Direct competition: Male hartebeest locking horns and fiercely defending their territories.

Competition Makes You Better

Ron Pragides
Apr 27, 2015 · 5 min read

Competition is a fact of life and can be seen in nature, in sport, and in business. It’s the consequence of multiple parties vying for something in limited supply.

The subject of competition could be basic needs (food, water, shelter), elite status (winning a championship), or economic success (market share, company valuation).

Regardless of setting or target of the contest, active competition is the sign of a vibrant ecosystem. The presence of viable competitors is reassurance against the risk of unbridled domination by a single, dominant force.


Competition is Evolution.

Competition can shape the evolution of an entire population as explained by Darwin — natural selection is the result of “competition” among genetic adaptions of a species. The survivors of each generation advance to the next stage, pushing the species to better adapt to its environment.

Team sport is competition by design. Leagues schedule a full season of matches to get teams into fighting shape. Crowds gather to watch every competition, eager to witness spectacles of athletic skill and teamwork. Each season concludes with a planned series of contests — an orchestrated “survival of the fittest” — until a single victor remains. Each team is striving to be crowned the league champion (with the understanding that this cycle will repeat itself).

Competition is a process that expedites change from the status quo. The pursuit of an ideal outcome can inspire new adaptations and techniques. Over time, these incremental improvements become the new baseline.

(photo by Staff/AFP/Getty Images)

An example from the world of sport: Dick Fosbury in track and field. He questioned conventional wisdom and invented the “Fosbury Flop” method for the high jump. Fosbury’s innovation was to leap backwards over the bar; this once radical approach is now the dominant technique for the event.

Competition encourages new frontiers to be explored and new techniques to be invented — enabling greater heights to be reached by all.


Accept the Challenge.

What matters most is how one reacts to the challenge of competition. When your opposition throws down the gauntlet, your first decision is whether or not to engage. Does one avoid the conflict entirely? That would certainly require less effort and resolve, but would result in a suboptimal outcome.

If you avoid competition, you’re accepting mediocrity. You’re not striving for greatness.

Assuming the challenge is accepted, the next decision is how fiercely to compete. If you’re faced with a worthy opponent, you’ll need to harness all your strength, wits, and courage to emerge victorious. Check your resolve and determine if you have the fortitude to put all your energy into the struggle. Ask yourself if you’re prepared to leave it all on the battlefield.

The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence. — Confucious


Know Your Nemesis.

Some of the most captivating contests are those between archrivals.

(photo by Danny Moloshok, Associated Press)

Archrivals are intimately familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. A healthy rivalry pushes each side to greater levels of achievement, and forges fervent commitment among supporters.

(photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press)

Sports rivalries are manifold: San Francisco Giants vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (baseball), Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs (basketball), San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks (football).

(photo by Ben Margot, Associated Press)

Rivalries also abound in the technology industry: Apple vs. Google (mobile), Twitter vs. Facebook (social), Salesforce vs. Oracle (cloud apps), Bigcommerce vs. Shopify (e-commerce). These rivalries challenge each side to continuously innovate their respective products. As a result of strong competition, these companies are delivering tremendous value to their users and to the market.


Prepare for Battle.

Once engaged and committed to battle, competitors need to plan their strategy.

Opponents may decide to charge directly towards each other, attempting to win the conflict by brute force alone. This is the simplest way to engage in a foe — by mimicking each other’s moves and relying on sheer strength & stamina to outlast the opponent. In this scenario, it’s possible for a single victor to emerge if one side has an overwhelming advantage. It’s also possible for the conflict to devolve into a war of attrition.

An alternative approach is to carefully study the opposition, identify their weaknesses, and exploit them. Find out what differentiates you from your adversary and leverage it as much as possible. If you have a skill that the competition lacks, shape the rules of engagement to maximize your advantage.

Depending on how you match up against your opponent, you may choose some of the following tactics:

  • using your advantage in speed, agility, or execution
  • luring your opponent into unfamiliar territory or tactics
  • conceding one aspect of the contest, in exchange for final victory
  • striking while the opposition is unprepared (or unable) to respond

You also need to be keenly aware of your own deficiencies; don’t be lured into your opponent’s winning strategy.


Let the Games Begin!

As I write this the National Basketball Association (NBA) is in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs. The top 16 teams compete in 3 rounds of playoffs for the chance to play in the NBA Finals. Ultimately, a single team is crowned the league champion.

I’ve been a fan of the Golden State Warriors in good times and bad. Through the rigors of competition, the team has steadily improved over the last 5 years:

  • 2010–2011: 36 wins, 46 losses(did not qualify for playoffs)
  • 2011–2012: 23 wins, 43 losses(did not qualify for playoffs)
  • 2012–2013: 47 wins, 35 losses (eliminated in 3rd round of playoffs)
  • 2013–2014: 51 wins, 31 losses (eliminated in 1st round of playoffs)
  • 2014–2015: 67 wins, 15 losses (currently in 2nd round of playoffs)

I’ll be cheering for the Warriors as they strive to reach the Finals and play for the championship. The last time this franchise won the title was 40 years ago!

A Bigcommerce engineer attending a Warriors playoff game.

You never know how much you can achieve, until you’ve been battle tested.

The choice is yours: decide if you want to play, or if you want to win.

Ron Pragides

Written by

VP Engineering at @CartaInc. Previously led teams through IPO at both @Twitter and @Salesforce. Follow me on twitter: @mrp

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