A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

What’s wrong with competition?

Marshall McLuhan (October 8, 1966, age 55). What a day!

It’s amazing when a new idea hits home.  Take today, I’m talking with George Leonard, who’s an editor with Look.  We start at my house on Well’s Avenue at 10 am and finish up at 11 pm.  I know we had lunch and dinner together but I only remember the conversation.  The subject of competition and education came up.  Everyone knows it has negative effects on students’ performance, but the races still keep on going.  Why?  Well I said what if your goal isn’t helping kids to think but to conform?  The competition is great because it encourages kids to be alike to resemble one another more and more closely, albeit with some doing things faster and some better.

Me (April 2010, age 57)  Have a look at Look

The heartland of competition is sports.  Everyone knows what they want to do and goes about doing it – which turns out to be what everyone else is doing – as quickly as possible.  But is this the model that is wanted for the workplace and education?  To all have the same goal, to run on the same track, to go quicker, faster?  The conventional wisdom says yes, the only down side being the stress.  But is the best of all world’s one where everyone winds up resembling everyone else?

How well does competition serve your ends?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan and George Leonard. “The Future of Education.”  Look, February 21, 1967.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Education, Management, Vol. 1 1 Comment

1 Comment to What’s wrong with competition?

  • Stephen Fowler says:

    I’ve always considered the ‘work as a team’ metaphore to be dangerously limiting. It’s fine as far as it goes, but it always leaves out half the equation. Yes we’re all working together in out clearly defined roles to accomplish the same goal—put the puck in the net, score the touchdown, sell the most widgets.
    What’s missing from that metaphore, though, is the fact that there’s another team working just as hard and doing ecaxtly the same things to keep you from your goal and reach its own goal.
    In business or politics or any other shpere except sports, that other team doesn’t actually exist, but we ‘know’ it’s there somewhere.
    Which means we have to invent it.
    The problem is, this ‘other team’ ends up being the people we have the most contact with; i.e. our customers or the people we were elected to serve or our friends and family—whatever the case may be.
    I think it’s long past time to change that metaphore.

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