I am often reminded of a puzzle form my early years in school. Teacher drew a line on blackboard and asked the class, do you know how to make it small without touching it? (B in picture here). None of us could figure out answer. She drew bigger line (A) parallel to B and asked which one is smaller. All of us answered B. She went on to concept of hard work and being positive. Best way to win is to put in more effort and produce better results, avoid indulging in negative behaviors like cheating, jealousy and so on.
This example keeps coming back, – “best way to make a line smaller is by drawing bigger one”, in talks, interviews, training etc. Key challenges in this message are –
- Control remains with competition; your success is measured and quantified by achievements of someone else.
- Supports comparison, root cause of negative and dysfunctional behaviors
- Message is counter intuitive to multiplicity of ideas and pluralism.
In 1990s when Coke, decided to re-enter Indian market post liberalization Pepsi was well established in Indian market with head start of almost 7-8 years. Senior Coke executive was visiting India and a journalist asked about how they plan to grow and gain market share from rivals mainly Pepsi. Coke executive responded that their target market was not only consumers of carbonated drinks but everyone who drank water or lemon drink to quench thrust. In one statement, the person redefined entire market and possible opportunities for Coke. This illustrates power of taking control while facing adversity. (Surviving Adversity)
Once we start seeing competitors as inspiration instead of enemies. Our communication, expected behaviors rewards and recognition strategy undergoes a complete change for positive. The rhetorical statements, over zealousness and unnecessary aggression give way to desire for continuous improvement, sense of fulfillment and enjoyment. We spend so much time and resources in improving processes to remove non value added activities but we spend so little on improving human processes and take out non value adding emotions from people’ life. (HOW: Retaining Leadership).
Message of exercise remains well intended and noble. Taking a selfish perspective, it still is worthwhile to continue working on your line instead of trying to sabotage other line. For example, B’s line represents current net worth of $ 1 mm and A’s line $ 1.2 mm. If B tries to sabotage and bring down A to 900K, in absolute terms he still is at $ 1 mm. Instead if B spends his resources (energy, time, effort, money etc) only on extending his line to $1.1 mm, and during same period A extends her line to $ 1.5 mm, in absolute terms B is still much better off.
In the picture, four lines started parallel to B ending up as A, Leaf, flower and a boat. A was driven by making B smaller, she can carry this line far but it will be always X of B and there lies the limitation of this method. Whereas leaf, flower and boat created there own vision and took their respective paths. They worked on extending their lines. Further, to color and target a totally different audience. Freeing them from having to compete and be compared with A&B.
Never define yourself as a product and, in fact, I would augment it; never define yourself by your competition, either. If you live and define yourself by your product or competition, you will loose sight of who your customer is. - Ginni Rometty Chairman, President and CEO—IBM.
Benchmarking, understanding competition, trying to win in market place, setting ambitious targets and goals are good. Even cliché “Whatever it takes” isn’t unwanted. Challenge is in understanding associated cliché - “end doesn’t justify means”. It’s a combo deal. We keep thinking that our challenge is second cliché, in reality challenges and failures come from first part “whatever it takes” and life time of conditioning with - “best way to make a line smaller is by drawing bigger one”.
"Live in accordance with how one thinks. Be yourself and don't try to impose your criteria on the rest. I don't expect others to live like me. I want to respect people's freedom, but I defend my freedom. And that comes with the courage to say what you think, even if sometimes others don't share those views." - José "Pepe" Mujica, President of Uruguay