Competitive Thinking: Right or Wrong?

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By Dr. Linda Seger

For the last few thousand years, we have learned to think through a linear thinking model. We have competed with each other, first for food or mates, then for the corner office and the coolest car. We compete over who has the greenest lawns and smartest children, and we have learned to decide who's important, or who's not, by who's on top and who's on the bottom of the corporate ladder. This has defined how we relate to each other, how we conduct business, and how we set our goals.

This form of thinking goes by a number of different names — "linear thinking" since it's defined by a line that ranks and divides; "hierarchical thinking" as it's defined by who's on the top of the hierarchy and who's at the bottom; "competitive thinking" since it demands that we compete with each other, or sometimes "patriarchal thinking" since the male patriarch got the respect and was considered the head honcho.

Recently, a new form of thinking has been emerging called "team thinking" or "collaborative thinking" or sometimes "Web-thinking" since it focuses on the team rather than one individual, and, like a spider web, uses the metaphor of the line to connect us, rather than separate us.

But why does it seem necessary to change our thinking model in business and in our lives? What's wrong with the concept of linear thinking?

The Line Is Not Natural
If you look at nature, you'll notice that there are no straight lines. Rivers meander, trees bend, galaxies swirl in spiral shapes. Even our DNA is a spiral, not a line. Some of the few straight lines in nature are in crystals, which grow in a straight line. But crystals can become rigid and break, just as we can break by getting ill, or getting too stressed out when we are too rigid and always stay within the lines. Our rigidity diffuses our ability to be innovative and to free up our imagination.

The Line is too One-Dimensional
We live multi-dimensional lives and the skills and gifts we have are not easily defined and don't easily fit within a role. The person who's a junior executive during the workweek might look, on the surface, as if his abilities are limited, but that's rarely true. He might fulfill many other roles when not at work: he might coach the youth basketball team in the evening, plan a complicated vacation with the spouse, and sing in the church choir on Sundays. The abilities developed for one job are often transferable to another, yet, often, the junior member of a team is asked: "Don't be too assertive," and to "Remember your place!" The project suffers because everyone must hold back and fit within their roles, rather than using their many skills and talents for the good of the team and to bring success to the project.

The Line Can Lead to Imitation, not Vision
The Line encourages us to fit into a box. We are asked to be similar to the person who last held our job, to fit neatly into a job description, and are pushed to achieve by being the same as others. In spite of the different ways we can achieve a goal and do a project, we are asked to imitate, rather than innovate. As a result, we learn to define ourselves not by our individual gifts and individual potential, but by trying to be like others. We can easily hide or split off the abilities that are most needed, because these gifts aren't welcomed, aren't part of the job description or dont fit neatly into the mentality of the company.

This can lead us to comparing ourselves with the person just ahead of us, and we try to be like them. We envy them, often have ill feelings toward them, even find ways to do them harm. As a result, we diffuse our identity and limit ourselves rather than expand ourselves.

The Line Guards Information, rather than Shares Information
In the linear model, the person at the top has power because he or she is privy to information that others don't have. This information is guarded, doled out slowly, with the person at the top deciding who needs it and making sure no more is given to others than is needed. The one who knows the most has the power, and it's essential that others never know as much as the person at the top. But, this is no longer a viable model for the future since, in the age of the Internet, almost everyone has access to information. Even the military has changed from the stovepipe model of leadership, recognizing that holding power and knowledge in the hands of just the generals does not give the necessary information to the captains and lieutenants who might have to carry on. For many, the concept of power has changed to empowerment: sharing knowledge so everyone has what they need to do the job.

Why Change our Model Now?
The strange duality of our times occurs partly because of the clash between our multi-dimensional humanity and a linear metaphor that ranks, separates, and divides. It's not necessary. Many of the best businesspeople have moved from a linear business model to become more collaborative thinkers. They are finding new thinking models, including the more inclusive circle model of teamwork and the web model of mutuality and interdependence that values all the people on the team, and creates synergy between its many parts.

Dr. Linda Seger is an internationally known script consultant, keynote speaker and seminar leader. She has had her own business since 1981, and credits her success to changing her thinking model. Linda has given speeches and seminars in 32 countries around the world. She's the author of 12 books including "Spiritual Steps on the Way to Success: Gaining The Goal Without Losing Your Soul," and "Web-Thinking: Connecting Not Competing For Success" (which was re-released in February, 2011 as "The Better Way to Win: Connecting Not Competing For Success.") Her Web site is www.lindaseger.com.

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