Competition facilitates improvement

Sunday, July 25th, 2021

A recurring note in Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing is that there are two kinds of people: those who need to avoid stress to do well, and those who actually need stress to perform their best:

If you go back to the first published research ever done in the field of social psychology, the year was 1898, and the author was a 37-year-old high school teacher named Norman Triplett, who had returned to Indiana University to pursue his master’s degree.


He concluded that competition against other cyclists took off five seconds per mile compared to racing alone against the clock.


He found a 50%/25%/25% split [when he tested children on his "competition machine"] — half the kids benefitted a lot from being made to compete. Another quarter of the kids were largely unaffected, barely lowering their times over the three competitive trials. The last quarter of the kids did not handle the competition trials well at all.


Competition facilitates improvement. But the tradeoff is that competition doesn’t benefit everyone.


  1. Bomag says:

    I’m wondering about business competition. Sometimes it gives us improvements in good and services; sometimes it gives us cheaters and corner cutters; sometimes it gives us regulatory capture.

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