Comparing our Way to Horrible Conclusions
We use comparisons all the time to measure how successful we are. It's part of our primal instinct.
To feel good about our place in life, we need to know "who we're better than".
It's wired into our brains to be that way. It's why we keep score during sporting events and pass out grades in the world of academia. Without a comparison (and hopefully your name high up the list), competition is kind of a chore.
Under those conditions, competition doesn't really make sense -- it kinda lacks purpose.
Competition is only as good as the comparisons that you use to decide success.
Being faster than any one at the track meet is impressive until you finish telling us that the only ones at the track meet were four year olds... Graduating number two in your class only means something when we know how many other people graduated along with you... Winning by disqualification doesn't mean that you were were the best man in the competition...
Competition is less impressive without a proper comparison about the competition.
Our comparison is a perspective. An opinion. A non-absolute. And that is where it starts to get gray.
It's who we compare ourselves to, that matters. Are we comparing ourselves to all-stars or amateurs, to Olympians or hobbyists, to zealots or week-enders?
Competition demands an explained comparison. The "facts" are no longer good enough. We need the background, the camera angle, the time of day, and the mood to get a sense of if the comparison you are making really matters.
So let's get extreme with this so we can dig really deep into this area of comparisons. (Stay with me for a paragraph or two...)
Are you better than a sex offender?
Most of us would quickly say "YES".
But, what does my question really even mean? What is the comparison?
Are you better at playing chess? Are you a better piano player, margarita mixer, or costume designer? Can you juggle faster, jump higher, or sing louder?
Or did you assume that "being better" only meant being morally superior? That the single defining comparison for any part of life is morals. (As a former Baptist seminary student I am not necessarily disagreeing with this premise.)
And not just any standard of morality, but the morals that you (from your perspective) define as "better".
Am I off base? (I hope I haven't lost you because of the extreme example...)
Somewhere along the line, you have to stop and ask yourself this question: "How am I measuring morality in the first place?"
Do you go to church more more than the sex offender? Do you give more money to charity, volunteer more? Are you more selfless, kind, and forgiving? What makes you better?
Hopefully a few things. Hopefully you respect others more than he does. Hopefully you respect yourself more than he does. Hopefully you respect the law more than he does. When you compare yourself to him based on RESPECT, hopefully you are better? A lot better.
This is an extreme example. It's sickening. It makes you angry. It upset me too. It might illustrate a valuable point though. That comparisons need the proper perspective. That you need to be careful to pay attention to what matters. That any comparison worth making needs to be clear...
Poor comparisons are a huge distraction when you are running a business. They cost the enterprise serious money and are the quickly way to lose talented team members. Take the idea of revenue generation for example. There are a lot of key perspectives around sales in a company.
Are the sales numbers really just the "numbers", or are you using that as an excuse to not have to fix your operational mismanagement?
Are are you limiting your full potential by "being better" that the "bottom-feeders" on your team? Are you ranking yourself on a scale that doesn't include the biggest players in your sales pond.
Are you using sales projections that "overlook" you inability to reduce debt, collect receivables, or mange vendor payments?
Are you quick to down-play the opinions of your sales team members as them just being overpaid whiners and trouble makers?
Compete to win. Compare to be better.
Do everything you can to win. Fight to the finish. But when you look back at the results, make sure you compare your way to the right conclusion. You have the option to compare yourself to the small dudes, the weakest in your category, the people and competitions and that don't make you face where you need to improve; or you can compare your way to world domination.
It's your conclusion. You either get better or not.