When I was in high school I taped a picture of the next guy I was going to wrestle to my bathroom mirror. I stared him down as I scrubbed my teeth every morning. I was on a mission to beat him physically and mentally. It was a winner-take-all world, and I never learned to like losing.
My preparation for a match wasn't unique. Frankly, I stole it from a cheesy over-watched 80's movie. I'd bet that 20% of the homes on the block had a similar photo taped to the mirror. One of them probably was a photo of me.
That competitive perspective is beat into many of us—athlete or not--from a young age. We're consistently setup in winner-take-all games in life. You get promoted or he does. You get the A or she does.
Our society figured out long ago that people are self-interested, making competitive dynamics effective at driving performance.
This is why when an entrepreneur lands in a founder role he starts staring down the competition.
While focusing on winning is good, real life is full of shades of gray. If you think myopically about conquering your opposition, you might miss an important nuance. In the real world, few systems have zero-sum outcomes--many players can succeed or fail simultaneously. While it's important to outdo your rivals, the existence or success of competitors is actually probably good for you and your company.
When your competitors do well they're in a position to help you do well, too.
- When other players teach customers how to use the new type of product or service, they make it easier for you to explain--and sell--it too.
- If a competitor proves the validity of a business model, it can be easier for you to raise capital from investors.
- When a rival achieves liquidity, perhaps through the public markets, they may just become the perfect suitor to buy you.
- When adversaries scale (and if they don't do it well) they'll likely become bureaucratic, and make it easier for you to out-maneuver them.
Face it. Since your competitors are probably not going to wake up one morning, give over their customers, and leave the market, you'll be better off if they succeed to the point that you can then beat them.