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99's On the Go
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Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2014 Brian Remer
Updated March 2014
99's on the 9th
Plan to attend Brian's popular public workshop, Boredom Busters
- San Jose, CA, April 24, 2014
- Emeryville, CA, April 25, 2014
Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.
"You made me do that! I don't usually swim that fast," Gary said when we'd swum a few laps together. I hadn't known we were competing so I was surprised at his remark, even though it was in jest.
Competition can be an inspiration to challenge oneself. But I'm interested in why Gary didn't claim his new speed for himself. He did all the swimming yet wouldn't give himself any credit.
A focus on competition prevented him from establishing his own standards. Can Gary get his new time again, or will he need a competitor for inspiration?
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.
It's a dog-eat-dog world. Keeping up with the Joneses. Winning is not everything, it's the only thing.
Competition pervades American culture. It's the foundation of our economic system and it's a key feature of our sports, education, politics, entertainment, science, and religion. But it's not the whole story. Even though they sometimes fight for dominance or to defend their territory, dogs don't actually eat each other. Mostly they seem happiest playing in packs. Comparing ourselves to our neighbors, the Joneses, leaves us perpetually unhappy as the measures of status escalate. And when winning (according to football coach Vince Lombardi) is the only thing, we've left ourselves with a very narrow view of the world.
We spend so much time competing we don't often stop to consider its side effects. Unfortunately, competition is often a source of dysfunction dividing teams, isolating departments, unravelling friendships, separating siblings, and splitting couples.
For every winner, many more losers fall to the side. Are we to discount the efforts of everyone in business, education, science, politics, athletics, and the arts who did not win first place? Come to think of it, can a winner achieve first place without the contribution of everyone who lost?
In his book No Contest: The Case Against Competition, Alfie Kohn challenges our typical assumptions about competition and documents its negative effects on our relationships and our wellbeing. Though his arguments are difficult for competitive people to hear, his alternative ideas can spark valuable conversations and new thinking. One concept Kohn raises concerns the definition of success. If the standard we set for achievement is outside ourselves, it is actually weaker than an intrinsic measure unique to the individual. For example, we may invoke competition for inspiration but when inspiration is based outside ourselves, like the swimmers in the 99-Word Story, will we make the same effort without a competitor?
Competition sets us at odds with one another. In the struggle to be number one, we begin to see other people as rivals, adversaries, and even enemies. The difficulty is that this attitude undermines our ability to meet the intrinsic and universal human need for belonging. It also runs counter to the effectiveness of collaborative teams. How can we expect to be close to other people and trust them when we see them as a threat to our own goals? However, when we set our own internal standards for success that are not dependent on winning from another person, rivals become associates and adversaries allies.
If you agree that happiness comes from within, write your own definition of success, follow it relentlessly for yourself, and let the hungry dogs keep up with the Joneses.
Alfie Kohn, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1986, ISBN: 0-395-63125-4.
Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.
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