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Weekly 3: Navigating competition

Summary: Identify what's easy for you. Find friendly competitors. Be present. (~7 min read) Note: If

Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 20 · Issue #70 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Identify what’s easy for you. Find friendly competitors. Be present. (~7 min read)
Note: If you enjoy this Weekly 3, you might also like the previously published issue Outdo your competition.

#1. To beat the competition, focus on what comes easily to you
In an interview with author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, accomplished cancer researcher Lewis Cantley offers the following career advice to those who are about to start college: “choose a profession that is really easy for you to do and that allows you to be creative.”
If you focus on work that is relatively easy for you to do, but difficult for your peers, then you won’t have to work too hard to be successful and you’ll have more time to enjoy your life.
You’ll also then have spare time to put in extra hours to “blow out the competition” when necessary. Alternatively, if you have to work long hours all the time just to remain competitive, then you’ll likely burn out and won’t enjoy life.
Cantley’s recommendation may be just as useful for people who are further along in their careers: What kind of work is easy for you to do, but relatively difficult for your colleagues and competitors?
#2. Competition can be mutually beneficial
Author and creativity expert Todd Henry writes in his book The Accidental Creative that we rise to the level of our competition. We need other people to challenge us, so that we can grow and reach new accomplishments.
But as Henry points out, competition doesn’t always have to entail a negative experience.
He cites a remark by media personality Diane Sawyer: “Competition is easier to accept if you realize it is not an act of oppression or abrasion – I’ve worked with my best friends in direct competition.”
One way to cultivate the benefits of friendly competition is to set up regular “head-to-head” meetings with a friend or colleague.
In a head-to-head meeting, two people get together and each person is responsible for sharing new lessons and resources they’ve encountered since the last meeting. The idea is that each of you will share something that is challenging and intriguing to the other person, and will stimulate discussion.
Henry recommends the following 4 principles for conducting effective head-to-heads:
1. Establish the right mindset
Running provides a useful analogy. As Henry points out, many runners have experienced the benefit of having someone else alongside them to keep the pace: “Simply knowing that slacking off means letting the other person down causes us to push ourselves to the limit and beyond.”
2. Choose someone you admire and respect
The best relationships involve a give and take between the parties. Ideally, you will choose someone within your area of expertise, because this will enhance the discussion and lead to ideas and topics that are appropriate to each person’s context.
To help find such a person, ask yourself: If you could look inside anyone’s notebook right now to see what they’re currently thinking, who would it be?
3. Set a time and be consistent
Agree on a date, meeting place, time, and frequency.
Once a month is a good frequency because it gives each of you enough time to experience something new, and to have generated fresh insights that can make for interesting conversation.
4. Select relevant topics
The discussion itself can be about any topic, for example a book you’re reading, a workshop you’ve attended, or something you’ve made. What’s important is that the material is relevant to both of you.
Here are a few questions to help select topics: What are you currently interested in or curious about? What have you read or experienced recently that the other person knows little about?
Henry himself has regular head-to-head meetings with several people. One of them, Keith, is a neuroscientist, with whom he meets to share their latest insights and lessons about creativity, science, and the brain.
As Henry puts it, “Many of our conversations have been formative in how I understand the creative process and have helped me significantly in my day-to-day work.”
#3. “Do not fight the last war”
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The 33 Strategies of War that history’s greatest generals and strategists, from Napoleon Bonaparte to the samurai Miyamoto Musashi, were successful in part because in the midst of battle they were able to “stay alive to the moment.”
They sought to understand what made a given circumstance different than others, and then adapted their actions accordingly – instead of simply applying what worked in the past.
As Greene points out, the problem for many of us is that we approach new situations with our thinking and resulting behavior still stuck in the past.
Habit takes over, and repetition replaces creativity.
If we’ve been successful, we may become complacent and lazy, so that what worked for us before becomes a doctrine – “a shell to protect us from reality.” If we’ve failed, then we’re more likely to be indecisive and skittish.
Then someone like a young Napoleon comes along, a person who doesn’t respect tradition, and only then do we see how much our ways of thinking have fallen behind the times.
While it can be valuable to analyze past results, it’s more important to develop the capacity to think in the moment: “The better we can adapt our thoughts to changing circumstances, the more realistic our responses to them will be.”
Greene suggests that we can apply this strategy of staying alive to the present moment in all aspects of our lives, from business and our personal relationships to sports.
He tells the story of Ted Williams, “perhaps baseball’s greatest pure hitter.”
Williams realized that no two at-bats are the same, even against the same pitcher. Whether he’d hit a home run or struck out, Williams immediately put the event behind him, and the minute he got back to the dugout he started focusing on what was currently happening in the broader game.
Quote of the Week
“Competition is a signal. It means that you’re offering something that’s not crazy. Competition gives people reassurance. Competition makes it easier to get your point across … If you have no competition, time to find some.”
- Author and marketing guru Seth Godin in his blog post In search of competition
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