When Competition is Not Healthy

Competition is not healthy all the time.  There is a cliche that competition always brings out the best in people.  That is a lie. 

Competition always brings out a winner, but that may not always be the best person.  Tom Brady is a prime example.

As a parent, I get to see this dynamic from an insider’s angle.  I’ve seen my son struggle with this same issue.  Looking back, I did too.  The hard truth is, the competition will never go away.  The only chance you have to beat is to hack it.  I’ll explain how:

Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round.  He came from a big time school, Michigan, but had lost his starting job to Drew Henson.  Drew won the competition, but Tom was the better quarterback.

We see this all the time in college sports.  The best high school athlete in the state moves on to college and starts playing against the best high school athletes from every state.  Often times, the shock intimidates the star athlete and they lose that self confident swagger that made them great.

I suspect this is what happened to Tom Brady.  Then, in the sixth round, he became a humbled 4th string quarterback.  The pressure was off.  Drew Bledsoe was the 28 year old starter and Tom was 4th string.  With no expectation of having a chance at the starting job, Tom could focus on his himself again, out of the spotlight.  Slowly, his talent emerged and he got that swagger back as he realized he was better than two of the other quarterbacks on the roster.  In 2001 he got his chance when Bledsoe was injured.  The rest is history.

So how then, as parents, can we help our child from being beaten down by competition?  I ask my self the same thing about companies we invest in.  How did YouTube beat out all the other video sites.  How did Facebook beat Myspace?

Confidence can be created.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he gives an example of hockey players.  It just so happens that the age cut off is January 1 in Canada.  You’d expect that if you looked at professional hockey players, their birthdates would be equally spread out amongst the year, 25% of players being born in each quarter of the year.  That’s not true.

  In fact, 30% were born in the first quarter of the year.  Only 19% were born in the last quarter of the year.  The point here, is that being slightly more developed physically than those around you makes you better and give you a higher chance of success.  That slightly better ability gives these athletes more confidence and gives the younger athletes less confidence.

How does this translate to our children and our companies?  Once we can see ourselves as slightly better than those around us, we begin to excel.  When Tom Brady was told he wasn’t as good as Drew Henson, he lost his starting job.  When an 8 year old isn’t as good at hockey as the other 8 year olds, he quits.  When one social media site is losing users to the other, they give up.

But, when Tom Brady got into camp behind two guys he was better than (John Friesz and Michael Bishop), he excelled.  When you’re faster than the other 8 year olds, you excel.  When your social media site is taking over college campuses, you eventually take over the world.

Facebook wasn’t better than Myspace in the beginning, but they were better at one thing.  Focus on that one thing, eventually made them the best.  The same is true about YouTube.  They weren’t the best site to load your videos to when they started, but there were the easiest.  Focus on that one thing made them the best in the world.  Tom Brady wasn’t the best quarterback on the roster, but he was better than the two ahead of him, focus on that one aspect made him the best quarterback in Patriots history.

The same can be true about our children and our teams.  Helping them see that they are the best at one thing, then focussing them on that one thing, can help them hack the competition until eventually, they succeed.

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