Competition: the Downward Spiral

In this reading response, I am going to first summarise the article, “Competition and Cooperations: The Wisdom to Know” and explain how competition and cooperation affect decision-making. Then I will explore the discourse feature of this article. Finally, I will state my own argument in responding to Berg’s argument that we are programmed to be competitive.   

Reading the article, Competition and Cooperations: The Wisdom to Know by Roberta Wiig Berg, associate professor at The Norwegian School of Management, the very first thing that struck me was that many of us still “choose” to compete even though competition is counter-productive. The author demonstrates this idea by introducing the Red-Blue Exercise which shows the participants’ decision-making process. The author also examines 4 factors (reflection, fair play, trust, and ethics) for making well-informed choices between competition and cooperation in explaining what leads the participants to engage in competition instead of cooperation. In this exercise, two teams are given the option of choosing between red and blue and the result will alternate depending on what the other team chooses as shown in the figure below. The key point of this exercise is that the best thing that both teams can do in order to achieve the goal of the exercise, which is to end up with the highest positive score, is to cooperate (both teams choosing red). It was interesting to see how the participants did not take much time to reflect and immediately assumed that this exercise was about competition. This demonstrates how we tend to be indiscreet when we jump into competitive thinking. This article also shows how competition is destructive and leads to a downward spiral. When one team breaks the other team’s trust by not cooperating, the team which attempted to cooperate automatically responds defensively and takes a competitive move by seeking revenge. The way to prevent this is for the other team to regain trust by giving up some points to reestablish equilibrium. This demonstrates how mutual trust is the key to mutual cooperation. In discussing ethics, the author talks about how participants often engage in unethical behavior such as lying and deceiving when they choose to compete rather than cooperate; “Delegates shake hands on deals, return to their respective teams, and plot betrayal (186, Berg)”.

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One notable discourse feature of this article is its use of sub-headings. It was very easy to follow and understand the author’s argument because the reading was divided into sections according to factors and was explained in a very straightforward way. I found this very similar to Garcia’s reading in which she divided the article by factors that influence social comparison.

At the end of the reading, Berg argues that “The exercise … demonstrates that we do not automatically cooperate; rather, we are programmed to be competitors (187, Berg)”. I admit that we have a natural instinct to act in a competitive manner but this made me also question the current society that imposes a very strong emphasis on being competitive in order to succeed and very little emphasis on being cooperative and reflective. For example, in Korea, competitiveness has been the key to success in getting a job. As mentioned in chuadominic’s blog, “Good grades, Good career, Good life” is also a significant part of Korean people’s mentality which stems from its extremely competitive society. In order to be hired by a prestigious company, students have to be very competitive in academics because the only thing that the company cares is which university they graduated. All it takes to get into a prestigious university is getting a high score in the college entrance exam. It gets too competitive that some people even cheat by buying the test on the black market. I am aware that this kind of social system is prevalent in many places where companies seek to hire competent people, the “winners” who got through the competitions in society, which make people strive to be competitive to meet their needs. I think this is a significant part of why people are programmed to be competitive; the social system itself sets a trail for us to be a competitive being and rarely lets us learn how to be reflective and cooperative. I also think that this article has shown why this social system has to be changed because it showed how having a cooperative mindset is an important trait in making a wise decision and building trust which is often required in the workplace where people negotiate and cooperate.

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