One of my colleagues (@MrAndyButcher) recently asked a professional to look at his creative work. “Shit but charming” was the critique that came back. It’s an expression that’s really stuck with me. I think “shit but charming” is something to aspire to.
The new competition
In a world of 7bn competitors - where in any given field there are thousands of people who’ve been doing it for longer/smarter/harder/whatever - do your expectations of how you’ll rank change?
Andy sketches better than me, in fact I’d say better than most:
This drawing came from his excellent Architecture blog.
One of my mentors used to say “there’s always someone who plays the piano better.” I’ve always intuitively known that’s true, but rather like Andy’s experience sketching his charming drawings, I’m coming to understand the implied specialism required to do anything to a high enough standard to even compete.
If I’m motivated only by winning, clearly that’s going to become harder and harder. In fact, the chances of winning diminish as the competition becomes more fierce. There are always new techniques and the kind of ever-greater-commitment that our atheletes and sportspeople demonstrate inspirationally, but a fundamental truth of a more populated field (with increased openness in markets, fewer barriers to entry and more egalitarian access) is that a higher standard will hurt your win-rate.
Picking an alternative
Out and out winners aren’t going to sign up for “finish a strong 17th”, but rescoping the competition to a field of one means that it becomes about personal excellence, irrespective of what others are doing.
My blog doesn’t make the first page of Google - probably any first page of Google whatever the search terms - but writing it gives me a chance to do my best. That might sound like a noble catchphrase for losers, but I prefer to look at it as a scientist’s view of competition.
Winning in the human race
If competition has in fact inspired the human race to its greatest heights, I wonder if it will continue to.
To the ever increasing of field of losers (that includes all of us really), there may need to be a better narrative than “your odds are lengthening, but keep trying and you’ll win one day!” We’re all going to have to enjoy losing more, or reframe competition as collaboration.
Collaboration is hard to do efficiently, and therefore expense. I wrote a post about the cost of collaboration and as ever I’d appreciate your thoughts.