Po Bronson’s new book Top Dog takes on the how’s, why’s and who’s of competition. If you’re an advocate of competition, whether in sports or in business or in education, it’s an interesting read on why some people tense up under stress, why others peak when performing, the psychology and physiology behind our reactions, and how it matters in our lives.
If you tend to avoid or advocate against competition, it’s a crucial read. Why? Because of one of the book’s key pieces of information.
- About 50 percent of the population performs better when some sort of competition is involved
- About 25 percent of the population performs no better or worse when performance involves competition. This includes test-taking, sports, or other “events”
- About 25 percent of the population is adversely affected by the stress involved in competition. However, it turns out that even in test situations, much of this can be overcome by helping these people understand the source of their discomfort. Experimenters told students, “It’s normal for you to have butterflies in your stomach come test time. But you know what? Being under a bit of stress actually helps people think a bit more clearly. You’ll be fine!” And most overcame their anxiety!
Competition AND Cooperation/Collaboration is a polarity, where Both/And, not Either/Or solutions are required. Too often, we choose one side or the other–we do away with all forms of competition in businesses or in schools–and the studies Bronson cites tells us we’re adversely affecting the performance of half the people involved!
On the other hand, if we don’t help that 25 percent of the population deal with the stress of competition (they’re hardwired for stress due to the kinds of enzymes the brain produces to decrease dopamine…), we’re adversely affecting 25 percent of the population.
We can look at the value of both Competition AND Cooperation to get the best of both! That’s what leveraging polarities is all about.