One of the greatest mistakes in my professional life (and come to think of it, personal life, also) was to see everything through a competitive lens, including relationships.
My model, developed in the fifties and early sixties, was driven by the viewpoint that the most efficient way of organizing any effort was to use the competitive model, which would naturally result in the best outcome due to the self-apparent efficiencies of people competing with one another.
I could easily see how that was true, as it was the system I had experienced, and I did see very good results come from such competition. That often results in a good outcome in a very efficient way, particularly in cost. It was also what sports was all about, and my experience in high school and college ROTC and the Navy affirmed that viewpoint. I still see great use in it, as competitive enterprises often compete with one another to deliver the best results for the least cost.
However, Silicon Valley, where I was a construction and development executive for much of my career, was rapidly changing, in that coordination and collaboration were becoming more important due to the speed and quality aspects of each project. The more complicated and valuable developments required a different kind of delivery system, one not based solely on costs.
I worked with a smaller company that had an excellent reputation, did a lot of negotiated versus competitively bid work, and was highly respected. As we grew, it was necessary to hire others from outside the company to help us grow in volume and reputation. I helped interview one such applicant who was very bright, affable, and quite motivated to do quality work. He always seemed to have new ideas about how to do things, and challenged the more established project delivery systems. I also saw him as my primary competitor after a while.
One day not long after he started work he invited me to lunch and proceeded to outline his vision for the company, based around collaboration, instead of little fiefdoms run by strong managers that competed with one another for the scarce resources (money, good people, marketing backup, etc.). We had an interesting conversation, I saw that he had some good ideas, and I began to think that he would do great things for the company. I also saw him as a threat to my future, and pretty much said something to the effect that “may the best man win,” and we went our separate ways. It was one of the most significant mistakes I ever made.
As it turned out, the best man did win. Later on, after many years, the company was reorganized, and I was told by the owners of the company that I would be working for the person I described above from then on. I gave them my resignation on the spot, and left Silicon Valley shortly thereafter and headed for the foothills of California with sufficient money to do whatever I wanted, which turned out to be horribly untrue.
My seeming “rival” left the company the next year, took most of the good people with him (they all had allegedly been jointly planning this for a year or two), and started their own company in Silicon Valley. The inevitable lawsuits were filed. The company that was founded by my “competitor” became quite successful after a while, using their model of cooperation, among other new ideas, and later on – after three or four years, when I came back to Silicon Valley - I swallowed what pride I had left and went to work for that company they had started. I thrived, learned a lot, was successful, and left again after a few more years for what I thought might be a “final” retirement.
It was a great experience working for him and for that company, and I learned a lot, especially about how ego can get in the way of a good life. That company is now a multi-billion dollar organization with an excellent reputation, doing work all over the world, with happy, intelligent, motivated, and hard-working people doing what they love. My friend is a retired multi-millionaire, involved in doing good works for his community. The previous company for which we all worked at one time was bought out by a conglomerate and still operates and does excellent work, but is nowhere close to the company my friend and rival founded.
Ego is not always a good or useful thing, I learned - the hard way. I seems as if the most important and useful lessons I learned I did the hard way.