Competition LO18046

Janice Coelegg (
Sat, 09 May 1998 17:59:33 +0000

Replying to LO18017 --

Dear Rol, Roxanne, Ben and everyone,


I have been reading this thread increasingly as I would a great unfolding
book - a to and fro tempo revealing a tale about surviving, and thriving,
in life. I think the exploration of competition and cooperation
(alongside ranking) has been full of emotional highs and lows,
intellectual cut and polish, integrity to beliefs, and creative flair.

Thank you, so much.

While I had thought about contributing a few days ago during the
interaction between Rol and Roxanne, it is Ben's last post - describing
his increased proficiency with the basketball - that has become for me an
irresistible invitation. Ben used his outcome as an example of a positive
consequence to the competitive approach. I think that passage was
fantastically written, Ben and I thank you very much.

My view is that all of you, and many other contributors to this thread,
are right. My understanding of this area at the moment tells me, that in
addition, there is more. The "more" is where I would like to join you in
the discussion.

In collaborative research work with past colleagues, in consultancy with
my clients, and in my family, friends and myself, I have found that we
each adopt an approach to surviving, hopefully thriving in life. Our
approach seems to fall at any one time into one of 7 camps. Each camp is
an approach to interacting with others that brings with it, bound together
deeply in our imagination, linked maxims.

Each maxim, although it can bring about good conduct in itself, can also
create, unfortunately, undesirable consequences for the person, for other
people and for society. It is the effect of these maxims, and their
undesirable consequences that I think have fuelled opposing discussions so
far. Additionally, each approach seems inherently to resist legitimizing
the other six, so there is intrinsic tension between them. The person
holding the approach possesses a mentality of linked values that are so
strongly interrelated they come to be seen as "this is how you win at
life." The approach becomes a value system, part of the identity.
Competition and Cooperation are at the heart of 2 of these 7.

I think it is important for me to state at this point that I am not
placing an ethical judgement on any of the approaches. I am not in a
position to do that. My observation and direct experience so far tell me
that the approaches create ethical results in some contexts and unethical
results in others. See what you think.

There is an approach to surviving in life that puts power at the center of
that person's preoccupation. This means that in interactions with other
people, the person holding this approach will value shows of personal
strength, will strive to get control over others and the situation, will
compete to acquire the necessary power base, will work the system to his
advantage, will win respect, will be self-protective, and will get her

I can think of successful uses of this approach in settings where it is
important to the culture to have a potent chief, for example, in defending
against a hostile takeover bid or in responding with military might to an
aggressor; also where a virtuous "underdog" is trying to become
legitimized - I think someone in a much earlier post mentioned the DNA
discovery process. I am thinking also of small biotechnology research
groups whose investments in time and money are vast, and who are trying,
in order to create unusual markets, to both shift societal assumptions and
gain legitimacy through tapping key societal players.

All of the maxims in all 7 approaches have their undesirable consequences,
and the power-centered one is no different. Showing strength can lead to
intimidation, getting control over others can lead to domination of them,
competing to acquire a power base can create countervailing forces that
may bring the competer down (as in Newton's law - for every action there
is an equal and opposite reaction); working the system can lead to our
becoming one of the pawns in it (easily disposable); winning respect can
generate inferiority feelings (leading to the urge to further win respect
through increasingly strong means); self-protection can lead to paranoia;
and getting our way means we may more easily give in to temptation to have
our way, even when it causes harm to ourselves, to others and to the

I would like to talk about cooperation now.

Cooperation is the essence of another approach that puts "helping" at its
center. This approach will be familiar to anyone involved in the therapy
or personal development professions, in group facilitation and in
community group projects. Cooperating (and collaborating) is at the heart
of helping others and there are other maxims that interrelate in order to
achieve that help. The person holding this approach will experience these
as part of his identity, core to her life: achieving a consensus across
the group, producing benefits for all, pursuing equality of opportunity
for all, managing greed and envy (both within himself and in the group),
accepting others as they are, and exploring one another's feelings and the
meanings made manifest through events.

Unfortunately, the maxims that activate this conduct by the helper can
lead to undesirable consequences, just as in the power-centered approach,
above. Cooperating and collaborating can lead to interminability in the
process, achieving consensus can lead to mediocrity, producing benefits
for all can create free riders who drain the energy of the help without
themselves helping; pursuing equality of opportunity for all can expose
differences in gifts and levels of skills, thus making inequalities more
obvious; managing greed and envy can exacerbate these (in that perceived
deprivation can trigger greed; and dealing directly with envious verbal
attacks, for example, can get the helper and others mired in the attack);
exploring feelings and meanings can result in phenomenal time consumption,
when time may be in short supply.

I guess it is easy to see that there is quite a lot of discussion possible
to have just around these two approaches, never minding the other 5! One
attribute about the approaches that I have found to be true is that their
undesirable consequences happen although the person holding that approach
is trying to do everything right, and to the best of her or his ability.
I find it mysterious, but I have observed it and experienced it to be
true. I have not volunteered any consequences of willful abuse. I
suppose we could all imagine, and have experienced, those.

Before finishing, I would like to mention the other five approaches (since
I said above a few times that I have come across seven). They are:
kinship-centered, cause-centered, perspective-centered, money-centered and

With warm regards to you all,


Janice Coelegg Coelegg Services & Co Conceptual Consultancy, Process Facilitation: Individual and Organizational development based Bath UK

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>