Your Biggest Competitor, Part I

By Chuck Violand

January 16, 2017

When we think of competitors we tend to think of other companies that perform work similar to ours. Sometimes we even get personal with our competitors by assigning names and faces to them. We think about the guy who took that job away from us after we thought we had it; after we had already spent the money we planned to make on it.

We picture that Big Dog competitor who swaggers his way into every convention or networking event we attend. You know the one—the loud, larger-than-life guy everybody swoons over. The one we might secretly envy and want to be more like.

The problem is that companies like these, and the folks who run them, aren’t our biggest competitors. They’re not even close! Our biggest competitor is so concealed that we frequently don’t even see them. They’re so sinister that they try to convince us they’re our best friend by telling us how great we are.

Our biggest competitor is our own ego. The ego that tries to convince us that the rules of business and social decorum apply to everyone but us. The ego that keeps us from asking questions that would allow us to make better decisions or to question our assumptions. The ego that tempts us to take unnecessary risks for all the wrong reasons.

The problem is that the more successful we become, the more our ego competes with us for continued success. The stakes for winning and losing continue to escalate, and unfortunately, so does our ego. We’ll never escape it. We can only hope to control it.

If you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you, or you’re wondering how this applies to your business, let’s take a closer look.

It starts out innocently enough. We launch our business and make some good decisions that lead to success. We make some money. We get a title, or we give ourselves one. We start directing people. Before long, our ego pops up and says “Look at you! They’re calling you the boss. They’re asking you for your opinion. People are even writing about your success.” If we’re not careful, we start listening to these thoughts, and then we start believing them. Before long, we stop asking questions or gathering input. I don’t need to, we think, because just look at my accomplishments, or my title, or my money. Most of us are too polite to actually say these things out loud, but many of us think them. Or worse yet, we start basing the decisions that we make on them.

Some of us may grudgingly admit that our ego poses a problem for our business, but most of us feel we’re too busy to do anything about it. Seriously? We have time to work on marketing to acquire new customers, looking for ways to make more money, or trying to find hirable workers, yet we don’t have time to address the biggest threat to our company? Or do we just not believe it’s a threat or want to address it?

In many cases our outside competitors don’t have to be better than we are at what we do. They don’t even have to be good. They just have to be patient enough to wait until our ego finishes its work and causes our company to stumble or collapse onto itself.

We have very little control over our outside competitors, but we do have complete control over our own egos. Maybe this year the biggest competitive decision each of us must make is whether we are ready to address our internal competitor.