot compete – they can – rather that they see competition as a much broader game.  They compete with others in the moment of interaction. They also compete with themselves to continuously develop their capacities.  And, they compete with the infinite source to see how much creative potential they can embody.[3]  Thus, collaboration, as defined here, seems to lead to a higher level of competitiveness, especially in the terms of the “competition” school.

I have also found that the freer people are to develop their potential in these five primary relationships, the more abundance they experience.  Why do people want to be freer?  They just do.  Ask.  I suggest that you try asking others, and see what you find.  I too have asked, a lot.  I hear that people want to be freer in:

  • the experiences they have and the choices they make for themselves
  • the support they offer to others, in living into their talents, potential, and contribution
  • the contribution they can make to the group
  • the creativity that shines through them
  • the ability to make real a future they can imagine

In these freedoms, I hear the expression of the freedom to choose what relationships I want to be in and how I want to be in them.  This freedom means that “I choose.”  My relationships are not controlled by someone else.  This is why I think it is so critical to see that my interactions within the five primary relationships are guided by the agreements I accept in them, whether or not I am aware of these agreements.

What do the principles of collaboration (the definition for ecosynomics I gave above) have to do with being freer?  So far, I have found that people that seem to be freer are the same people that collaborate.  There seems to be a strong connection between greater freedom, greater collaboration, greater abundance, and greater harmonic vibrancy.

So, what are the principles of collaboration, as seen so far?  In this first conversation, I have already peeled back four specific principles of collaboration.

  1. People prefer abundance to scarcity, and higher levels of harmonic vibrancy to lower levels.
  2. People need all five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).
  3. Higher levels of harmonic vibrancy require higher levels of all five primary relationships.
  4. People make different agreements and interact differently at different levels of harmonic vibrancy.

[1] The word “ecosynomics” acknowledges and builds on the word “economics,” derived from the Greek for rules of relationship, oikos nomos, which originally translated as “household management.”  Back 2,500 years ago, the rules of relationship for a home and a government of the people were seen as the same.  Historian of economic thought Roncaglia suggests that, “in Greek culture we find no contrast between the viewpoint of the family administrator and the viewpoint of the government of the polis.  Xenophon and Plato explicitly stated this fact,” according to economic historian Professor Roncaglia (Roncaglia, 2006, p. 25).  In 390 BC Xenophon, a student of Socrates, writes, “The management of private concerns differs only in point of number from that of public affairs.  In other respects they are much alike.” (Goold et al., 1997, p. 189).

[2] Nobel laureate in economics Paul Samuelson in his popular economics textbook (Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1995, p. 4) defines economics as “the study of how societies use scarce resources to produce valuable commodities and distribute them among different people.”  In Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s top-selling economics textbook, he defines economics as “the study of how society manages its scarce resources” (Mankiw, 2008, p. 4).  How long has economics been around?  While political economic thought dates back to at least Babylon in the 1700s BC, it was only recognized as a discipline independent of other social sciences in the early 1600s AD, and as a profession in the 1800s AD (Roncaglia, 2006, pp. 18, 23).

[3] Michael Porter, one of the fathers of modern strategy, coined the term “competitive advantage.”  Porter describes competition in similar terms, invoking the outcomes, the process, and the possibility (Magretta, 2011).