Competition LO18201

Jon Krispin (
Tue, 26 May 1998 13:19:36 -0400

Replying to LO18170 --

Greetings to all LO'rs out there,

My name is Jon Krispin, and I have been lurking for several weeks now
since joining this listserv. I have some thoughts that I would like to
share regarding the competition thread that I have been following since I
first joined, but first, I will briefly introduce myself. I am presently
employed as a quality engineer for a tier one supplier in the automotive
industry, a position that I took immediately upon completion of a
doctorate in social and organizational psychology (several years ago). I
spent most of my graduate education seeking to learn about Deming, Systems
thinking, and sustaining continual improvement in organizations. I jumped
into my present position in an attempt to understand the reality of
implementing many of the concepts that I have learned and further my own
learning. I have learned tons, mostly that, even if you have a clear idea
of what you are setting out to do, an enormous amount of effort is
required to move any group of individuals (this may not be news to most of
you, but for me this has been important learning - especially since I
finished graduate school at 26 and had never had my success inseparably
linked with anyone else).

At any rate, enough about me. Rol Fessenden, I wanted to thank you for
your recent post regarding competition. Rol wrote specifically in
response to Roxanne Abbas:

>Roxanne, it is interesting that what others call competition you in a
>number of cases have agreed was important, but you simply call it
>something else. So the conclusion I draw is that it is all a matter of
>definition. In fact, you value many things that others think of as
>competition or competitive in nature. I am sensing that there is not
>much of a gap -- in a behavioral sense -- between your behavior and mine
>in specific instances, but I might be more inclined to refer to something
>as competition than you.
>For example, I refer to Martin Luther King as competitive, you do not.
>Fred refers to competing with oneself, you understand the concept but
>call it something else. Winfried refers to competing brands, you refer
>to having options and choices. In your behavior I sense, if not
>competitiion, then at the very least, not cooperation or collaboration
>either. Call it whatever you will, I think others, observing your
>behavior, your likes or dislikes, your approach to life and challenges,
>your values and ethics and your willingness to defend them, would
>probably describe you as a "normal" competitive person.

>I do not intend this as an attack at all, but an effort to understand
>more deeply the differences between your behavior and mine, at least as
>it relates to this issue of competitiveness. How can we draw
>distinctions that we both understand and agree on? Is that possible, or
>is this word too ambiguous to pin down? At the moment I find it
>difficult to identify the differences in behavior that are associated
>with the differences in values around this concept. You may disagree
>with my definitions, and that is a fair distinction. But what is the
>difference in behavior?

Your comments struck a chord with me, as this sums up a level of
frustration that I have been experiencing with the competition vs.
cooperation/collaboration thread. So much of the thread has seemed to be
tied up in seeking to be understood (clarifying one's own semantic
position) with relatively little emphasis placed on creating a shared
understanding. This frustration for me is not new to this thread, but
actually stems back a number of years to the time at which I first read
Alfie Kohn's No Contest.

I felt that he had totally missed the boat by condemning competition,
trying to draw immaterial distictions between intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation, etc...

In my own understanding (for what it is worth), the crucial difference
between fostering an environment that it conducive to learning, growth,
cooperation, collaboration, etc... and one that has the seeds for
competition that may eventually become destructive (win/lose) lies in the
feedback available to the system, whether it is personal mastery or that
of an organization or society. Social comparison on outcomes performance
is a readily available form of feedback that is the back bone of
competition. It is often used for evaluating progress by default (and, in
many situations, is the ultimate criteria for determining effectiveness -
for example, market share and profitability in industry in a capitalist
society). The use of outcome metrics as a criteria for effectiveness,
improvement, and progress is not bad in and of itself, but, when used
exclusively, sows the seeds for destructive competition (win/lose thinking
and the zero sum game).

One behavioral law that has been demonstrated time and time again is that
certainty and immediacy of feedback are critical dimensions that influence
the utility of a feedback source for impacting behavior. The utility of
feedback, for example, has been shown to diminish at an exponential rate
over time. Social comparison information on performance outcomes often
fits both of these criteria - its availablity is certain and immediate.

On the other hand, the behaviors, interactions, and dialogue that are
fundamental to creating an environment that is conducive to learning often
do not have any inherent feedback system (actually, dialogue is a feedback
system in itself, but there is often no feedback readily available on the
dialogue that does take place - I think that Chris Argyris would have
termed this double loop learning). These process skills and behaviors must
have feedback systems that are certain and immediate (or be very
powerfully reinforced to compensate). Without this feedback, these
behaviors will not be able to compete with other behaviors that will be
aimed at optimizing outcomes in the short term (the word "compete" was
used consciously in this sentence). Providing this type of feedback is
often the second step in creating a learning organization, following the
teaching of the concepts and skills involved.

One truth of which I am certain, any time that you see competition running
rampant in a destuctive way (something that does happen, but not nearly
all of the time), time is best spent identifying the feedback systems that
are presently in place and developing feedback systems that support the
learning process. Here is where the levers for change, learning and
growth will be found. And, if we spend our time in this arena, many of the
semantic differences will disappear as we focus on the behaviors and
fundamental values on which we all agree and seek to live our lives.

Jon Krispin


"Jon Krispin" <>

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