The Power Of Competition In The Drive To Success

by Paul Hudson

I just watched a great TED talk by Alex Laskey on energy conservation and the power of behavioral science. Laskey runs a company that allows people to compare their energy consumption with that of their neighbors. What is the purpose of providing such a service? Well, it’s basically a social experiment — a very successful social experiment. Laskey was trying to figure out a way not only to make people aware of the amount of energy they were using, but also to convince them to reduce that amount.

After attempting to convince people by informing them on how much money they would save, by explaining to them how much the environment would benefit from lower energy usage and by explaining to them that conserving energy would make them better citizens and would prevent the possibility of blackouts during the summer season when the majority of households had AC units running around the clock, all to no avail, Laskey decided that the best way to prevent people from using more energy then they need is to tell them that their neighbor is using significantly less. And it worked.

Money is not a sufficient motivator. Helping the planet is not a sufficient motivator. Nor is being a good citizen. However, pointing to the fact that your neighbor — someone in close proximity to yourself and in similar social standing — is doing ‘better’ than you are seems to be incredibly powerful motivation.

This should come as no surprise seeing as how human beings are programmed to be competitive — to outdo and out-survive each other. There’s something about knowing that your neighbor is doing more or doing better than you are doing that moves us to do more ourselves. Creating a website and phone app that compares peoples’ energy usage with that of their neighbors gave Laskey a great way to help the planet, help people save money, help them be good citizens, while at the same time allowing him to create a successful business himself.

While the talk was interesting and I recommend you watch it if you have a spare 8 minutes, what fascinated me most was the power that such social pressure in behavioral sciences holds. It’s great that Laskey is using behavioral science, implementing it into his business; what I want to know is how can I, how can you use this knowledge to your own advantage?

There are obvious benefits to being able to incorporate this knowledge into your everyday life, as well as into your business or career. Using this form of peer pressure can both allow you to better motivate yourself to do what you know you need to do, as well as to get others to do what you want them to do. Laskey — and many before him, I am sure — has stumbled upon a great way to help himself succeed as well as one of the greatest tools for a proper mind-f*cking.

Staying motivated and staying focused is difficult. Life goes on whether or not we wish it to and not always in the pleasantest of ways. It would be great if the waters would remain calm and tranquil while we worked our way toward our goals and dreams, but that simply isn’t the way that life works. More often than not, we will notice life’s sick sense of humor, throwing at us the harshest of situations at the precise moment when what we need the most is a break.

I have found myself caught up with the trivialities of life too often, falling off the planned route and having no choice but to stop everything, regroup and start from scratch. What we need to succeed, to keep going is motivation. There are many ways to motivate ourselves and to help ourselves remained focused — the best of which comes from outside forces. The world is filled with successful people who work hard and get the job done. What we need to do is place ourselves in their inner circles.

It’s true: being surrounded by successful people will better your odds of being successful. Sure, the connections that they have and the networking opportunities that are more likely to come your way do play a huge role — but the most important role is the motivation that they provide you. When your friends and colleagues are on track and are doing things, making moves, then you yourself will be more likely to make them too. It’s one thing when a complete stranger that you have never met, who lives in a different area entirely and who lives a life unlike yours is successful and it is another when your good friends are successful.

We put ourselves on an equal level with our friends. We talk to them, hang out with them, have similar interests as they do and, generally speaking, are open to similar opportunities as they are. If we see that our friends can make it, then we automatically feel as if we ourselves are able to make it. If you notice that your buddy is working hard, putting in the hours and the labor and at the same time making progress, then you are much more likely to feel motivated to do so yourself. If your friend can do it, then why not you? If the answer is plain laziness, then the guilt you feel from not keeping up with your friend will surely motivate you to do more. No one likes to be beat; no one likes to lose. Not liking our friends outdoing us = us not letting them outdo us.

It’s all about psychology. In this case, behavioral science. The mind will either break us or make us, all depending on how it is used and trained. Just as we can motivate ourselves by looking at those around us and their actions, we can motivate others into action by similar method. Whether it be motivating your employees that you are after or motivating a possible business partner to sign that dotted line, there are ways of incorporating peer pressure in a way that will motivate such people to do as you wish them to do.

These tactics are many and often elaborately planned, yet subtle. Understanding who that person feels himself on a level playing field with and exploiting that knowledge by using the competitive tension between them to your own advantage can be a great tool to getting what you want out of them. Such methods are manipulative, but business is a battle of the wits. Our brains are our greatest weapons — if you’re not prepared to use it to your benefit, then don’t bother fighting. You’re not fighting against the unarmed. Everyone is equipped with the same weaponry — give or take — only that most don’t use theirs properly.