If we assume that competitiveness is essential for economic growth, then it is important to explore the reasons why so many people do not like competition. Perhaps we all work with someone who is very competitive that can turn even getting to the water cooler first into a life-and-death rush. From a developmental perspective many people are uncomfortable with competition, because we have all seen so many people marginalised because of their uncompetitive situation. This despite the depth of academic literature on the importance of competition in allocating resources to the economic actors most able to convert the resources into goods and services productively.
However, we all love it when our favorite sports team out-compete their competitors. So it seems like we all dislike certain aspects of competition, and yet we also like certain aspects of competition.
To explore this topic more I will discuss 3 kinds of competition:
- the characteristics of individual competitiveness;
- the characteristics of organisational or team competitiveness; and
- the characteristics of geographic competitiveness.
The characteristics of individual competitiveness
For the sake of this discussion I will use an individual athlete as an example. For our athlete to be able to compete in the 3000 meter track item, she needs certain clothes and shoes. She must work on her fitness and diet, and may require coaching to master the technical aspects of her item. But this does not yet make her competitive. In order to be competitive, she needs to practice hard. This requires mental and physical discipline, and would require many personal sacrifices. The more she competes, the more she would have to invest not only in participating in different events, but she may require sophisticated shoes, other gadgets, specialised coaching and other costs known only to athletes!
The characteristics of organisational competitiveness
For an organisation to be competitive, it requires more than the right gear, mental and physical discipline of a few individuals and an exercise programme. Organisations, whether it be private or public, needs more. It needs various management systems, protocols (some kind of a language or common code), and different modes of cooperation between individuals. Leadership, different specialised competencies and technology is used to increase the competitiveness of organisations. Think of a racing team, where even if there is a world-famous driver in the seat, need to operate almost like a single organism in order to outperform the other teams. Here it is not enough for one person to be smart, people need to be smart collectively. Leaders who can empower or develop their staff and that can optimise the talents or resources at their disposal can outwit their competitors through a process of ongoing innovation and investment.
The characteristics of geographic competitiveness
For individuals and organisations to compete, the competitiveness of their geographic environment will start to matter at some point. While a amateur athlete or a bakery can operate in many different locations, their ability to compete with their competitors are influenced by their environment. Michael Porter and other authors have all written about this phenomenon.
Places compete through the combinations and relationships between different individuals and organisations, and places where there is a dense interaction between different people seem to outperform places where the interaction and transactions are lower. There is also a relationship between the ability of firms to compete in their own geographic domains and their ability to compete elsewhere. Furthermore, as firms grow and become more competitive, they become more dependent on specialisation both inside the firm and in their environment. This means that places that cannot offer specialised services, either in the form of direct employment or through specialised providers or institutions, will be disadvantaged. To make this even more complicated, there is a relationship between the competitiveness of firms and individuals and the competitiveness of region, and vice versa. Societies or communities that are able to stimulate a competitive process or debate on different developmental or innovative approaches tend to also outperform regions where there are fewer options available due to an inability to manage the tension of a creative search process for different alternatives. For instance, in Germany, many development agencies compete for public funds through innovative bids, forcing these agencies to be creative in their approaches in order to achieve impact and resource optimisation.
We need to stimulate a competitive mindset both in individuals and organisations in order to strengthen the competitiveness of regions. To achieve this, we need to understand the different factors that hamper or stimulate competitiveness at the different levels, and the relationship between the different factors. Attempting to ignore competition and its role in resource optimisation in societies is futile, so we have to work on getting more people thinking about ways to improve competitiveness. The best thing we can do, is to equip the marginalised with the mental and physical discipline. One of the best ways to get these individuals into the race is through training (education) as this develops both the mental and physical discipline that is required to be part of the competition.