Dominance in Competition

Question: 

Is life a competition? Should everyone strive for a dominance by all possible means?

Gary's Answer: 

Life is not “a” competition. Life is many, many competitions. Life’s competitions have little to do with “dominance”. Striving for “dominance” is a good way become a loser in life.

We must understand the nature of competition. Competition is comparison. All of life’s competitions are comparisons. We are constantly comparing each other and being compared to one another. We compare each other in choosing our friends, our lovers, who we want to support, who we want to oppose, and who we can safely ignore. This constant competitions also ranks the objects about us and their value. It also compares the competing ideas in our heads. Each of us ranks the winners and losers in our minds in order to make decisions.

Someone wrote in an answer the “cooperation was better than competition”. But even cooperation requires a competition in which there are winners and losers. We cannot cooperate with everyone on everything. We choose who we want to cooperate with by comparing potential allies. We choose how we want to cooperate by comparing potential roles. We can only cooperate after the competition among potential partners and possible roles sorts everything out.

It is also a mistake to think of life’s competitions as a battle for dominance. Very few of life’s comparisons are about “dominance” in the sense of having power over others. The idea that all value hierarchies are about power is academic ideological nonsense. We compete, that is, we are compared, in many dimensions using many different value hierarchies. We compete to be liked by others. We compete to be viewed as competent. We compete to be seen as courageous. We compete to be known as caring. We compete to be trusted. The list goes on forever. Few of these values have anything to do with the “dominance” of power over others.

“Dominance” is almost a comic book depiction of the types of authority and responsibility we can earn in real-life competition. Competition for real-world authority has little to do with “dominance.”

I was fortunate enough to build and INC. 500 company as a founder and CEO. I was “dominant” in that company in the sense that my position gave me the authority to make decisions that affected many, many lives, but I was far from free to do what I wanted. My choices were highly constrained by the need to keep my employees, our customers, and our market allies happy or we would go out of business in no time at all. When you own a company, you competitive situation dominates you much more than you dominate it. It is true: with authority comes responsibility.

Today, it is hard to find people who want authority because they don’t want the responsibility. The world is portrayed in the media as a situation where people want to climb up over one another in the corporate hierarchy to get more money. I have worked for decades with managers in large corporations all over the world, I have never seen this. Though corporate political battles are common, it is much, much, much more common to see management jobs go begging because competent people don’t want the responsibility. Most would rather do their jobs, go home at night and sleep: not having to worry about their decisions. Very few people are willing to sacrifice their personal lives to build large organizations. I say God bless them. I wasn’t willing to do that past a certain point. Once my job got too political to tolerate, I cashed in my chips, left my company, and took the money and did other stuff I wanted to do with my life.

Finally, if we do want that authority, which some mistake for dominance, there are only two ways we can get it. We have to win a competition in which either:

  • People choose to work for us rather than someone else and be guided by our decisions.
  • People who have earned authority choose to give us some of it rather than to someone else.

We cannot win either of these competitions if the people giving us authority, our employees or our bosses, think we are only seeking “dominance.” If people see us as pushy, power-grabbing, manipulative, and so on, we lose in life’s competitions, on every dimension.