Our culture encourages us to compete from an early age – particularly for our dream job. I used to think that competition was healthy. I thought that by competing to be the best, I’d achieve more, I’d be more successful and I’d win in life. I was wrong.
Working for a few years in a high pressured, senior sales job with a target of millions pa in the City of London encouraged me to be in “competition mode” most of the time. I was fearsome. It became habit. I didn’t even realise I was competing out of fear for my job– with my peers and even in my home life- until I left almost 20-years ago to set up my own businesses.
When I had my freedom, it sparked a change in me. I was tired of competing and wanted to do things differently. I wanted more meaning in my life and I wanted to value my professional and personal relationships. Initially I set about researching my marketing competition, then getting to know and respect them. Over time I easily found my niche as a marketing consultant in the forward-thinking, collaborative town of Cheltenham (thanks to #GlosBiz and other networks). I was easily able to form virtual marketing departments to deliver large and small client projects – as any agency would- with the assistance of specialist graphic designers, web developers, various social media experts, SEO experts, etc. all of whom used to meet regularly for a ‘Jelly’ get together to bounce ideas around in the local pubs and cafes. This free collaboration with my competitors sparked great creativity, it was kind, welcoming, mutually respectful and beneficial (profitable for all).
Collaborating with competition can be extremely helpful. Today I choose collaboration over competition for better business and meaningful relationships.
When I relocated from Cheltenham to East Devon almost 7-years ago I made a huge effort to make connections in marketing and PR in Exeter – to very limited success. I was happy to do the rounds, bouncing in and out of offices, talking enthusiastically about the valued clients I was working with (freely offering my intellectual property) and waiting patiently for reciprocation.
To the narrow-minded, who didn’t even meet with me, I’m sure that I was perceived somehow as a threat to their clients. To those whom I met, I am still waiting for the reciprocation. Even recently, when I met an Account Exec from a local agency at a networking event, I was asked to refer my larger clients whom she mistakenly assumed, “I clearly couldn’t handle”. I smiled politely, instead of rising to the competitive challenge.
Competition by definition means that someone will only succeed if others fail. Success comes to be defined as victory – triumph over others.
In my experience competition isn’t ‘healthy’ and doesn’t necessarily make everyone work harder or spark inspiration etc. It can bring out the worst in people, encouraging fear and mistrust- even being destructive. The killer questions are “Where is the sense of competition coming from?” “What’s the prize for winning?”, and “What’s the cost for losing?”. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you’ve done. Worse — you’re a good person in proportion to the number of people you’ve beaten.
Surely knowing and trusting that you are great at what you do is good enough? There must come a time for everyone to stop measuring each other up, climbing the ladder and tearing others down to win. There is another way. It’s time to connect and collaborate, to support and strive for better relationships in life and business to ensure everyone ‘wins’.
Nowadays I chose my company carefully. I currently operate Angela Consulting – Marketing and Teignmouth Thunderbirds Netball Club CASC based on collaboration over competition every time. Yes, even coaching netball – the emphasis is on working together as a team to enjoy the game 1st and competing to win 2nd (as a by-product of enjoying the game). Here are some of the fabulous like-minded women I work with who could be classified in many other fields as competition:
- Ellen at Nellie PR and I got to know each other via a mutual friend, we have recently partnered on projects and I’m sure we’ll be friends for life. She’s extremely well qualified and experienced in all things PR and I have tremendous respect for her point of view. Whenever we meet socially with other friends, although they try, they simply can’t keep up with our marketing/ PR/ northern banter. Her new online PR mentor program #PRthatPays is going to be a huge success and I’m looking forward to working with her more in the future.
- Annie at InHouse Communications and I met randomly at a wedding around 10 years ago. As well as having the biggest hair and the best surname – Rocks! – over the years Annie has become a valued mentor and will be a lifelong pal. Nowadays Annie is involved in marketing and PR for home decor, interiors and exteriors and we’ve collaborated on a few projects. She remains a complete PR expert with her finger on the pulse of what’s happening for her clients and is the complete life and soul of any party.
- Kim of Exeter PA Network and I got to know each other around 6 years ago on Twitter and met over coffee. We became social media friends then partners in wine (and nowadays gin!). Kim is a big inspiration to me and her outlook is relentlessly positive. She’s having an amazing year winning various awards and growing her businesses. Today we partner on various projects and have become close friends.
- Cat of The Devon Wedding & Events Company and I met through our love of all things Netball about 4 years ago. We collaborate through Teignmouth Thunderbirds Netball Club and she inspires me with her strong will and determination. Cat has the magic touch when my “chimp” starts running riot and I value her laid back approach to business and life. She is growing her business at a rapid rate and has recently won awards for her entrepreneurship.
- Isabel of Map Your Future and I met through a mutual contact and every time we meet we enjoy each other’s company. She is adventurous and fun and like me has a passion for B-Corps and social enterprise. I’m sure our collaborative time is yet to come.
These people have become my friends and add tremendous value to my life. This list is not exhaustive and I’m very grateful for the work we have done together. However, I’m much more interested in the relationships we have developed and are continuing to develop. I hope you have found this article interesting food for thought, and would be interested in your experiences. Please comment with your thoughts on collaboration over competition – sharing is caring.