Sunday, 24 November 2013

The art of outdoing oneself

There are four boys in my family (my father inclusive) and they all engage in sports, except me. In fact, my father said when I was handed to him in the delivery room he instantly knew that I did not possess any athletic bone in my body. But, what I lacked in athletic skill, I have made up for with my observation skills; and I am about to share one of them with you. I noticed that each time I raced with no one, I tended to run faster than when I raced with others during the P.E. classes. Matter of fact, the first time I observed this phenomenon was one evening while racing my shadow with the setting sun behind me. It was as though the absence of other runners helped me to focus, with minimal distraction, on the race itself. But as a scientist, I knew I had to repeat my hypothesis before it could become a theory, so I set to test it when the right moment came along.

Eventually, my opportunity came. In primary school, there was this unending rivalry between the class five and class six pupils about who could outdo the other in school activities. Class six pupils believed that their age, education and experience gave them a hedge over us. Then one afternoon on the playgrounds, one pupil hinted that the fastest runners were in class five and, true to their arrogant nature, the class six pupils around could not let that go unchallenged. They took him up on the ‘blasphemy’ and a mini-brawl ensued. To settle the fight, a girl stepped in and offered to arrange a relay race between both classes, to settle the superiority clause once and for all. She went round and recruited the best runners from each set (Alere, whose story is profiled in Needles or pencils, ran the third leg for class five). Then, she put the word out that the Clash of Titans was slated for the following Friday, on the makeshift racetracks that was at the back of the school.

When Friday finally came, no one could wait for the lunch-break bells to go off and as soon as it did all the pupils poured out like a swarm onto the playgrounds. The tracks were cleared, the cheer-teams lined up along the sides and the runners took to their positions. I, for one, did not really care who won. Not being the athletic type, I preferred to stroll around the school compound with hands in my pockets or gist with friends. But for lack of what to do on that day, I hung around to see the outcome of the race. Suddenly, my hypothesis flashed through my mind and I felt this was going to be my litmus test. So I walked up to Dauda, my classmate running the last leg, and I revealed my findings to him. I asked him to run as though he was sprinting alone and not as if he was competing against someone; and I walked away.

When the whistle was blown to get onto their marks, the anticipation was at a feverish pitch as all the observers were chanting the names of their favourite runners. When the ‘Go’ command was given, the runners charged like unleashed steeds on steroids. After the second leg, it was clear that class six could possibly carry the day until Alere ran his portion and put us back in the running. However when the last change of batons took place, Dauda dashed off as though neither of his feet was touching the ground. As they crossed the finish line, the decision was indisputable; the class five pupils had won. I felt proud that I spoke to him although I was not sure if my suggestion had made the difference; it was just okay that my class had won.

 It was not until my second year in the university, that I knew the result of my test. I was talking with some friends on the walkway when I looked up and saw my Dauda (I had not seen in him eight years because we attended different secondary schools). He walked up to me and not remembering my name he said, ‘Long time no see, this guy. You told me something the other day that helped me win the relay race against the class six pupils’. I couldn’t say a word as I was shocked that not only did my suggestion work, it was that remarkable that he remembered it.

You are probably not the only one who recognizes the profit potential of your chosen business; there are others who have discovered it too and they are called the competition. In fact, I will be afraid to go into a business that has no competition, because it’s an indication that it might just be a dry hole. But, while it is good to have the competition around, it might also lead to our business failure if we adopt a poor strategy to counter it. A particularly poor strategy that many people implement is competing with the competition. Indulge me a bit if you find my argument contradictory.

I find so many businesses trying dedicatedly to outperform other businesses that they forget why they set out in the first place. It’s a thin line that separates the desire to provide quality products/services and the desire to corner the market. However, after a while it becomes evident what your business is all about; because the one focuses on the customer and the other on the competition. I believe you will not choose the latter because it is quite distracting like the other runners in my P.E. class. What I propose is competing with your own potential. Competing for what you can have, not for what others already have. Someone might argue that it’s illusionary, but my racetrack experience proves otherwise. If I were the CEO of Samsung for instance, I wouldn’t bother competing with Apple Inc. Instead, I would have a sit-down with my think tank and fashion our company strategy based on our strengths and the potential of what we can achieve; because I believe that if I compete with the competitor long enough, all I could ever become is his second best.

I strongly advise you to adopt a business strategy that will make you constantly try to outdo yourself. Finally, don't forget that having no competition makes us lethargic; competing with others gets us distracted; but competing with our own potential opens up vistas of untapped possibilities to us.


  1. Competing with our own potential...... Thanks so much my dear brother. May God continue to grant you inspirations in Jesus' name

  2. Beautiful piece

  3. This is unarguably a very deep revelation. I caught that too. ... "competing with our own potential".