BY BRENT ZELLER
“When you know how to play the game, success is the natural outcome. The same is true for business. This, and coming up with new ways of working together instead of competing against each other, could very likely be your key to success in today’s business climate.”
Ask any successful person in business, sports, academia, or almost any field of endeavor, how they rose to the top. Many will tell you that their success is based on the traditional, common wisdom that a competitive approach gets the best results and achieves the highest levels of excellence.
This is how we are raised; it’s how we’re taught. We are brought up in a competitive system. Our education and business models are, largely, competitively based. We are often trained to see others as potential adversaries, or opponents who must be beaten if we are to reach our goals.
A great definition of competition is, “mutually exclusive goal attainment.” In other words, I can’t win unless you lose. This approach often throws people into a race for the goal before they have learned any of the fundamental skills they need to compete. This is the problem with this system. Everyone is doing everything in his or her power to best the other person. In business, this can lead to losing focus on your goal of creating the best product or service.
As hard as it may be to believe, a competitive system doesn’t create the ideal environment for a majority of people to excel. I have been teaching the highly competitive sport of tennis for more than 35 years, so I know the competitive system. During that time, I’ve taught many people to be successful in competition. Increasingly, however, I began to see people failing or settling for mediocrity. But I discovered that this was the result of the nature of the system, and not some flaw in people.
So, about 18 years ago, I removed all competition from my tennis program. The focus now is on developing the physical, mental, and emotional skills of being a great tennis player; on being the best player one can be as an individual without comparing oneself to other players or viewing them as adversaries who pose an imminent threat.
A similar cooperative model has begun to emerge in the business world, proving that the fiercely competitive approach is no longer the best way to reach one’s goals. Some of you may already be familiar with Linux, an enormously successful computer operating systems designer. Incredibly, Linux has no central company and no company headquarters. Linux open-source systems are developed and improved by thousands of volunteers, and by workers for giant computer companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel. These latter companies actually pay their employees to improve another company’s product.
Equally remarkable is that Linux doesn’t compete against other companies, nor hide its system’s “secrets,” a standard business practice. The Linux system and design data are offered free to all, and new versions are sent out regularly to anyone interested in improving it. This approach continually improves the product and makes it more reliable with fewer bugs.
This remarkable cooperative model, unimaginable 10 years ago, gives Linux access to a pool of talent, ingenuity, and expertise no conventional company could bring together or afford. Linux is immune to “the competition” because it doesn’t compete. This new business model is one of the exciting beacons demonstrating the emergence of a new cooperative paradigm.
As I tell my tennis students, “When you know how to play the game, success is the natural outcome.” The same is true for business. This, and coming up with new ways of working together instead of competing against each other, could very likely be your key to success in today’s ever-evolving business climate. ■
A tennis instructor since 1974, Brent Zeller has worked with thousands of people and logged over 20,000 hours of on-court observation. Through his non-competitive tennis program, Effortless Tennis, he has taught hundreds of people to enjoy playing without competing, as well as to succeed competitively, if they so choose. He is author of “Evolutionary Education” (www.evolutionaryeducation.com), and has had articles published by or about him in “Education News,” “eSchool News,” “Entrepreneur,” “San Francisco Chronicle,” and many sports journals and additional media outlets nationwide.