Daniel Page writes of his belief that it is possible “to leverage our innate competitive drive into behaviour that is healthy, productive and pro-social.”
There are numerous theories of behaviour that examine and discuss why humans behave and compete in the ways they do. Literature on competition and collaboration is diverse, covering multiple academic disciplines (psychology, economics, business, sociology, and political science) and focuses on several fields (academia, business, sports, and healthcare).
Social comparison theory posits that individuals are propelled by a drive to improve their performance and minimise discrepancies between their own and others’ level of performance. Motivational theories describe that an individual may be driven by intrinsic rewards such as enjoyment and satisfaction or extrinsic rewards such as status and money. Self-determination theory describes the human need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Achievement motivation theory illustrates the human need for achievement, power, and affiliation. Goal orientation theory is a social-cognitive theory which examines the reasons why people set goals and whether an individual has an ego versus task orientation.
Simply put, people are complex, each with their own set of experiences which guide their cognitions (thoughts) and behaviours (actions). Whether we like it or not competition is ubiquitous in the social, educational, and vocational domains of life. People seek to elevate their position in a variety of contexts from daily social interactions to organisational settings. Competitive behaviour is the manifestation of the unidirectional push to do better and protect one’s superiority.
Striking a balance between our competitive nature and the social benefits of collaboration can be tricky. There are advantages and disadvantages of both approaches, and the approach one takes is personal and shifts depending on circumstances. An individual can push a personal and self-centred agenda in a blatant manner, or they could use subterfuge and don the guise of a collaborative spirit, all the while gaining benefit without reciprocating. In a world of snakes and ladders everyone is attempting to reach the top. The reality of a world with limited resources dictates that we must work together in a democratic and civilised fashion.
Over time the environment and my personal experiences have resulted in my current set of ideas and behaviours. Raised alongside my disabled brother I was taught to measure success relative to my own abilities and intrinsic goals. This principle has guided my professional and personal life. I believe it to be possible to leverage our innate competitive drive into behaviour that is healthy, productive, and pro-social. My vocation is one of action research, implementing psychology-based interventions with a humanitarian ethos. I have chosen a profession which makes it easy to collaborate with my colleagues and draw on my competitive drive to deliver evidence-based interventions that rely on good scientific practice.
I recently returned from a trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with my father (who is 38 years my senior). The seven-day epic journey was to reach its high point after a final push to the summit. To my dismay, I had to make a last-minute decision and leave my father behind to summit that magnificent mountain alone. At the end of the day we must find our own balance and decide why and how we climb the mountain.
PhD Candidate (Psycology),
UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND