Most people are confused about the differences between production and competition. They see them as opposites, which means that, since production is productive, competition must be destructive. What people fail to see is that competition and production are the opposite in methods but not in their goals. Properly understood, both must be productive while working in very different realms.
What's the difference?
Competition exists everywhere that comparisons among alternative choices take place. Production exists wherever objects are transformed to create more valuable objects. Competition and production work together to produce value, but they demand very different skill sets and methods.
Production works by following a set of methods that transform raw materials into products or services, that is, objects into more valuable objects. Competitive methods work by winning support and discouraging opposition to a certain choice among alternatives. Production methods work on objects while competitive methods work on people. The more efficiently we produce objects, the more value we can potentially create in competition with others. The better our competitive skills, the more support our productive skills will gain the alternative choices.
Complementary But Opposite Skill Sets
2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu described these two opposite but complementary parts of life as the realms of the nation and the army. The nation, run by the ruler and his administrators, was the productive half of the equation, farming the land and making objects. The army, run by a general and his commanders, was its competitive counterpart, defending the land and influencing people. Survival depends on both components working together, understanding each other's role, and using very different rules. Managing production and internal operations is very different than decisions about competition and external maneuvers.
The secret is knowing when to use the methods of production (linear thinking, process planning, problems solving by division) and when to use the methods of competition (adaptive thinking, expert decision-making, and problems solving by innovation). We go into this in more detail in discussing our training, but the chart below offers a quick summary of the differences
The Critical Differences
|Advancing Positions||Shaping objects|
|Exploring and experimenting||Designing and organizing|
|Adaptive thinking||Linear thinking.|
|Networked relationships||Hierarchical structure|
|External, chaotic environments||Internal, controlled environments|
|People competing||People cooperating|
|Most people making decisions||Most people following procedures|
|Anonymous, unattained resources||Known, available resources|
|Event-based responses||Predetermined steps|
|Factors details into larger picture||Breaks processes into finer details|
|Unique, custom solutions||Duplicate, standard products|
|Adjusts to environment as a whole||Controls part of environment|
|General improvement in position||Well-specified end result|
Creating Resources for Each Other
Productive and competitive methods create the resources for each other in a constant cycle. The better our competitive skills, the more resources we capture to use productively. The better our production, the more resource we produce for use in external competition. Competition and production are closely tied to each other, but they require different skill sets. In the Sun Tzu's strategy, they are defined as "complementary opposites." Both are necessary. They work together. But you must understand how they are different.
The problem in recent decades is that our knowledge of production and training in linear thinking have greatly overshadowed our competitive skills and we receive. Fortunately, there is a growing interest in the types of strategic skills that people need on the front lines of competition. Fortunately, we have the Sun Tzu's strategy of Sun Tzu to guide us in building our competitive perspective and sharpening our decision-making reflexes.