Framing Career Competition

The Competitive Landscape

Despite that our corporate jargon borrows so heavily from the military and war (chief executive ____, sales forces, run up the flagpole, killing the competition, guerrilla marketing…) and despite that some of these metaphors apply, we sometimes forget that we aren’t actually at war. Limbs aren’t lost. Buildings aren’t exploded. People don’t die. Sometimes the success of our direct competitors brings us good tidings, more opportunities, and chances for new partnerships. So when we consider the landscape of our career competition in military terms, it’s important to keep that in mind.

It’s also important to consider how to compete with the different people and networks in our lives. Even in war you enjoy different levels of conspiracy and competition: special relationships, allies, neutral states, and enemies.  Similarly, you face different levels of career competition depending on how closely the network is tied to you: crew, platoon,  squadron, brigade, and true competitors (enemy). I believe that we should adjust our level and type of competition with each network.


Squad: Family, Close-Friends, and Business Partners

With the small group of your first network,  you shouldn’t compete with at all. This circle is an extension of you. They are your hands, you are theirs, and you don’t compete with your own limbs. You prop and push each other no matter what adversity or success. You shouldn’t even endeavor in friendly (push-you-to-the-limit) competition with these people. Why? While friendly competition (the sort reserved for members of your platoon) is positive, you still need a small circle of unquestionable support. To continue with the military metaphor, you need a few people willing to take a bullet for you.

  • No envy.
  • Celebrate their success like your own.
  • Rely on them when things get tough.
  • Help them succeed ahead of you if you can

Platoon: Co-Workers, Colleagues, and Friends

These are the people you most closely associate with on a daily basis. The size of your platoon will usually fall somewhere near Dunbar’s number: 150. Within this group you will find anyone from close-coworkers to distant colleagues. Their success has a way of spilling over into you, and so you shouldn’t envy it. You should engange in friendly competition with this group.

  • Friendly competition.
  • Celebrate their successes whole heartedly.
  • Rely on them when things are good\neutral.
  • Help them succeed.

Friendly competition is the kind where you help your friend along in succeeding with you, but you want to get there first. Top long distance runners run in small groups to push each other ahead of the pack, but at 80% to 90% of the race they start trying to outpace themselves. However, in business if you see you co-worker stumble, you stop to help them up even (and especially) at the 90% mark. In war, you want your platoon to include all the top marksmen, but you still want to be the best out of them.

This is part 1.
Part 2 coming soon.

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