Social Aspects Of Competition

Sep 18th, 2011 | By | Category: A game, abundance, competitive challenges, strategy, tactics, trying too hard, will to win

This past week I spent at the beach. It was really nice weather the first couple of days and we played a lot of horseshoes on the beach. Although I have played horseshoes off an on over the years, I do not play often enough to be a real competitor. However holding true to my post The Will To Win (, I decided to play my best game, or did I? In the article The Winning Edge by The Winning Edge by Peter Doskoch, the idea that passion and perseverance may be more important to success than mere talent. In a world of instant gratification, grit may yield the biggest payoff of all.

We were matched against two women players who, play horseshoes often and played hard. These ladies take great pride in winning, and get somewhat upset if they do not prevail most of the time.

If you never played horseshoes in a nut shell it is a game where two steel stakes are placed 40 feet apart and each player gets a turn tossing 2 horse shoes attempting to get within a shoe width for one point, leaning against the post for two points, and encompassing the post with the shoe for three points. The first team to get 21 points wins. If you don’t know how to play horseshoes you can search it on line there are plenty of good videos available.

We played several games over the week, and the pattern was always the same. My team would take an early lead and build steadily until we reached the mid point. Then slowly but surely the ladies would claw their way back winning by a couple of points. My wife and I were happy with our showing and not at all disappointed with narrow losses. The ladies team on the other hand was really ecstatic over winning. All in all everyone had a good time and enjoyed the games and the friendship.

My wife and I were talking on the long drive home from the beach. When the topic of the horseshoe games came up. Neither of us were too concerned over losing, and thought we did pretty good to come so close to winning a few times. Then something started to gnaw its way to my conciseness. Did the ladies give us a lead and then turn on their skill, or did my team subconsciously let them win. While the games and their outcomes are inconsequential, the basis is worth exploring.

If the ladies gave us an early lead to make it a challenge, then they are playing a social game that may risk winning, but gives the underdog the sense that they have a chance. This type of staged competition is very common in the office. Often the boss or the favorite will down play the realism of the situation, to make the others think they have a chance to prevail. While there is always a chance the underdog could pull an upset, the odds are against it.

On the other hand, if my team is subconsciously taking an early lead then letting up permitting the favorite team to win, this also happens often in the office. Although not really throwing in the towel, the non-favorite succumbs to the talk and signals from the stronger players that they are not going to win, and falter down the home stretch.

In my long career I am certain that I have been unwittingly involved with both of the above scenarios. For example, I applied for a promotion within my department. I had the experience and support of my supervisor. In addition, I thought I was in the good graces of the department head who was making the decision. The selection process took an out of the ordinary twist. Along with the customary submitting of what amounts to a CV, writing samples, and references, the department head decided there should be a skills component, which is very unusual. The skills part of the selection process was to come up with a solution to a problem that was plaguing the department. All the applicants had two weeks come up with their ideas. After putting in a lot of effort I came up with a workable solution. I was one of the first to submit my plan. That was a mistake. There are no secrets and the contents of my suggestion leaked out. It was at first good news that everyone who heard what I suggested thought it had merit. An early lead. The bad part is once you get a hold of an idea it is easy to improve. So my early submission and the department head leaking my idea. the favorite soon had an improved plan. I had started out and gained an early lead, but my efforts only served as fuel for the competition. I learned early submissions, and early leads can give your competition a target to shoot at.

On the other hand, I remember one instance in particular where I applied for a job in another department. There were a lot of applicants and the rumor mill was filled with who was the favorite or had the inside track. It usually takes a couple of months before a selection is made. First the job is posted for a couple of weeks, the applicants are ranked and interviewed, and then a selection is made. During this process the news that I was getting was not particularly good. Most of what I heard was there was a favorite and it wasn’t me. Instead of just letting the process run its course, I figured that since I did not seem to have a single supporter it would be better to withdraw, than to have someone who I felt less qualified be selected over me. I withdrew. Not only did the rumor mill favorite not get the job, I got a call from the selecting official wanting to know my reason for withdrawing. I made up an excuse to save face, but the real reason was I bought into a propaganda campaign by the so-called favorite. If I had used my mind instead of my emotions, I would have figured out all my misinformation came from the favorites group of friends. I will never know if I would have been selected or not, but I never withdrew from another job posting.

So getting back to the horseshoes. I have gone over circumstances in my mind several times. I know that I consciously tried my best, but it did seem that our points were spread out evenly over the games, but the winning points were elusive. In other words, my team had several chances to throw the winning points, but missed. Perhaps I will never really know, but my guess is my subconscious helped me lose, but for a different reason. For some reason when I become over confident, the universe seems to teach me a lesson. Instead of thinking of winning I should follow my own advice and just play my A game.

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