Saturday, March 30, 2013

Competition in the Business World

Mention the word competition and you're likely to get mixed reactions. Economists have long been enamored with the word. It helps build strong economies, stimulate the stock market. It's the engine that propels capitalism, pits companies against each other, generates new ideas that potentially increases profits and stimulates growth.

There are definitely benefits to competition, as outlined above. Setbacks are possible as well. Focus on the profit margin too long and corporate players start smudging numbers, creating false accounts, exaggerating results and leading the country to a market collapse. There's another setback: competition that sneaks up on coworkers as they try to outperform each other, or overthink a comment made by a frustrated worker as he's trying to meet his deadlines. Was he really serious about hiding those reports that don't add up?

Literature on the topic are mixed as well. Some believe you can't possibly be competitive and cooperative. You either win or you don't. Profits and market dominance are something you fight for. There's no place for absolute moral engagement. Other times, what is considered fair play is not accepted by all those involved. Take Walmart and Microsoft for example. The courts have ruled Microsoft's competitive strategies were unfair, while Walmart's low prices interfere with the employment rights of women and wage workers.

Where am I going with this? It's something I find myself reflecting on repeatedly. Every time I reach out to people they're unavailable. Friends are working unusually long hours. Family is running wild between conferences and workshops. They're not workaholics, whatever that means, but merely trying to keep up with the demanding work climate. That, or trying to avoid losing the job they already have.

Maybe the business world is just going about this competition frenzy all wrong. Or maybe there is another element to it we are ignoring. We must work to survive. To find work, we must compete to land that interview. To keep our jobs, we must work hard to show we deserve them. So if competition is a public good, then why all the stress, the fraud, and the unrelenting exhaustion?

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