Competition – Are We Still Thinking Like Social Darwinists?

Competition is so ingrained in our culture, we can often miss the economic, social and environmental damage it does. Author and marketer Lynn Serafinn explains.

Last week, in Part 1 of this article series on Collaboration, we looked at some of the common misconceptions about Collaboration, and how true Collaboration always has four vital qualities: Vision, Innovation, Trust and Ease. Today, I’d like to take a deeper look at the traditional adversary of Collaboration–the “Deadly Sin” of Competition. We’ll look at how Competition entered into our economic model, the false beliefs we have about it, why we’ve held onto it for so long, and why it no longer works in our modern world.

The Rise of Competition
While the tendency to be competitive is probably as old as the human race, the practice of Competition in modern business and marketing parallels trends in social thought that arose in the second half of 19th Century Europe and America. In particular, there was a rise in thinking that some have called “Social Darwinism” (although this philosophy has nothing to do with evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin).

An economic theory, Social Darwinism paralleled many of the anthropological and ethnological theories of the era. Many scholars believed that cultures could be classified into different categories, which defined their level of advancement from “savagery”, to “barbarism”, to “civilization”. This was known as “cultural evolution”. While many of us today would find the theory of cultural evolution to be an abhorrent and racist way of thinking, historically it rose at a time when formerly independent cultures were intermixing socially and economically in an unprecedented way.

From this prevailing view of the world in western society, many sociologists and economists began to believe in a “natural law” which some have called “survival of the fittest”. A gross misinterpretation of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the idea of “survival of the fittest” became a justification for everything from slavery, to Nazism, to the slaughter and exile of indigenous peoples in North America.

But over time, belief in “survival of the fittest” also took root at the very foundation of business and marketing practice, and it became the fuel for the fire of the golden age of capitalism at the turn of the 20th Century.

The Myth of Competition
The fundamental belief that Competition is an inherent element of “natural law” has become part of our culture in ways many of us do not even think to question. As children, we are first introduced to it within the educational system. As adults, we feel it in the workplace. The world of athletics, politics and the entertainment industry are all dictated by competitive demands. And certainly Competition is now part of the DNA of the business and marketing world.

Such evidence would lead us to deduce that we as a society believe Competition makes us stronger. We believe it encourages better performance and helps define excellence. Consciously or not, our behaviour seems to indicate that we believe in the philosophy of “survival of the fittest”, even if we outwardly reject it. We are more conditioned by Social Darwinist thinking than most of us would care to admit.

But Competition is not all it’s cracked up to be. Recent studies (some of which I cite in The 7 Graces of Marketing) have shown that Competition frequently shuts down innovation and puts us into a survival mode. It can make us aggressive rather than creative. It can make us fearful and protective (or even deceptive), rather than courageous and open. This is true in both children and adults. And certainly, we can see the damage it can do on economic, environmental and sociological fronts. When Competition for money, resources or power is allowed free reign, it creates devastating repercussions for people and planet.

So why do we hold onto this antiquated model of Competition, if it really isn’t serving us?

What Keeps Us Locked in a Competitive Model?
I believe fear is at the root of just about any situation where we feel “stuck”, both at an individual and collective level. When we see the world through the eyes of a “survival of the fittest” belief system, we automatically put ourselves into fear. Survival mode is a fearful place:

  • We fear economic and social loss.
  • We fear social and emotional rejection if we don’t come out on top.
  • We fear someone else will get what we want and there won’t be anything left for us.
  • We believe there is a limited amount of business “out there” and we fear if don’t get it, someone else will.
  • We believe there can be only one “winner” and we fear if we don’t win, we will be failures.

Underlying these fears is a deep-rooted belief in Scarcity (Deadly Sin #6) and limitation. We believe not only that there is a limited amount of Abundance (Grace #6) in the world, but also that we are limited.

But our belief in these limitations is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Abundance is a matter of balance. I believe there is enough to sustain all life on this planet when we live in balance with the natural pace of ecological and economic rhythm. But when we believe in limited Abundance, we will compete to get as much of it as we can. The more we compete, the more imbalances we create within the system. The more imbalanced the system gets, the more Scarcity we create. The more Scarcity we create, the more fearful we get and the more competitively we behave.

And thus, Competition creates the very Scarcity we fear most. Far from creating a better, stronger world, Competition erodes it.

The Shift to a Collaborative Model
Competition may have worked to a limited degree in an era when humanity was comprised of smaller, relatively autonomous cultures. But in this era of global economies, media and communication technologies, it is important to wake up to the fact that:

Every action we take as business owners and marketers
creates an impact upon the rest of the world.

If we are to survive as a race–a unified human race–and not just as individuals, we’ve got to change our modus operandi from Competition to Collaboration.

In part 3 in this series, we’ll look at why Collaboration–not Competition–is our natural state, and how it is a vital part of the way forward in addressing the economic, environmental and humanitarian issues in our modern world.

Personal enquiries for today:
What do I fear most in my business and marketing dealings? How does this impact the way I work with others?

  1. What underlying Scarcity belief is at the root of this fear? What do I believe will “run out”?
  2. How has Competition impacted me personally? What gain have I received from it? What price have I had to pay for it?

Find out more about the “7 Deadly Sins” and the “7 Graces” of marketing, and how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place in my books:

Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog and leave a comment below before you go.

~ Lynn Serafinn
8 March 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)

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4 Responses to Competition – Are We Still Thinking Like Social Darwinists?

  1. I think one of the biggest places competition plays all out in our lives and businesses is in our relationship with the resource of time. I have found myself slipping deeper into the mindset that there is a scarcity of time in my life and business that’s keeping me from achieving my objectives. The competition is between my various inner selves and their allegiances and desired outcomes. The “survival of the fittest” in this case is the most dominant or strongest demand on my time. This sets up the fear that there won’t be enough time to go around for everything I want to do.

    As you said, there is always an underlying limiting belief, in this case that there really isn’t enough time, and that there are limitations on how I spend my time.

    This is the deadly sin of Competition working its insidious way into the very fabric of our lives at the core of what we believe is possible for ourselves. Scarcity beliefs can lurk in the most surprising places when we become aware of how they are intrinsically linked with the pervasiveness of the competition mindset.

    What an awakening! I don’t have to compete with myself. There really can be enough time for what I want to be doing. And I can design the way that looks and works.

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