Understanding the Power of Competition

I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it. – Walt Disney

Back when the telegraph was the fastest means of long-distance communication, there was a story about a young man who applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, noisy office. In the background a telegraph clacked away.

A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office. The young man completed his form and sat down with seven other waiting applicants. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in.

Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. Why had this man been so bold? They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They took more than a little satisfaction in assuming the young man who went into the office would be reprimanded for his presumption and summarily disqualified for the job.

Within a few minutes the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer, who announced to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has been filled by this young man.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and then one spoke up, “Wait a minute! I don’t understand. He was the last one to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair.”

The employer responded, “All the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ‘If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. So the job is his.”

If you are like me, you are a competitive person, especially in sports. I do not like to lose and will play my heart out to win. But in our story we see what can happen when you don’t have a competitive edge and what happens when you do. Do you understand the purpose of competition?  When you understand the purpose of competition then you will understand why it is good. Here are three observations to help you understand.

Competition brings focus. When the young man entered the office his focus was not on the seven other job applicants. In fact, it’s reasonable to conclude that he paid them little attention. And in spite of the clatter of the noisy office he got the Morse code message loud and clear.

The lesson here is simple. Don’t lose focus of what’s really important. Rather than worry about who your competition is and what you can’t control, focus on your priorities and you can control. Tune out your distractions so that you can concentrate on your objectives and achieve your goals.

Competition is a neutralizer. Because the young man was focused, he was able to hear what the others could not. This gave him the advantage he needed and the job he wanted. His competitors were rendered ineffective because his ear was trained on the code.

The lesson here is simple. Smart leaders will neutralize their competition not by obsessing over them, but by training their own teams to outsmart them. How? Through strategic planning, focused leadership, and a superior understanding of their product and service.

Competition is a motivator. It would be naïve to think the young man did not expect competition for the job. And as it turns out, he was one of eight who sought the position. Healthy competition is a good motivator.

The lesson here is simple. Whether the forum is in sports, business, or academics, etc., competition will motivate you to be your best. The secret is not to be distracted by the competition so as to lose your focus, but to allow it to bring out your best qualities that will give you a competitive advantage.

Competition is good and competitors make great teachers.  Key for you is to learn from them, respect them, but never be intimidated by them. Let them bring you focus, neutralize them, and let them motivate you to be your best.


© 2012 Doug Dickerson


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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