Tag: competition

6/17/12 “The Creative Monopoly”

Good day, team.

A few months ago, David Brooks wrote a very interesting article for the New York Times, “The Creative Monopoly.” For today’s challenge, I’d like to share a few paragraphs from that article in which he writes about the differences between competition and capitalism and how we often confuse the two.

“As a young man, Peter Thiel competed to get into Stanford. Then he competed to get into Stanford Law School. Then he competed to become a clerk for a federal judge. Thiel won all those competitions. But then he competed to get a Supreme Court clerkship.

Thiel lost that one. So, instead of being a clerk, he went out and founded PayPal. Then he became an early investor in Facebook and many other celebrated technology firms. Somebody later asked him, ‘So, aren’t you glad you didn’t get that Supreme Court clerkship?’

The question got Thiel thinking. His thoughts are now incorporated into a course he is teaching in the Stanford Computer Science Department. One of his core points is that we tend to confuse capitalism with competition. We tend to think that whoever competes best comes out ahead. In the race to be more competitive, we sometimes confuse what is hard with what is valuable. The intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value.

In fact, Thiel argues, we often shouldn’t seek to be really good competitors. We should seek to be really good monopolists. Instead of being slightly better than everybody else in a crowded and established field, it’s often more valuable to create a new market and totally dominate it. The profit margins are much bigger, and the value to society is often bigger too.

Now to be clear, when Thiel is talking about a ‘monopoly,’ he isn’t talking about the illegal eliminate-your-rivals kind. He’s talking about doing something so creative that you establish a distinct market, niche and identity. You’ve established a creative monopoly, and everybody has to come to you if they want that service, at least for a time.”

His lecture points to a provocative possibility: that the competitive spirit capitalism engenders can sometimes inhibit the creativity it requires.

Think about the traits that creative people possess. They don’t follow the crowds; they seek out the blank spots on the map. Creative people wander through faraway and forgotten traditions and then integrate marginal perspectives back to the mainstream. Instead of being fastest around the tracks everybody knows, creative people move adaptively through wildernesses nobody knows.

Now think about competitive environments that confront the most fortunate people today and how it undermines the creative mind-sets.

First, students have to jump through ever-more-demanding, preassigned academic hoops. Instead of developing a passion for one subject, they’re rewarded for becoming professional students, getting better grades across all subjects regardless of their intrinsic interests. Instead of wandering across strange domains, they have to prudentially apportion their time, making productive use of each hour.

Then they move into a ranking system in which the most competitive college, program and employment opportunity is deemed to be the best. There is a status funnel pointing to the most competitive colleges and banks and companies, regardless of their appropriateness.

Then they move into businesses in which the main point is to beat the competition, in which the competitive juices take control and gradually obliterate others goals. … Competition [trumps] value-creation. In this and other ways, the competitive arena undermines innovation.”

All of this got me thinking about the importance of not worrying about what the other guy is doing, but instead, using that energy to create something new or a niche in your market that no one else has inhabited yet.

I am reminded of my first job working for MCI in Washington, D.C. At that time, AT&T had the monopoly on all phone service in the U.S. It also owned the company that made the telephones. Jack Goeken, the founder and Bill McGowan, the CEO of MCI, intended to create a microwave phone service for trucking companies between St. Louis and Chicago so the truckers could communicate far more effectively for a fraction of the cost. Everyone thought they were crazy. No one in the U.S. other than AT&T, was in the phone business. When MCI’s telecommunications system was finally up and running, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Bill and asked him how he could possibly think he could compete with AT&T. His response was, “I’m not competing with AT&T. I’m creating a completely different kind of telecommunications service, of which, in 10 years, MCI will only be one of many players.”

How prophetic his comments were. I remember that our mantra at MCI wasn’t, “We’re going to beat AT&T;” it was, “We’re creating a brand new way to communicate.” The latter statement was much more motivating for us.

This week, ask yourself if you’re competing or creating. Are you spending more time thinking about how to beat out your co-workers for the next promotion or creating new and different ways to work with your fellow team members? Maybe you’re thinking of creating something in your life that has nothing to do with your job. How about finding ways to nurture that creativity by spending time coming up with new ideas?

Maybe your job is to study what the competition is doing to give you an advantage. How about thinking about what your competition is not doing? Is there space in your market to create a niche no one else has thought of yet? Some companies have “idea rooms” where employees can go to for a week and do nothing but draw, paint, write and so on to come up with new product ideas, creative organizational structures and innovative services. How about giving yourself free license to spend time creating something new?

As Brooks writes in his article,

“We live in a culture that nurtures competitive skills. And they are necessary: discipline, rigor and reliability. But it’s probably a good idea to try to supplement them with the skills of the creative monopolist: alertness, independence and the ability to reclaim forgotten traditions.”

Have a good week!


Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

10/2/11 “Competition”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about competition. First, let me share a recent experience. A few weeks ago, I learned that Missoni, a famous, high-end Italian design house, would put a limited release of clothing and household items into Target stores. Some smart marketing person at Target came up with the bright idea that if you could convince high-end designers to create an exclusive line just for Target, at low Target prices, their stuff would sell like hot cakes and it would broaden their brand recognition across a more diverse customer base. Knowing

For example, typical Missoni dresses sell for $800 to $2,500. At Target, a dress of the same style in a somewhat inferior fabric would sell for $60. Now, that’s what I call a bargain! Knowing how much I admired Missoni’s clothes and that a good friend of mine was also a fan, I marked my calender for the day of the sale.

So at 7:30 a.m. on the morning of September 13, I drove to a Target that I deemed less popular than others and joined the 10-person line forming at the door. “Hey, this is good,” I thought. “I can compete against 10 other people.”

Securing my fanny pack (you have to have your arms and hands free to grab the goods) stuffed with credit cards, cash and my cell phone, in case my good friend called with a last minute request, I anxiously waited for the doors to open. I began to notice that we were all jockeying for position. People were inching up toward the doors, and occasionally, a more aggressive participant would nudge someone. As the minutes ticked by, our anticipation grew, and the tension was palpable. I have to admit, I was becoming anxious myself. My heart rate increased, and I could feel the competitive urges in me growing.

Finally, the doors opened. The first person in line, a very tall, domineering woman, ran inside and went up to the first rack of Missoni clothing. She opened her arms wide, grabbed both ends of an entire rack of clothes, lifted everything up in one fell swoop and threw it all into her cart. The game was on — it was every woman for herself! I soon realized that looking for the right size or style was not possible. I joined in the frenzy, throwing anything I could grab into my cart before running to the next Missoni display. Pity the poor store clerk who had just opened a box of Missoni socks and tights. Before he could set up the display, we surrounded him like locusts in a field and gobbled up the items right out of the box as if he wasn’t even there.

Seven minutes after the doors opened, nothing was left on the displays — not a sweater, skirt, blouse, shoe or sock. Every piece of merchandise was in someone’s overladen shopping cart, and as I looked around, I could see the expressions of victory and bewilderment on people’s faces. What just happened? How did we get so swept up in the insanity of competition for this stuff? It was as though we were starving and had to compete for the last few sacks of rice.

I realized I had to find a place in the store where I could go through my items and figure out which ones I actually wanted to buy. As I searched for a place to discretely make my choices, I happened upon a mother with her two teenage daughters who were doing the same. We were all embarrassed to look at each other. The past seven minutes hadn’t brought out the best in any of us, and we knew it. When I suggested that I go get an empty cart to use for our rejects, I saw relief on their faces. The opportunity to share made all of us feel better.

As we tried on various items and talked about what we’d selected, we began to laugh and joke about how crazy the competition had been. Each of us had seen a competitive side to our nature that in its determination to win had only one goal in mind: get the goods. Upon reflection, it all seemed like a crazy thing to do, particularly when you found items in your cart that were two sizes too big or something you would never wear even if someone gave it to you for free.

You could say that I accomplished my aim. I got some goods at a great price. But as I walked out of the store with a cart full of white plastic bags filled with items for me and my friend, I felt a little sick to my stomach. Was it the lack of breakfast or too much coffee before the early morning frenzy that brought about the nausea? Or was it the anticipation and anxiety I felt as I had rushed through the store? Perhaps it was the sudden realization that I had just spent a fair amount of money on clothes that I didn’t need, while people all over the planet actually do compete for that last bag of rice.

Four hours after Target sold out of most of the Missoni items, they began to show up on eBay for four and five times the price. Angry online customers sent vituperous Tweets and emails to Target complaining about their inability to buy online because the Target site crashed soon after the items became available. The following day, every major U.S. newspaper and newsfeed ran a story about Missoni at Target.

I believe competition in games and sport has its rightful place. We enjoy watching people win, especially when it’s our team, and the heightened inner state that occurs when we achieve our goals is a glorious experience. But when it comes at the expense of others, competition can seem displaced. Something about my shopping experience made me feel like my competitive instincts were not used for the common good.

This week, take a look at what you’re competing for. Do you find yourself at work getting overly aggressive like the woman who grabbed an entire rack of clothing in one fell swoop? Is the thing you’re competing for worth it? Perhaps you’re competing for a promotion or more attention from your boss or a family member. Have you ever competed in a passive aggressive way by withholding information from someone?

Two weeks after my shopping spree, the Missoni items hang in my closet with the tags still on them. I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep everything or return some of them. My husband reminds me that I work hard and deserve to splurge on myself once in awhile. And much of what I bought is just downright cute and will be fun to wear. But on the morning of September 13, I saw a part of myself that I am not particularly proud of. For someone who likes to say that her religion is kindness, I wonder who that person was who showed up at Target that morning?

Have a good week,


© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.