“It’s not really about the competition. Your biggest challenge in a race is yourself. You’re often racing against time. You’re frequently running everything through your mind. You’re always competing against preconceived ideas. It’s not really the person next to you that you worry about.”
~Summer Sanders

I don’t know if it’s because of the football season that recently wrapped up or what, but I’ve been thinking a lot about rivalries and competition lately.

A few months ago we had the University of Michigan/Michigan State football game. That’s the big one — the big crosstown rivalry. To a certain extent, that rivalry can be fun. We tease each other. We have a good time with it. Maybe we even make the occasional friendly bet. All good clean fun and no one gets hurt. It can go too far, though. We can get to the point where we’re doing bad things in the name of that rivalry. Vandalism, destruction, violence — that’s the dark side. We dehumanize the others and they become our enemy.

The problem is that this mindset isn’t limited to fans of sporting teams. Often people will take that sort of competitive dark rivalry to their business dealings and to their networking. That can present a problem.

I was at a networking event at the Ann Arbor Chamber many years ago. It was aimed at new and prospective members. There were probably twenty people in the room. The whole idea was that everybody would get a chance to stand up and say a little bit about themselves. It was a great opportunity to mingle with other business owners, introduce yourself, and hear a little bit more about what the Chamber had to offer.

I remember we were all having a pretty good time. Each person would get up and say a short piece about who they were and what they did. Sometimes they were even funny. We were all joking and laughing and getting along.

Then it was Sally’s turn (the names have been changed to protect the guilty).

I actually had met her before. In fact, I think I might have been the one who recommended she attend this gathering. She stood up, looked around, and said, “My name is Sally Smith and, wow! I’m seeing a lot of my competition here.”

Just like that the jovial atmosphere in the room went cold. It was almost as if suddenly everybody realized, “Oh, this person does not want to play along. She’s not part of the fun. She’s a competitor!” The problem with the “competition” mindset is, you look at the people who happen to do the same thing as you as competitors — your enemy. With that as your viewpoint, you lose out on so many opportunities.

I’m a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA). Every single person in that group is technically a competitor to me. My friend, Mimi, is also a member of NSA. She and I will often be going out for bids on the same engagements. Here’s the funny thing. We happen to be going out for bids on those same engagements because she gave me those contacts! She recognizes that if we can help each other, we can build each other up. She also knows I’ll spread the word about her, connecting her to opportunities she might not have had and she’ll do the same for me. She isn’t the only one, by a long shot!

Listen, if you really want, you can have competitors. If you think of them as colleagues, though, you’re more likely to get more done. Those colleagues can help you have more influence in your industry. They can tell you about best practices that they have found. They can connect you with the resources that might help you overcome those obstacles that you keep running into. Believe it or not, you don’t have all the answers. In fact, quite often the answers are at the tables where the other companies are sitting.

Take a time out from your competitor mindset. Let that go. Look around you and see all the opportunity you have to talk with the people who actually understand your world and can help you be successful in whatever you’re trying to do.

Photo by Steve Buissinne