Codfish are a delectable treat in America's Northeast. But when attempts were made to ship them fresh to distant markets, the cod did not taste the same as they did closer to home. To deal with this, shippers decided to freeze the cod and then ship them. But the fish still didn't taste right.
Then the fish merchants tried shipping the codfish in tanks of seawater, but that proved even worse. Not only was it more expensive, but the codfish still lost their flavor and, in addition, their flesh became soft and mushy.
Finally, some creative soul solved the problem in a most innovative way, according to Charles R. Swindoll in his book "Come Before Winter and Share My Hope." The codfish were placed in a tank along with their natural enemy -- the catfish. From the time the codfish left the East Coast until it arrived at their westernmost destination, those catfish had chased the cod all over the tank. And, as you may have guessed, the cod arrived at the market tasting as if they had just been pulled from the ocean. If anything, the flavor was better than ever.
What a competitive environment and daily challenge can do for codfish works for humans as well. Competition and challenges make us better.
But a problem I see all too frequently is that people are afraid of competition. Perhaps it's because they fear losing, but I suspect a better reason is that they know they are not as prepared as the competition. They are not willing to put in the necessary hard work, training and sacrifice. They think things will be easier for them than for others, possibly because others have made things look easy.
Former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley was a basketball star at Princeton University and later with the New York Knicks. When he was at Princeton, Bradley's father used to tell him, "Son, when you're not out practicing, someone else is. And when you meet that person, he's going to beat you."
I love to watch basketball and there is no better time than the NCAA Final Four or the NBA playoffs. Basketball is taken to another level at this time of year. You really see the competitiveness of players emerge.
The Incas of ancient Peru played a primitive form of basketball, the object of which was to shoot a solid rubber ball through a stone ring placed high on a wall. The winner was traditionally awarded the clothes of all spectators present. The loser was put to death. (You can check out more of these fascinating facts in "The Best, Worst & Most Unusual" by Bruce Felton & Mark Fowler.)
It's the same in business, except the part about the clothes and being put to death. When it's crunch time, you want the people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and jump in. You want gamers. You want people who are confident in their abilities.
As much as I love to come out on top, I'm too realistic to believe the "winning is everything" philosophy. Because after so many years in business, I know that you can't win 'em all. But there is no excuse for not giving it your best shot. And you can be the winner more often than not.
Athletes and actors have long hired coaches to help prepare for a specific competition or role. But today there are coaches available to help people in any field improve their "game."
If you think that leaders don't need coaches--that if you're already at the top, a coach couldn't offer you anything new--think again. Why does someone like tennis champ Serena Williams have a coach, whom she could handily defeat on the coach's best day?
For the same reason all high-performing individuals have one, says professional coach Daniel Pendley: "1) We cannot see our own mistakes; and 2) If we are not getting better, we are getting worse."
Your competitive urge is sometimes the only real advantage you have. Someone else will always have more money, more resources, more connections, or more experience. You will compete with larger companies, smarter people, and less ethical organizations. Use these experiences as opportunities to improve your game.
Mackay's Moral: As I like to say, you CAN swim with the sharks without being eaten alive!