Jeffrey Pfeffer writes a short, but spot on piece regarding the lack of competitive fire in today’s youth and it’s implications:
Over the years it has gotten more challenging to teach organizational power and politics to my Stanford students. Acquiring power means getting ahead, and they now grow up in a world that seemingly eschews competition. A student last year told me she had quit her swim team and instead played water polo because at swim meets, everyone got a ribbon no matter where they finished.
The problem is that in the world after high school, or maybe after college with the inflated grades, competition is, for better or worse, a fact of life. There is only one CEO, one managing partner in a law or consulting firm, one President, one school superintendent, one commanding general—you get the point. It is not at all evident to me that we do our students any favors by shielding them from the psychological rigors and stresses of competition until they are playing for the highest possible stakes—their careers.
The problem is that people seem to view competition as antithetical to cooperation, as if they are mutually exclusive. This is too simplistic a way of viewing things. Competitive behavior does not necessarily decrease people’s ability to cooperate, to come to the aid of others. (In fact, it may increase it.) In the extreme, sure, we can find instances where seemingly competitive people cause great harm. We see greedy, venal, self-interested actors doing terrible things and mistakenly assume that the cause must have been related to simply being competitive. This isn’t simply a reflection of a competitive personality or culture. Rather, it reflects an individual psychosis–an egomaniacal personality.
We do ourselves and others a huge disservice by downplaying the importance of competition. The world is inherently competitive and success (and, frankly, survival) is predicated on a healthy competitive drive. One could argue that our competitive drive is evolutionarily advantageous. It is something to be nurtured and harnessed, not dulled.