Wednesday, 22 June 2011

On competitiveness - picking the battles you want to win


On Monday evening I was invited to the launch of Row2Recovery - a great new charity supporting injured servicemen and women and their families. Sir Ranulph Fiennes gave a very entertaining speech about motivation, and its role in the many expeditions he has led. Motivation was a very relevant topic - the Row2Recovery team, including several servicemen who have lost limbs in Afghanistan, are preparing to row across the Atlantic.

Although his subject
was "motivation", one theme kept recurring - competitiveness. It was very clear that Sir Ranulph's principal motivation is competitiveness. Time and again he described decisions to prepare an expedition based on a desire to beat all other explorers - usually the French or Norwegians. As more and more of the world's challenges have been notched up by explorers, he has operated in the margin between that which has already been done, and that which is not possible.

Sir Ranulph explained that he was also competing for media attention - so that he could attract the sponsors who finance his expeditions. So when his New York based literary agent told him that desert expeditions were going out of fashion and that polar exploration was the new vogue, he began looking for cold weather records to break (and found several).

Few of us operate in the extreme competitive environment relished by Sir Ranulph, and I saw an example of the kind of competitive consideration that is more relevant in most of our lives when I visited a company yesterday. Hanging from one of the walls was a board with an African Proverb written on it - so I pulled out my camera.

A gazelle does not need to be the fastest gazelle - but it needs to be faster than at least one of its companions if it is to survive for long. This echoes the advice given to people going camping in bear country: "you don't need to be able to outrun bears, just take a slow camping companion with you".

Many organisations struggle to define their competitive set. It's very important to know who you need to beat in order to be successful, and sometimes it's not obvious. Sometimes the competitors you choose can respond very differently from you - for example because the cost of failure to them is much higher, or much lower. As a result, your competitor analysis should contain a thorough examination of what your rivals are seeking to achieve too. You may find that you can conserve resources by not taking on competitions that are unwinnable or unnecessary - and from time to time it makes sense to cooperate with your competitors to enlarge the opportunity that you both wish to exploit.

It pays to be a winner

If you would like some practice, try playing "it pays to be a winner" with some of your friends. The rules are simple. All you need to do is choose a distant but visible object, ideally at the top of a hill. Then race each other around the object and back to your starting point. The first person back to the starting point wins the first round, and can relax and watch as the remaining players repeat the process, until there is only one loser left!

This game has a number of benefits:
  1. It will get you very fit
  2. You'll find out how fast you are compared to your friends
  3. You'll learn how to judge when to use your resources
This final benefit is the key one. There is no point in expending energy coming second, so the best players conserve their resources until they know they have a good chance of winning - and then they go for it. To do this successfully you need a thorough knowledge of your rivals' strengths and weaknesses, and their appetite for risk.

Go on - give it a try!

The team from Row2Recovery are competing against each other for places in the final crew, and then they will be competing with the elements and with other crews to cross the Atlantic as quickly as possible. That's competitive spirit, and a battle worth winning!

No comments:

Post a comment