Competition is a dirty word among a large number of younger entrepreneurs. Admittedly, I don’t get it. But I’m no longer a young entrepreneur. Besides that, I grew up in retailing where it was dog eat dog.
When I was about 27 I was courted by a large retailer out of the west coast. During an interview at DFW International Airport I was asked about how I viewed merchandising. In particular, I was asked how I felt about retail pricing. Not knowing exactly what the CEO meant, I paused and listened. Without allowing time for a response, and realizing that his question was clear as mud, he said, “We want our competition to open the paper and choke on their coffee at how low our prices are.”
Even though I had over a decade of retailing expertise by this point, I had a keen awareness of how to be profitable in retailing. I knew if you were not the low cost leader, with all the associated scope and scale kind of advantages (think Wal-Mart), then it was a losing game. By the way, without answering his question, I politely informed him that I wasn’t likely the guy he was looking for. After a nice visit we boarded our respective planes and went our separate ways. Within a few years his company filed bankruptcy.
There are winners and losers in every area of endeavor. We see it most vividly in sports because there are televised games that have a beginning, an end and a scoreboard. We know who won. We know who lost. Some games come down to the wire. Others appear to be over early on.
Championships, on the other hand, are usually determined over a prolonged series of competitions. Wal-Mart began in a little Arkansas town, Rogers, back in 1962. By 1980 they had reached the billion dollar mark, the fastest any company had reached that milestone. In 1983 the first Sam’s Club was built in Midwest City, OK and in 1988 the first Wal-Mart SuperCenter opened combining general merchandise with a full-blown grocery store. In 1990 Wal-Mart was the champion, the number one retailer! It took them 28 years and during that time they bested various competitors. Today, they’re still battling hard against discount chains and grocery chains. In retailing, champions don’t last forever. Study a company you’ve never heard of called Korvettes.
Champions need competition. Good competition. If the competition is weak, the championship is considered weak.
Already I’ve heard some in tennis talking about the men’s and women’s Wimbledon champions. Many big name players were eliminated early on. A few commentators have noted that the current champions had a path to the championship that may be unlikely in the future. I don’t know about that because I’m not a tennis expert, but I understand the concept. If the field is weak, the champion doesn’t stand out quite as much.
Fact is, champions need the field. If there is no field – no competition – then there can be no champion.
Of or being a situation in which the outcome benefits each of two often opposing groups
Guaranteeing a favourable outcome for everyone involved
I have no idea who first came up with the “win-win” phrase, but it was likely a politician or a savvy negotiator. Whoever it is, I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them. They’ve likely set the world record for duping people.
It’s a pleasant thought. Nobody loses. Everybody wins.
It’s a lie.
No, it’s not impossible for everybody to come out ahead in a single scenario, but we can’t all be champions. A few weeks ago the Dallas Stars Hockey Club facillitated a trade with the Boston Bruins. Both teams traded away skilled players in order to get from the other, different skilled players. Most hockey experts felt each team did well and improved their roster. However, many feel Dallas may end up with the better of it IF the main player involved, Tyler Seguin, pans out. He’s only 21 and has a reputation as party animal. Minor details, right?
The point is, even in a situation like this, where people feel it may have been a win-win, most believe one team got the better end of the deal. True win-win scenarios seem quite impossible.
Not everybody can reside in first place. That podium only has room for one team, one company, one person. Only one champion.
Life Is Not Fair Or Equal
I’m guessing it may have been about the same time, but I can’t be sure. Somewhere along the way the collective idiocy began to concentrate on Little Johnny. You know, Little Johnny, needs to feel better about himself. We need to boost Little Johnny’s self-esteem. It’s really not right for him to play soccer (or any other sport, or any other endeavor whatsoever) and not get rewarded for it. After all, life rewards us all for just existing, right?
We need to teach Little Johnny that he can feel good even if he did finish last. Or make the worst grade. Or fail to learn. Or disobey his parents. Or break the law. Or lie, cheat and steal.
“Oh, Little Johnny, here’s your trophy. You did so good.” Parents line up lying like Rocky and Rosie on the floor of The Yellow Studio. Johnny got soundly whipped. In fact, he didn’t even make a very good showing, but we lavish him with praise because we need to teach him that in the real world, everybody wins!
The problem is, Johnny is going to grow up, get slammed in the face with reality, then wonder why the adults in his life lied to him. And he’ll hate them for it, too if he’s got an ounce of self-respect.
Here’s the deal.
If everybody wins, does anybody really win?
No. If everybody wins, then there is no winner. Everybody can be a loser though, and there we go. That’s the point of it all, don’t you see. To elevate losing to the status of winning so everybody can feel better about themselves.
I encountered some new Discovery Channel show called Street Outlaws. It’s about illegal street racing (is there any other kind, really?) in Oklahoma City. There’s a top 10 list. There’s a race master who keeps track and coordinates it all, including handling securing a place where they can conduct business. Guys on the list can “call out” the guy ahead of them and the race master will schedule the head to head challenge. These guys are serious street racers investing thousands of dollars into their vehicles.
In one episode the #2 guy calls out the #1 guy. Seems the #1 guy has been the top dog for about 3 years. Mr. #2 has worked for a long time to prepare to knock off the champ.
The first scheduled race can’t happen because the champ has a mechanical problem with the car. According to the rules these guys live by, #2 guy can assume the top spot, but he confronts the champ and tells him, “I don’t want it like that. I want to beat you.” What a guy. But I admired him for it. He’s an idiot for street racing, but he’s got principles. Oh, he’s got a wife and teenage daughters, too.
Well, the second scheduled race can’t happen. Tire problem for the champ. Again, #2 has the chance to snag the top spot without even firing up his car. He refuses.
Is this making sense to you now?
Mr. #2 knew that being the champion was worthless unless he beat Mr. #1. What good is the championship if somebody gives it to you, or if you get it without really earning it? It’s not and he knew that. At some point he expressed his desire to be the best by defeating the best. There it is.
If the top dog beats the #10 guy, farmtruck – big deal. He’s #10, you should beat him. But that’s not how champions are made.
So #2 finally races #1. And #2 won, ending the 3-year reign of the existing champ. After the race he said, “I’m gonna enjoy this for as long as I’ve got it.” He also indicated he’s going to work like crazy to keep it. That’s what competition is all about.
He could have had the championship two weeks earlier, but it would come by forfeiture, not by beating the existing champ. That’s no way to win.
It’s about as unsatisfying as getting a trophy simply because you showed up.
But before you go throwing rocks at me because you ignorantly think my philosophy is win at all costs — hang on! The field matters. The champion on Street Outlaws, or your rec softball league, or your bowling league, or anything else is determined by the strength of the competition. The competition matters!
Without all the guys under the champion, the Street Outlaw champion has nothing to brag about. If he’s fast as a blue blaze, but the other guys are all wannabe Speed Racers, what good is his championship?
We want the strongest field possible to compete against.
Every super hero needs a nemesis.