Is competition ruining your chances of success?

Everyone wants to be successful. But what constitutes success? What are the chances of you making it and someone else not?

According to Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, the worst thing for individuals and businesses to do is dive into something that everyone else is doing. When we do more of the same thing, we are competing for a thin slice of the same pie. This attitude though, is very common in our reasoning; for example – “everyone has an MBA, so I need to get one as well” or “Everyone is buying that stock, so I need to get in as well” or “everyone seems to be opening a Cup-Cake business, I might make some money out of it too”. The more people join in, the thinner your slice becomes. Eventually the pie is going to run out, and you are going to have to slash each other’s throats to get a bite of it. As long as you’re trying to be like everybody, you are not going to be a nobody.

This is very evident in a business environment. Until around 2005, there were only a few big players in the US Telecommunication industry – AT&T, Verizon, T Mobile and a few others were the key players who competed against each other for a larger share of the “Voice” and “Data” market. While they were too busy competing within the already occupied market, in came Skype and Whatsapp who completely disrupted it and took a massive hit on the industry not just in the US but in the world. Everyone was trying to rush in through a small door to grab the limited millions of users within their region, while Skype and Whatsapp found a way around it to reach billions of users world wide.

As long as companies and individuals compete against each other, they lose sight of the new opportunities out there. But since we were at school, we were trained to think that life has only limited opportunities – “only the best results get scholarships”, “you’re a champion only if you are the most athletic” – so we learned to fight our way against our competition to get what we wanted. So most of us failed and came to think that we didn’t have much of a choice. This “Scarcity-focused-thinking” makes people more cut throat and inhumane in many aspects. The corporate world is full of individuals who have this belief. Most think that a single promotion is all they’ve got in life to progress. But this is not the case, there are so many other opportunities out there. If you just stretch your wings and go out looking for them you will find them.

The question that we need to ask ourselves is “Are we competing for a small piece of an already occupied pie? or are we looking for a completely new pie we can dominate on our own?”. Successful entrepreneurs are great at finding new opportunities – innovation is a part of it. In retrospect, it looks very easy to come up with an idea like WhatsApp but according to the founders it took a massive amount of thinking and effort to bring that idea to life. Doing something unique takes time and effort, but there is massive reward in doing so.

In my country, during the time I was doing my bachelor’s degree, “Software Engineering” was the go-to profession if you needed a high salary. Today, after everyone in that generation has graduated, the go-to has suddenly become “Civil Engineering” because Software Engineers have saturated the market.  I have a friend who chose “Earth Resources Engineering” for his bachelors, we thought of it as the black-sheep of degrees at the time – but this friend earned far more in his entry-level job than 90% of my Software-Engineer friends. It was clear that because of its scarcity and its uniqueness, he had more demand than the rest. In years to come Civil Engineering is sure to be saturated as well. This is not rocket-science, its elementary market dynamics.

There’s a lot of merit in doing something that’s unique and rare. Of course, “Passion” for your profession is a pre-requisite to make it to the top, but that combined with unique value will propel you to success faster than the rest. Many entrepreneurs and successful professionals make it big because they had the audacity to turn on their heels and walk out on high-paying jobs, because those jobs were hyper-competitive or didn’t help them grow fast enough. They went out to look for opportunities that could help them grow exponentially. If you are stuck in one place now, the probable reason is that you are in a highly competitive environment. Unless you look into differentiating yourself or look at unique opportunities, the most you can expect is an average life.

I had the great privilege of meeting a very reputed CEO of a multi-national company last week. He mentioned that his first job became completely stagnant after a few years. Once he realized that being in a stock-brokerage was not getting him anywhere, he went to his boss and asked him to transfer him to the worst company in the mother company. When the boss, who looked at him in sarcasm, asked “Why?” his reply was “when you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere else to go than up”. He was then sent to manage the group’s failing supermarket chain. Going there he realized that no talented guy wanted to be a part of this failing business, and it was his opportunity to turn it around and prove himself – because in an environment where there is a scarcity of talent, even a guy with average talent would shine. A few years later he did turn it around and made it the top supermarket chain in the country at the time – afterwards he was immediately recruited as a CEO of one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world. Had he tried to prove himself in a highly competitive and saturated stock-brokering firm, he wouldn’t have been able to make any impact.

So the recipe for success in my judgement is passion combined with a unique value proposition – for businesses and individuals. It’s the people who dared to do something different that ultimately made it. It’s as simple as that. Never do what everyone else is doing in order to make it big – that is the recipe for mediocrity even if you are the most talented of people. Find something that no one else is doing that you can do, which will make a significant impact. If not, find an area that has less competition and transform it by providing phenomenal value.

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4 thoughts on “Is competition ruining your chances of success?

  1. Impressive post and I agree what you mentioned about making unique choices. It takes courage and self awareness for choosing what your heart longs for. Looking forward to read more from you.Happy posting !

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  2. Great post Arfath, Competition is a useful tool when we look at it the right way. If we compete in ‘Plan – Do – Check – Act’ model, and retrospect, we can surely get better..

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    1. I agree Niroshan. Competition will help you become really good at doing one thing. But sometimes we get blinded by this and forget that there are many opportunities out there that are unexplored

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