Humans are competitive. We can't help it, it's a genetic and certainly Darwinian response to our environment. We compete for damn-near everything, and imbue this spirit in many things we create, including the businesses we build. Even non-profits compete with each other.
There are many schools of thought on "how to win" - most favor forceful and immediate action. "Shock and awe" is a phrase I hear all too often in the corporate setting. The belief is that a perceived threat should be squashed immediately, before it grows stronger and becomes harder to overcome. This is true in medicine, sports, business, politics, warfare, etc.
Is shoot first and ask questions later always the best way to go? If time heals all wounds, does it also heal conflicts? Does patience mitigate threats? Does looking at the whole chess board help you decide the best move, or is it better to just focus on the pawn that's being attacked?
Seth Godin's Rights and Responsibilities post makes a great case for stopping and thinking about your ultimate goal and sustained success vs. the short-term preservation of status quo, or worse, a knee-jerk and ultra-myopic negative reaction to what is really an opportunity.
Seth's story about how corporations react is classic, and typical of micro thinking - something that, yep you guessed it, I attribute to the profusion of MBAs, PR people and lawyers. Enough said.
But there is another example of jerky (or spastic) knees that has been prominent this week, and for many months now - the Republican Party. I was happy when Barak Obama was elected President, but was worried about what would happen, because the Democrats also won majorities in the House and Senate. I was worried because the Democrats are horribly inept and factional - they have a proven inability to get things done; from the outset, rather than focusing on governing effectively and with dignity, they strutted and preened like unattractive peacocks.
What should the Republicans have done in response to an overwhelming loss and a bunch of preening Dems? If you combine the thinking of Machiavelli (my interpretation: power through cunning and guile) and Aikido (my interpretation: convert negative energy into something that is a conflict-free, positive outcome for both), what do you get that might be worthwhile?
Rather than form a strategy (be smart, focus on serving the citizens of the country (your employers), and think about crafting a situation that would demonstrate your mettle and leadership, and allow the others to inevitably screw up), the Republican Party chose to pout. Rather than govern, they chose to obstruct, and follow Vince Lombardi's "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." I can imagine a conversation like this among the leadership: "we only measure success in one way, in this game, at this hour, with this play. We will start now, and we can only win by thoroughly destroying those godless Democrats - damn the collateral damage. Let's go!!"
Lao Tzu once said: "Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”
Western companies and certainly the political parties have never read this, or hear of Lao Tzu - more's the shame.
As the mud settled they should have realized that to win, they needed to transcend their very conservative base and win back Reagan Democrats (or perhaps in that moment, Obama Republicans). They needed to look at history and their knowledge of those on the other side of the aisle to know that the Dems are simply incapable of being one team and working effectively. Instead, they chose and continue to choose to focus solely on vilifying those rightfully elected to govern, obstructing any kind of governing, further polarizing the country, and moving relentlessly to the right.
It eludes me - they made themselves look just as bad.
And if you watched any of the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference, did you hear anything about what a Republican leader would do if they were in charge? All I heard (and have heard for months) is how evil the "other side" is (again - these are not terrorists or drug lords or even Communists, but fellow Americans), and how they intend to do everything to stop them on behalf of all that's righteous in America. There is no plan other than "stop them." Not what we will do, but what they mustn't do.
For America (and Americans) to be successful in this century, her leaders must forsake their primal desire to win. Her leaders must be able to think clearly and deliberately, and take on the mantle of responsibility to the citizens of this country (ALL the citizens, not just the ones that voted for them).
Stop and think about how many times you've swung at a pitch in the dirt (knee-jerk reaction to someone doing something perceptually bad to do you or yours), and regretted it.
Think about stopping for a moment, taking a deep breath, and then doing the right thing.